European plastics recyclers seek to boost PET recycling

Group targets PET trays used by the packaging industry.

May 21, 2014
RTGE Staff
Legislation & Regulations Plastics

The European plastics association the Plastics Recycling Europe (PRE) is working to develop recycling guidelines that are specifically designed for handling PET trays.

In a press release, the association says that while in the past PET trays were designed to make them difficult to recycle, more recent attempts are being taken to improve the recycling of the materials.

In the last few years there has been a significant increase in the use of PET trays by the packaging industry. Unfortunately, according to the PRE, this increase has not been adequately addressed in the end-of-life solutions for the trays. As a result of poor end-of-life thinking, most of these trays cannot be easily recycled.

None of the current recycling streams want to have PET trays in their incoming waste. PET recyclers cannot handle them because of their varied composition (multi-layers, multi-material combinations etc.) when compared to beverage bottles. Mixed plastics recyclers do not want them because of their incompatibility with polyolefins.

The result is around 700,000 metric tons of PET trays produced each year can’t be recycled. Today, these trays are not sorted out separately and are not recycled. Nonetheless, some collection schemes and sorters are trying to push trays into the PET bottles or mixed plastics streams in order to achieve higher recycling targets.

To make a change, the PRE says that the market should make changes in the design stage of the process. Without such a change the PET market could be replaced by more resource efficient solutions.

Thus, to overcome this situation PRE will take responsibility and start developing recycling guidelines for PET trays. The first guidelines will enable the value chain to assess the recyclability of the products that are put on the market and move towards recyclable PET trays. In a second step separate sorting streams will have to be created to enable PET tray recycling. As some non-PET trays have similar issues PRE will also develop guidelines for trays made of other plastics.

As a proactive industry, the recyclers are willing to cooperate with more stakeholders to further develop these guidelines. All trays have an important packaging function but need adapt to recyclability requirements in order to grow in the years to come.