The number of European PET bales offered to the recycling markets jumped from 449,000 tonnes in 2002, to 612,000 tonnes in 2003. This represents a growth rate of 36 per cent, significantly more than was forecasted.
Trends in market outlets remain unchanged, with bottle-to-bottle recycling showing an increase from 8.1 per cent in 2002, to 11.1 per cent in 2003.
Exceptionally high growth rates were seen in Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Slovakia, the Baltic states and in Ireland. Virtually all other countries showed growth as well. Large increases were also observed in Germany, and for the first time in many years, the United Kingdom.
There was one caveat however. Germany and the UK were also the countries contributing most to the increase of bottle export to China.
Frank Koelewijn, Petcore's director general, said that the export of RPET rose from 33,000 tons in 2002, to 136,000 tons last year. "Over recent years, Europe has built an infrastructure which now has considerable expertise for the recycling of PET. Whilst there is nothing against free trade, we are concerned about exports which do not result in similar environmental benefits and which also cause the loss of existing capability in Europe.
"We think it important to continue to develop and expand on existing technology, which is needed to maintain economically sustainable market outlets."
In relation to this, many national collection agencies understand the issues and will not sell for export unless secondary outlets are properly audited by experts checking on how solid waste disposal, wastewater treatment, air emissions and noise are being controlled.
Nonetheless, Petcore believes that the outlook for the coming years remains healthy. "There is much growth potential in the new member states, and it is very reassuring to see how mature collection countries such as Austria, Belgium, France, Italy and Switzerland, continue to collect more, year after year," said Koelewijn. "The fundamentals of such growth are based on commitments of beverage brands, PET stakeholders and above all: committed citizens."
PET recycling processes in Europe differ from those in the United States and Japan. Virtually all European plants use wet grinding, making it very difficult to sort out those polymer films and labels that do not float in water. In the United States and in Japan, most PET recycling plants are based on dry grinding processes, making it relatively easy to remove films by air separation.
Petcore is a non-profit trade association fostering the economic collection, recovery and recycling of post consumer PET containers in Europe.