For many of us, one of the first images that come to mind when we hear the word recycling is separating PET bottles. Why? Because PET plastic in general and especially PET bottles are perfect for closed-loop recycling, a manufacturing process that creates new versions of the same product after it has been used. In that way, closed-loop recycling enables products to retain their value, in theory, indefinitely.
PET plastic is a versatile material with excellent properties, that can be recycled over and over again. The only thing that can limit the closed-loop recycling of PET is the lack of PET available for recycling due to low levels of collection and insufficient waste management infrastructures.
Excellent material properties of PET
PET stands for polyethylene terephthalate, a polymer that is, from a chemical point of view, a polyester. Its history reaches back to the 1930’s when polyesters were first manufactured for use as synthetic fibers. 40 years later, PET bottles were developed.
Strong, colourless, and lightweight, PET bottles were initially used for soft drinks but soon their use expanded to natural mineral and spring water. As the technology advanced, over the years, PET bottles became lighter. Today a 1.5-liter bottle typically weighs as little as 20 to 30 grams. Excellent material properties, strength, and lightweight of PET bottles made them perfect for beverage packaging.
100% of the PET bottles can be given a second life over and over again
A PET bottle or a PET plastic container that you recycle today can be easily transformed to new PET bottles or PET plastic containers.
Through washing, remelting and converting PET waste can easily be recycled and used for brand new PET products – again and again.
The simple PET recycling process includes removing the labels, shredding the PET waste, and going through an intensive wash process after which the PET plastic recyclate can be used as raw material for manufacturing various high-quality products. Any PET that is contaminated or too dirty to be properly cleaned for recycling can be used as an energy source in the „thermal recycling“ process.
Why are PET bottles perfect for recycling?
PET bottles represent a part of PET plastic recycling that is special in all respects. Plastic drinking bottles are easy to sort, widely available, and can be economically recycled. PET sorting blue, green, and clear water bottles according to color enables them to be recycled separately.
The PET bottle recycling industry is fully functional, dependent only on the number of bottles available for recycling. PET bottles can be simply processed into new PET bottles, resetting their lifecycle. In that way, according to the “The Facts about PET” study by Dr. Frank Welle, PET forms part of a closed material cycle, significantly reducing the net utilisation of valuable resources such as crude oil.
PET is a valuable resource that can be recycled in closed-loop
According to Dr. Welle, Constant improvement of recycling processes over the last two decades has resulted in PET recyclates of such high quality that they are used to manufacture new PET bottles. While it is feasible to make PET bottles from 100% recyclate, currently the amount of recyclate used for new PET bottles ranges between 25% and 50%.
The number of bottles collected for recycling in Europe has grown significantly over the last decade. Back in 2016, out of 3.15 million tonnes of PET bottles and containers placed in the European market, a remarkable 59.8% – in total 1.88 million tonnes – were collected and 1.77 million tonnes mechanically recycled.
PET plastic recycling – Contributing to a more sustainable future
According to the ICIS study, collection volumes of post-consumer PET bottles reached 2.2m tonnes in 2019, which was a 5% increase on 2018 which is the highest growth rate in several years.
Several EU Member States reach higher then 80% PET bottle collection and recycling, with Lithuania for example, reaching 92%.
So, what is Lithuania’s secret?
Lithuania’s secret: well-designed Deposit Refund Systems
In 2016, Lithuania implemented well-designed Deposit Refund Systems (DRS). Well-designed DRS are one of the most effective solutions to drastically increase the collection of beverage packaging. They are collection schemes where consumers pay a small deposit for their beverage packaging. They’ll get reimbursed upon returning the empty packaging at a collection point. Lithuania has managed to increase its collection of drinking containers within only two years to 92%. That positive example demonstrates that DRS has the potential to deliver full circularity for beverage packaging in the EU.
To ensure the high quantity and quality of recycled PET, a separate collection is very important. The collection for PET plastic recycling can be done by existing well-performing curbside collection or by the introduction of well-designed Deposit Refund Systems.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – All packaging is 100% recyclable
All the packaging that is used by natural mineral and spring water producers is already 100% recyclable, be it PET plastics, aluminium, or glass. We don’t use any packaging material that can’t be recycled bottle-to-bottle. That makes natural mineral and spring water producers pioneers in recyclability of packaging.
In 2018, our industry pledged to reach 90% collection and use at least 25% of recycled PET by 2025. PET is 100% recyclable and a very precious and versatile resource. Our sector is determined to give every bottle a second life.
How to recycle more and more efficiently?
Because of a wide variety of uses of materials made through PET plastic recycling, the market for recycled PET is only limited by the amount of material that can be collected for recycling.
That is why all those that use the recycle bin instead of the trash bin for their used PET bottles are directly contributing to a more sustainable future.