West Europe PET bottle recovery grows, but challenges remain for rPET supply chain

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PET bottle recycling rates in Europe are improving but collection remains a key challenge according to a report published by Wood Mackenzie Chemicals earlier this month.

The collection rate for PET bottles during 2017 rose to nearly 2 million tonnes in Europe, 6.3% higher than 1.88 million tonnes collected the previous year, according to “rPET study – West Europe 2017”.

Total production of PET bottles rose 3% year-on-year to 3.2 million tonnes in 2017, making it a “rollercoaster year” of high demand and capacity shortages.

“With exceptionally good weather in Europe boosting demand and capacity outages impacting output, the European virgin PET resin market environment rapidly shifted from one of excess supply to supply challenges,” said Helen McGeough, Wood Mackenzie Chemicals senior consultant, commenting on the findings of the study.

The Wood Mackenzie research also pointed to “a significant shift” in rPET market prospects as the industry changes focus from economics to sustainability.

"The potential for recovery of large quantities of PET containers is evident, and PET bottle collection volume is projected to reach 2.3 million tonnes by 2022,” said the Wood Mackenzie consultant.

The study found that almost 75% of the collection volumes came from just five key markets, and only a few countries saw significant increases in recovery volumes compared to 2016.

One of the key findings of the report was, however, the growing challenge in improving collection rates and bale qualities.

According to the report, roughly two thirds of collection systems currently in use in West Europe are kerbside systems, as opposed to deposit systems.

“The ever-decreasing bale yield, due to contamination, suggests the dominant collection systems (i.e. kerbside) are not producing the optimum qualities, therefore adding weight to the argument in favour of bottle deposit systems,” the report suggested.

Additionally, according to McGeough, some government initiatives such as taxation, in isolation, are unlikely to increase collection rates.

“There needs to be a better appreciation of how recycling works and the benefits of doing so.

“This level of education is one that could be spearheaded by governments, who have access to the necessary funding and resources needed to make a lasting difference," she concluded.

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