Plastic is a material created from naturally occurring substances such as oil, gas, coal, minerals and even plants and has the property to be molded, shaped and deformed but not break. Manufactured, or synthetic, plastics are created using a process that attempts to mimic the behaviors of these natural substances. Chemically, plastics are derived from chains of molecules containing carbon and hydrogen (and sometimes oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, chlorine, fluorine, phosphorous or silicon) that are linked together and create what is known as a “polymer.” This is the reason why plastics have the word “poly” in it, such as polyethylene or polystyrene. The first form of plastic can be traced back to the Renaissance period (14th - 17th century) as a replacement to using ivory or tortoise shells as containers. Leonardo Da Vinci combined animal and vegetable glues with organic fibers and coated paper or leaves with the gluey substance. He found that the dried result was similar to the plastic material we know today. At the time, Da Vinci’s natural plastic was used to create non-breakable cups, vases or knife handles. Then, in 1907, Belgian-American chemist Leo Baekeland invented "Balelite," an iron vessel that allowed him to control heat and pressure. With his invention, Baekeland was able to control chemical reactions, ultimately forming a resin which hardened into a material that kept its shape. His initial intention was to create an insulator for electrical energy, but this breakthrough paved the way for all kinds of plastics including nylon, cellophane, rayon and more.
The history of the plastic bottle however, could not begin without the beginning of its cap. Glass bottles had caps made of aluminum or other cheap metals, but they often left a foul taste in the drinks. Then, in 1917, American inventor Webster Byron Baker made the first plastic bottle cap. He heated celluloid ester plastic and crimped it so that it would fit itself around the mouth of a bottle. This invention allowed for the use of plastic bottles, which were commercially introduced by 1947. Plastic bottles quickly became the preferred material over glass, as they prevented breakage and were much lighter. However, they were still fairly pricey until the mid-1970’s, when Du Pont engineer Nathaniel C. Wyeth created a bottle made of a plastic called polyethylene terephthalate (PET). PET is a combination of two monomers: modified ethylene glycol and purified terephthalic acid, resulting in a polymer that is a plastic resin and form of polyester. Not only is it shatter resistant, it is also inexpensive. In 1978, Coca-Cola became the first soda company to introduce the 2 liter PET plastic bottle, which rapidly became the standard bottle material for carbonated drinks in all sizes. Wyeth went on to win an international award for outstanding achievement from the Society of Plastics Engineers in 1981 and entered the Hall of Fame of the Society of the Plastics Industry in 1986.
Wyeth’s achievement with his PET bottle was due to the fact that it didn’t contaminate its contents like previous forms of plastic did. In addition, a standard PET bottle could hold up to 54 degrees Celsius (129.2 degrees Fahrenheit), while a PET bottle designed for heat could hold up to 90 degrees Celsius (194 degrees Fahrenheit). The material was also notable for its recyclable nature, unlike other plastics such as BPA (Bisphenol A) or Lexan. More than six billion of Wyeth’s PET bottles are produced annually across the globe today, and the need for environmentally sustainable products has increased. PET plastic can be made into clothing, toys and more, providing efficiency and advancing recycled product use. In 1971, the state of Oregon developed the “Bottle Bill,” requiring a refundable nickel deposit on bottles in order to increase recycling incentive. Woodbury, New Jersey became the first US city to mandate recycling in 1981 and in 1991, Coca-Cola introduced the first PET soda bottle made of recycled content. By 1995, Americans were recycling 47.6 billion soda containers--500 million more than the previous year.
Today, the soft drink and bottled water industry has transformed, with plastic bottles almost completely replacing glass. U.S. recycling customs have inspired numerous innovative products, including the uniforms of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games that were made from recycled plastic bottles. Plastic bottle beverages are now so common that every second, approximately 1500 are consumed in the U.S. These lightweight, recyclable bottles have made for convenient shipping and carrying, now holding coffees, teas and juices in addition to soft drinks. Although carbonated beverages in plastic bottles usually have a shorter shelf life of only 3-4 months, consumers who purchase drinks in plastic are normally ready to have them immediately and on-the-go. Whether you prefer your beverages in plastic, glass or aluminum, our Specialty Sodas website will have options for you.