PET recycling up despite industry challenges - report

By Joe Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Recycling China

picture copyright: nist6ss/Flickr
picture copyright: nist6ss/Flickr
The postconsumer PET recycling industry has noted lightweighting, reclamation capacity, contamination and thermoformed packaging as big challenges, according to an industry report.

The National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) and the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR) also reported exports to China fell while domestic reclamation grew.

The report cites a 2011 US recycling rate of 29.3% for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic containers, an increase of 0.2% from 2010.

Use of rPET in food and beverage bottles is second only to fiber, rising to 242 million pounds (MMlbs) from 216 MMlbs the year before.

PET targets

The report identified lightweighting as an issue for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) due to more containers needing to be handled to obtain the same weight.

“There isn’t that much of a negative impact, it just happened and is a fact of life. Producers use as little raw material as they could while maintaining the integrity of the product,” ​Dennis Sabourin, executive director of NAPCOR, told 

“In five years we have seen a dramatic decrease in the weight yet still had the same value. More units have been recycled but no increase in pounds recycled, is just a fact of life and lighter weight supports PET’s true environmental advantage.”

Reclamation was cited due to the increase in plants leading to operators potentially chasing too few bottles and driving up prices.

It is hard to determine which is the overriding factor, there are three things that affect PET recyclate. Virgin price is number one, the Chinese market is number two – as in how buoyant it is and will it continue to decline in 2012 as it did in 2010 and 2011.

“Third is the domestic market reclaiming rate. 2010 versus 2011 sales to China decreased and domestic markets increased but we are waiting to see when China will become self-sufficient.

“With the China decline in 2010 and 2011, was that due to their own market conditions or our market – we don’t have the answers to that yet.”

The trade bodies released the 2011 Report on Postconsumer PET Container Recycling Activity​, report yesterday and said the contamination levels, producing a 65% yield, are not economically sustainable.

Sabourin added: “The way PET is collected now is single stream recycling, which means it is all collected together and separated at the material recovery facility. This is an issue with full-wrap bottle labels and thermoformed packaging with pressure sensitive labels.

“Our advice is to adhere to the APR protocols, we are working with a number of industry companies and are making progress on this important issue.”

CSD levels down

Carbonated soft drinks (CSD) continued to underperform—the total amount by weight of PET bottles and jars sold in the US during 2011 has still not recovered to 2007 levels, said the report.  

David Cornell, APR technical director, told this publication: “CSD sales have been flat in recent years as consumers have spent their money on other beverages, such as enhanced waters and juices.  Still, the CSD market is very large and important both to the beverage companies and to the recyclers.

We see the decline of exports and increased domestic usage as a good thing.  The level of exports has been too high for the overall economic benefit of the infrastructure in the United States.

“The recession reduced discretionary buying, which includes some products packaged in PET.  While there has been growth in units sold, the tonnage of PET used, and hence available for collection, is not yet back to where we would like it to be such that the reclaiming industry can get the feedstock it needs.”

Related topics Processing & Packaging

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