PET bottle recycling up in 1999 but lack of profitability still a hindrance

Collection of polyethylene teraphthalate (PET) plastic waste continues to rise in Europe, but 1999 figures show that only a 25% annual increase was achieved. Since 1992, and until 1999, the average year-on-year increase had been about 45%.

PETcore, the non-profit organisation that promotes the collection of PET for recycling, says that although 1999 was a difficult year for recyclers, the levels of PET waste collected for recycling will only continue to rise.

Much of the PET recovered in the EU operating is exported, instead of being recycled into new products by manufacturers operating within the EU. “Countries like Pakistan and China have a strong appetite for recycled PET, for the long fibre industry,” Nancy van Heesewijk of PETcore told edie. “Due to cheap labour for sorting and cleaning and relatively cheap cost of transportation in their direction they can offer competitive prices.”

Corporate members of PETcore, including Coca-Cola, Du Pont and Evian, support the collection of PET waste and, in theory, make use of recycled PET. In practice, food manufacturers have found it difficult to make cost-effective use of recycled PET. “They have to compete with the other applications [for using recycled PET] and the cost of re-use for food-contact applications are somewhat higher – in view of the safety aspects,” says van Heesewijk . “Therefore their application is not so competitive.”

PETcore is working on ways to make recycled PET a viable option for food packaging. The organisation’s director general, Henk Hansler, made specific reference to research into food packaging when he announced the 1999 recovery rates: “During 1999, there were further trials in the use of selected recycled PET streams for purification and re-use in food contact containers. This technology is currently expensive and restricts market acceptance.”

In 1999, 219,000 tonnes of PET bottles were collected, an increase of 44,000 tonnes from 1998.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie