Plastics Recyclers Europe sounds alarm on colored PET

Plastics Recyclers Europe sounds alarm on colored PET

Group says strategies to replace HDPE with PET could put recycling streams at risk.

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June 10, 2015

Brussels-based plastics association Plastics Recyclers Europe (PRE) has issued a statement expressing that current market developments in the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) packaging market could put the future of PET recycling at risk.

According to PRE, PET is the most recycled material on the plastic packaging market, with recycled PET used in both packaging and fibre applications. PRE reports that milk packaging, home and personal care markets plan to progressively switch from high density polyethylene (HDPE) to PET for cost, marketing and sustainability reasons. As these products are typically packaged in colorful containers, PRE says, the shift could lead to the production of more than 300,000 additional metric tons of colored PET, including black and white. The PET recycling markets cannot afford to absorb these extra colors, PRE says.

The association points out that if collected and sorted together, these numerous colored containers will require extra sorting in PET recycling plants. In order for recyclers to sell the colored fraction, the material would have to be tinted in black or gray, but no market currently exists for such a material in high quantities, PRE says.

According to PRE, if PET milk bottles contain titanium dioxide (often used as a pigment), the recyclers' end product will be highly contaminated. For example, the transparency of clear recycled PET will be reduced (leading to a haze affect), while colored recycled PET will have up to 5 percent titanium dioxide. PRE also reports that the material could have serious implications related to its suitability for food-contact and fibre applications. In both cases this will lead to a fall in the use of recycled PET on the market, PRE says.

The association claims that the colorful trend could weaken the image of PET as a recycled product and create great difficulties for the PET recycling industry. Furthermore, the existing HDPE recycling industry, which already has a market for colored HDPE applications (e.g. the pipe industry) will suffer if colored PET continues to grow, PRE says.

The association maintains that entities pursuing this path should be prepared to bear the increase in extended producer responsibility costs. A solution could be to use full body sleeves, however these sleeves must be detectable by near infrared sorting systems and cannot interact negatively in the recycling process, PRE says.

The association also calls on the PET and HDPE value chains to join efforts to avoid breaking the circular functioning of these recycling streams.