Is PET plastic recyclable?

PET recycling

The vast majority of plastic beverage bottles such as water and soft drinks are made of PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate).  PET is made from crude oil, gas and air. One kilogram of PET is composed of 64% petroleum, 23% liquid derivatives of natural gas and 13% air.

As a first step in the recycling process, PET is ground into flakes. The flakes are separated and cleaned according to market specifications. The recovered PET is then sold to manufacturers who convert it back into products.

About 75% of the recovered PET is used to make carpet fibers, fleece, rope and yarn. Most of the remaining 25% is extruded into sheets for thermoforming, injected/blown into containers for non-food products, or compounded for molding applications.

In defense of the use of PET disposable containers, some argue that if the strength-to-weight ratio of the container is taken into account, PET creates less solid waste per unit of contents than either glass or aluminum. But at the same time, this trend of seeking to reduce the volume of waste produced by each container has the consequence that it is more costly and cumbersome to recover for recycling: a given volume has less weight, and consequently less value. As a result, the recycling of this material becomes a less profitable activity, both for the recyclers and for the recyclers, and this contributes to the fact that the material is not recycled in practice.

Sale of recycled pet

Returnable bottles and disposable bottles have the same raw material, the difference is the amount of PET used in each. As returnable bottles have a longer life cycle, they are harder because the mass of the container is greater. In the case of disposable bottles, the mass of material is smaller and therefore they are more flexible. Companies such as Coca-Cola have worked to reduce the amount of plastic in their containers, such as the new Eco Flex bottle of Vital and the lighter version of Andina del Valle juices.

PET is the most recycled plastic because it is flexible, does not break, does not cut and is more economical compared to others. Its recyclability technology is known and there is installed capacity to do so. “It is a friendly plastic and there is also a lot of volume. In fact, for some time now there has been a circular economy based on PET in the beverage industry,” says Dutilh.

More than 90% of the recycled PET used to make new containers comes from bottles. For example, Typack works with rPET (recycled PET) to make oyster containers for export fruit. These containers can also be recycled, but they represent a lower recycling volume than bottles.

Pet recycled price

In the world, and in Chile, there is today a strong offensive against single-use plastic products, which seeks to eliminate from the market those containers and utensils of short life that after a punctual use -such as coffee stirrers or plastic spoons- quickly end up in the garbage. But there are other plastics that sometimes fall into this category, such as polyethylene terephthalate (known as PET), which is not only completely recyclable, but also supports a growing recycling industry. Therefore, disposing of it not only generates pollution, but is also a waste of money and raw materials.

“We need to implement a more far-reaching system for the collection of recyclable waste, because what exists are operations that are atomized. At TriCiclos we manage the most extensive network for the collection of recyclable materials (clean points) and what we manage, compared to the total, is very low, because the REP Law has not yet come into force and this is not mandatory,” explains Verónica de la Cerda, general manager of TriCiclos.

Plastic is recyclable

You have probably seen and heard about PET, but do you really know what it is? PET, which stands for polyethylene terephthalate, is a type of strong, flexible and 100% recyclable plastic used to manufacture synthetic packaging and fabrics. This polymer belongs to the group of synthetic materials called polyesters and is derived from petroleum. Today it is mainly used to manufacture water and soft drink bottles.

This material has a high degree of transparency and can be processed by blow molding, injection molding and extrusion, a process we will discuss in detail later. It is resistant to wear, chemicals and corrosion.

On the other hand, thanks to technological development, the resources required for the manufacture of PET plastic containers have been reduced, as has energy consumption in the manufacturing process. Compared to other materials, these containers reduce the carbon footprint, as they generate less solid plastic waste and consume less energy.