While these are admirable goals, making all plastic recyclable in order to reduce the need for more virgin resin will not guarantee that all single-use items will be recycled. Will those goals to make all packaging recyclable result in higher recycling rates, from the current one-third to maybe 50%? And will the other 50% continue to end up in landfills, or worse, in the marine environment? I can almost guarantee that “recyclable” plastic packaging will continue to be found floating in the world’s marine environment.
The European PET Recycling Survey 2017 noted that other problems also interfere with the recyclability of PET, including the quality of the material. The survey outlines an increase in PET trays and opaque materials in clear and transparent PET bales. Even though the products are recyclable they have a negative effect on the quality of the reprocessed flakes. The share of PET trays in clear bales is different from country to country, ranging from 1% to 18%. The same goes for trays and opaque bottles in mixed color bales, where the share ranges from 1% to 25%. “It has to be mentioned that this opaque and difficult-to-recycle PET material should be collected in separate streams,” noted the executive summary of the Petcore Europe survey.
With an actual processed PET amount of 1,741,700 tons and an installed maximum capacity of 2,038,100 tons in 2017, there was an unused capacity of 296,400 tons caused by several reasons, one of them being the quality of the collected PET. Additionally, insufficient quantity of collection was observed—a lack of 115,000 tons in 2017. In its Dec. 12 newsletter, Petcore acknowledged that the success of “ambitious sustainability targets” will require not only the industry but the “support of national authorities, European legislators and consumers alike. More collection and better sorting are needed to increase recycling and incorporate recyclate into new products.” (Detailed survey results will be presented during the annual Petcore Europe Conference 2019 in Brussels on Feb. 6 and 7.)