Next step: Increasing PET recycling
Polyethylene terephthalate or PET bottle recycling rates stand at about 28 percent, according to the 2009 Report on Post Consumer PET Container Recycling Activity. That rate is lower than for aluminum beverage containers, which have a rate of 57 percent, according to the Aluminum Association.
The majority of PET bottles collected during recycling efforts are currently being turned into “rPET,” or recycled polyethylene terephthalate, via relatively new processing technologies. This means that old bottles can be used to create new containers, according to Sophia Dilberakis, a 30-year industry veteran and owner of SD Communications, a public relations company which specializes in representing packaging and plastic suppliers.
“It used to be that you could only use the recycled plastic to create other things, such as lawn furniture, but technology has been developed which now makes ‘bottle-to-bottle’ possible, and some companies are using up to 100 percent rPET,” she said.
Beverage companies have embraced rPET as part of their packaging strategy. On the PepsiCo Inc. corporate site, the company vows to incorporate at least 10 percent rPET in its primary soft drink containers in the U.S., and broadly expand the use of rPET across international markets.
The toughest part of these PET recycling initiatives is getting a recycled material that is safe for food, explained Ron Puvak, director of marketing for Plastic Technologies, Inc. Still, he sees some manufacturers taking on the extra costs of making these processes work. “Examples such as the recent developments in bio-derived technology, (such as) Coca-Cola’s Plant Bottle, show the potential for the future of these materials,” he said.
renewable and recyclable bottles
“At Coca-Cola, our approach to sustainable packaging considers the entire life cycle of our packages, from their initial design to the recycling infrastructure in the marketplace,” said Scott Vitters, general manager of PlantBottle™ Packaging at The Coca-Cola Co.
The Coca-Cola PlantBottle is a PET plastic bottle that contains up to 30 percent plant-based material and is 100 percent recyclable. It looks and functions just like traditional PET plastic and the plant material used in the bottles is sustainably sourced from sugar cane ethanol in Brazil.
“Our use of the PlantBottle package in 2010 enabled us to eliminate almost 30,000 metric tons of CO2, the equivalent of 60,000 barrels of oil from our PET plastic bottles,” explained Vitters. “In 2011, we are expanding PlantBottle to all Dasani packages in the U.S. As a company, we are continuing to take steps to transition all our plastic bottles to PlantBottle packaging by 2020.”
Additionally, starting in April 2011, the Odwalla packages in the U.S. will be made using up to 100 percent plant-based material. The current bottles are made from HDPE (high density polyethylene) plastic which needs ethylene. Ethylene can be made entirely from sugar cane based ethanol, a renewable resource.
One important distinction in the PET bottle industry is the difference between a biodegradable bottle and a PlantBottle. According to Vitters, typically, biodegradable bottles are made with corn-based polylactic acid (PLA), instead of PET.
PLA is compostable in industrial composting facilities, but is not recyclable in current recycling facilities.
There are also other biodegradable bottles available to operators.
Continental Dining Services in Sterling Heights, Mich. recently met a college’s request for biodegradable water bottles by offering such a product from Chicago-based Green Planet Beverage Co.
Just last month, PepsiCo announced its new “green” PET bottle, produced from 100 percent plant-based, renewable resources. The “green” bottle pilot program is scheduled for 2012.