Europe has set as one of its major challenges the implementation of a Circular Economy strategy that is truly committed to sustainability. This means, among other milestones, implementing measures and aids to extend the useful life of materials such as plastic.
The main document to underpin this initiative was presented by the European Commission in 2018, under the name ‘European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy’. In it, it was set that by 2030, plastic recycling on the continent should be a profitable industry. In addition, the European Union (EU) set as another target that by 2025, 65% of plastic packaging should be recycled and 25% of rPET should be included in bottles. By 2030, the challenge is for all plastic packaging on the market to be 100% recyclable.
Advantages of rPET
PET, or polyethylene terephthalate, is a polymer with unique chemical and mechanical properties that make it an ideal material for food packaging. So much so that the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) can accept that it is the only recycled polymer to be converted back for use in the food industry, through rPET packaging. Its progressive use in the coming years will make a decisive contribution to the implementation of a Circular Economy in Europe, as it is a material suitable for contact with food and, therefore, for human consumption products.
HL. rPET possesses unique properties that make it ideal for use in the food industry.
In addition, rPET incorporates a number of very important advantages:
- Significantly reduces the use of fossil fuels, generates less carbon footprint in its manufacture than other materials and is fully recyclable.
- It is strong, flexible and, above all, lightweight. This last characteristic is important for its transportation, as it has a lower environmental impact in its logistics than other materials.
- It has a higher chemical and thermal resistance.
- It allows the consumer to see what it holds inside as it is transparent.
- It has a high resistance to abrasion.
- It has a good resistance to breakage.
- It is easy to clean.
- Its production cost is significantly lower than that of other materials, which implies lower water and energy consumption.
The future of rPET
Every year, just over 350 million tons of plastic are produced, of which almost 70 million tons are generated in Europe. However, despite its proven advantages, PET production does not even account for 10% of the total.
In order to produce a greater volume of rPET packaging, it is necessary to improve the systems for collecting the materials that contain it for subsequent recycling, which implies both greater social awareness and the implementation of mechanisms to optimize the management and subsequent sorting of waste. In fact, sorting work in recycling plants is critical to generate PET bales with the highest possible quality, so that they can be further transformed by means of EFSA-approved super-cleaning processes so that, in their final stage, they can be remarketed for sectors such as the food and automotive industries.
In Spain, the estimated production of rPET to meet EU requirements has not yet been achieved. In the coming years, the country must improve the productivity of its recycling infrastructure in order, on the one hand, to meet the growing demand for packaging made of this material and, on the other, to reduce its price by increasing its market supply.
For this reason, the work of companies that are committed to innovation and improvement in plastic recycling is essential. This is the case, for example, of RepetCo, which offers its own patented system, respectful of nature, through food multilayer PET/PE containers of post-consumer origin. Through a unique process, rPET pellets and rPE are generated that can be reused in the food industry with multilayer PET/PE trays and sheet packaging; in bottles for soft drinks or detergents; and in fibers for the textile and automotive industry.
If we manage to increase the volume of rPET commercialization in the market over the next few years, the possibility of implementing a real Circular Economy in Europe will be much closer. In this transition, we all have our responsibility to promote the correct disposal of waste, urging public bodies to move from linearity to circularity, which will ultimately contribute positively to the sustainability of the planet on which we live.
Other articles of interest: Innovative ideas in the recycling of PET containers