Plastic recycling body slams report advising countries to landfill PET bottles

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Recycling

EuPR, the professional body representing plastic recyclers across Europe, has condemned a recent report advising countries without adequate recycling infrastructure to send PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles to landfill.

SRI Consulting’s (SRIC’s) report, ‘PET’s Carbon Footprint: To Recycle or not to Recycle’, evaluated the carbon footprint of PET and recycled PET (rPET) bottles across their lifecycle, concluding that landfill was a lower-carbon option to recycling and incineration for some developing countries, as well as parts of the US and UK.

Report author Eric Johnson told that transportation and processing costs, as well as low yields of pure PET (of below 50 per cent) from curbside recycling collections such as Germany’s DSD ‘Green Dot’ programme, warranted SRIC’s conclusion.

Johnson said:“In terms of resource squandering ​[of oil in particular], if it takes more resources to recycle bottles or them than to produce units from virgin PET then this is irresponsible. If you’re going to recycle…do it properly.”

‘Unwise and dangerous’

Johnson added that data from SRIC's study showed that sending PET "bottle systems"​ to landfill rather than incinerating them, for instance, could reduce a given carbon footprint by up to 30 per cent.

However EuPR PET working group chairman Casper van den Dungen condemned SRI Consulting’s report:“This publication is unwise, dangerous for sustainability and goes against EU legislation​ [relating to the Waste Framework Directive that states landfill must be avoided wherever possible].​ he said.

“By applying SRI Consulting’s results we would also lose valuable ​[rPET] material in landfills. The model used is intrinsically wrong, as in reality landfill should be avoided as a starting principle.”

Antonio Furfari from EuPR added: “The wrong signal is that landfill is good for environment. Landfilling is not acceptable for environmental and resources efficiency reasons, and CO2 is not the only environmental variable.

"The waste generated must be used as a valuable resource either by recycling or recovering the imbedded energy."

Landfill impact overstated?

Commenting on SRIC’s report and the supposed 'irresponsibility' of landfill as an option, Jane Bickerstaffe, director of Incpen, (the UK Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment) told

“It’s worth noting though that landfilling inert materials like PET is just like putting back the sand, granite etc. that was dug out of a hole in the ground in the first place,”​ she said.

“Inert materials are benign, whereas biodegradable materials such as cabbage leaves and potato peelings generate methane in landfill and have a negative impact on climate change.

Nonetheless, Bickerstaffe agreed with EuPR that landfill should only be considered as the last resort:“Plastics have a high calorific value, so if it isn't worth recycling them it's better to recover energy (and ideally heat), which displaces the use of fossil fuels directly, than to landfill them.

Bickerstaffe also concurred with Johnson’s point that rPET purity was a significant hindrance to worthwhile recycling, given that it affected recoverable PET levels: “Quality of recyclate is a big issue because the energy costs to separate out contaminants and clean the polymer are significant​,​ she said.

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Obvious Answer

Posted by Yolanda Escarole,

Reusable glass bottles and localizing the bottling and distribution of beverages, as once was the norm, would help solve the PET dilemma. Why should we squander the earth's dwindling oil reserves on single-use disposable plastic beverage bottles?

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Recycling Pet

Posted by J. Paterson,

It is what it is. If the study indicates that if the plastic can not be recycled efficiently, then the landfill is the answer. No one said the answer had to be pretty. The response to the report should have been - How do we make recycling Pet more efficient? and not "the publication is unwise, dangerous for sustainability and goes against EU legislation". If we don't want to landfill, seek a better and more efficient solution. Don't shoot the messenger.

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