Market fails to understand rPET challenges

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Misconceptions by brand owners and inadequate quality control by recyclers are hampering growth in European production of food-grade recycled PET, according to APPE.

The company is a major blow moulder of PET bottles and containers and claims to be the largest food-grade PET recycler in Europe. APPE operates a dedicated recycling plant in Beaune, France, where it is investing €10m to increase food-grade rPET output by 40% from 25,000 to 35,000 tonnes.

APPE says it is considering a further expansion of the facility, but this could be constrained by the lack of post-consumer PET for processing. This raw material constraint is coming at a time when brand owners are demanding increased levels of rPET content in PET food packaging as a solution to their sustainability objectives.

Frédéric Blanchard, plant director of the Beaune facility, said: “Two of the major challenges facing rPET recycling for food-contact applications are the availability and quality of bale feed-stock. European reclamation capacity is increasing through the entrance of new but inexperienced recyclers into the market, but the collection of suitable material is not rising at the same pace.”

Blanchard, who was speaking at the PETnology Europe 2011 conference in Nuremberg, Germany, last week, said “This imbalance of demand and supply is causing the price of the raw material – post-consumer PET bales – to rise to record highs, albeit recently price levels have dropped significantly as such high price levels were unsustainable. Longer term prices are set to rise once again and to track virgin PET pricing.”

APPE says the biggest challenge it faces is getting brand-owners and fillers to understand the complexities involved in processing rPET into new packaging while maintaining the necessary quality controls. Additional activities such as blending, process controls and changeovers all lead to increased costs. Yet, customers still think rPET should be cheaper than virgin PET.

Blanchard said he believes there are several potential solutions for the current situation: better consumer awareness, which would help collection rates and sorting; establishing a more realistic understanding of rPET content in packaging; and enhancing bottle technologies to support the recycling stream.

“The challenges of stepping up rPET usage, which several brands are now driving, are clear and we feel it is important that the industry understands the full picture,” said Blanchard.


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