Lack of tourism shifts PET, rPET landscape in Europe

ICIS study says bottle collection and recycling volumes will suffer in tourist-dependent regions of Europe.

June 18, 2020

The near total collapse of the tourism, lodging and air travel sectors in Europe in 2020 resulting from COVID-19 and subsequent measures has changed how polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic is consumed and recycled, according to a new analysis.

The eight-page analysis by Susan Mair, a petrochemical analyst with London-based Independent Commodity Intelligence Services (ICIS), says in part that “countries which usually attract substantial foreign tourism and will not in 2020 include, predictably, Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Croatia and Malta. Demand for PET resin in these countries is expected to decline versus 2019.”

In contrast, says Mair, “Countries that can expect to see some sizeable demand return as holidays are taken in the home country as opposed to outside their borders include the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Denmark.”

Writes Mair, “PET resin demand generated by tourism is not insignificant in Europe; bottled water, soft drinks and packaged foods are goods which are purchased frequently whilst on holiday.”

She continues, “For the full year in 2019 there were 1.5 billion overnight stays in tourist accommodation in Europe from non-residents of the destination country.” Because of COVID-19, however, “The 2020 tourism season ended before it began,” says Mair.

Even with “staycations” replacing some canceled trips, ICIS sees a likely drop in PET consumption in Europe in 2020 of from 52,000 to 78,000 metric tons compared with 2019.

The regional demand trends also will impact the recycled-content PET (rPET) market in terms of supply, according to Mair. “Any decline in beverage consumption is a reduction in bottles available for collection. This suggests that those countries which operate collection systems that typically produce the highest collection rates will increase the volumes collected, such as Germany and those with deposit return schemes.”

Nonetheless, countries throughout Europe will need to increase their discarded PET collection rates further if they are “to meet the high level of demand now and in the future,” she writes.

A previous ICIS study calculated a PET bottle recovery rate in Europe of 63 percent in 2018, and an expected growth rate in 2020 and 2021 of about 3 percent per year. Another ICIS analysis shows that in order for the European Union to meet the recovery targets of the Single Use Plastics (SUP) directive, the required growth rate in recovery is closer to 7 percent per year.

Writes Mair, “Collection and sorting are not only the first stage of the recycling chain but the most critical. Without the necessary quantity and quality of bales, or feedstock, the supply chain cannot produce the rPET product required” by the directive.