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PET water bottle design attributes that impact recycling

PET bottle varieties shutterstock
Can a specific packaging design water down a PET bottle’s recyclability characteristics? According to a study from Plastic Technologies Inc. (Holland, OH), the answer is yes.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) water bottles are everywhere. However, brand owners continue to commercialize water in packaging that often times does not meet consumer expectations for convenience and price, nor does it minimize the carbon footprint. The most common strategy deployed by many brands to meet sustainability initiatives has been to significantly lightweight the PET bottle.

While PET resin suppliers have benefited greatly from the growth of single-serve water bottles, significant research has not been focused on the performance impact and the validation of sustainability assumptions. With industry knowledge and experience being limited in this area, Plastic Technologies, Inc. (Holland, OH) wanted to provide brand owners with additional information to facilitate the decision making process.

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Wide variation in performance, weight, recyclability

The study found a wide variation in performance, weight and recyclability in the bottles it examined. All of the packages were commercially-produced for consumers and procured from retail store shelves.

Lighter weight, design and label choices have an impact on post-consumer recovery. The decisions made during the design phase not only have to meet physical performance requirements but also should not negatively impact current recycling systems. While weight reduction results in a lower carbon footprint, it was found that ultra-lightweight bottles can negatively impact the effectiveness of post-consumer packaging waste sorting and recycling systems.

The study showed that many of the samples did not factor in generally-accepted recyclability guidelines during the design process. In some scenarios, the PET package design had strong shelf presence and met the functional requirements. However, the bottle color, label, glue or ink components had a significant impact on package recyclability.

Research parameters

The study was divided into two parts. The first was to analyze how weight affects performance, cost and environmental impact. The second part explores how other design decisions impact recyclability.

The study includes data from the highest bottled water consumption regions where market-leading global brands are sold. These include North America, Latin America (represented by Mexico) Europe and India.

The bottles were then evaluated for weight, pressure, product volume, fill point, top load, thickness, section weights, color and closure types.

The study showed that there are wide variations in water bottle weights and product volumes, even in small sample sets. Some premium brands prefer to use heavier package, while others continue to lower their bottle weights. However, the performance was not a direct correlation to the weight of the package.

Although light-weighted packaging seems to have approached the technical limit, new technologies are being used to further reduce weight, compensating structural rigidity with pressurization by nitrogen dosing, overfilling or improved secondary packaging.

You can download the full white paper, Research Shows which PET Water Bottle Design Attributes Impact Recycling, at PTI’s website.

Marcio Amazonas, account manager, Plastic Technologies, Inc., has an extensive background in recycling and the environment.  He has held related positions at major CPG companies, associations, suppliers and consultancies.

Plastic Technologies, Inc. (PTI) is recognized worldwide as a leading source for preform and package design, package development, rapid prototyping, pre-production prototyping, and material evaluation engineering for the plastic packaging industry. For more information:, [email protected] or 419-867-5424.

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