Consumer awareness of plastic waste is changing. This transformation is linked to the fact that collection and separation schemes for these materials, and particularly for PET, are gaining ground. Additionally, governments of many countries, and even the European Union itself, are making steady progress in their sustainability plans and increasingly limiting the use of single-use plastics.
As a result, the demand for recycled PET (rPET) has increased and, therefore, its relevance has also gained strength fast. Data shows that in Europe the demand for rPET has grown exponentially in recent years, amounting a 31% in 2015 and expected to be around a 43% by 2022. On the other hand, the demand for virgin PET is also expected to level off, as stated in the report issued by EMMTEC laboratory. ‘How recycled PET product quality and product safety risks can be controlled‘,
According to the study ‘PET Market in Europe’, carried out by Plastics Recyclers Europe (PRE), Petcore Europe and the European Federation of Bottled Waters (EFBW), food packaging is the sector which receives the most recycled PET, a 32%, Next is bottle packaging, 28%, and in third position are textile fibres.
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The importance of good recycling
During the different stages through which PET goes, from its production to its use and recycling, its quality can deteriorate due to the presence of solid contaminants, substances that affect the taste, thermal degradation that affects the mechanical and chemical performance, etc. On the one hand, it is essential for manufacturers, recyclers and rPET brand owners that the processing is efficient, and the procurement ensures an appropriate and safe quality. On the other hand, significant improvements have been made in recycling processes and the quality of materials, so recycled PET could represent up to a 55% of total PET demand by 2030, according to the study.
Regarding this issue, EMMTEC laboratory has provided, for over 65 years, essential information that is extremely relevant to address those business needs. For example, it has been reported that substances such as limonene or benzene are frequently present in rPET. It has also been detected that there are approximately 10 times more contaminant particles in the recycled PET than in virgin PET. Therefore, the technology used in the recycling process must ensure the highest quality standards.
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Intrinsic viscosity (IV), a measure of the molecular weight of polymers, is relevant to assess the polymerisation of PET. The longer the polymer chains are, the higher the intrinsic viscosity is. This property also allows us to control the processing conditions of the recycling processes. Regular IV testing can help manufacturers and recyclers control and adjust their raw material selection, the conditions of the recycling process and the quality of the final product.
PET is an extremely versatile material and is also highly resistant to wear, acts as a barrier to bacteria and is fully recyclable. This is precisely why it is so significant that the trend is shows an increase in the recycling rate, and therefore a move towards the cycle of the circular economy. We must remember that Europe must reach a 55% of recycled plastic by 2030 and that to achieve this it must double its recycling capacity. Additionally, the SUP directive, which regulates single-use plastics, also sets targets for the recycled content of PET bottles, a 25% by 2025 and a 30% by 2030. There are already companies that have implemented measures to make their bottles 100% recyclable. This ensures a growing demand for PET and, consequently, an increase in the tonnes to be collected for recycling.