The Recycling Partnership has launched its polyethylene terephthalate (PET) Recycling Coalition, an initiative informed by industry knowledge and expertise to improve PET circularity. Its work will focus on addressing four key opportunities to increase recycling of this valuable material:
- increasing the capture of PET bottles;
- broadening the acceptance of PET trays, cups and clamshells in community recycling collection programs;
- unlocking new supplies of recycled PET (rPET) for packaging manufacturers; and
- strengthening recycling systems for pigmented and opaque PET.
PET is in high demand for use in textiles such as clothing and carpet (where it is known as polyester) and it’s the most common type of plastic utilized in liquid bottles and food packaging today, The Recycling Partnership says.
While eliminating unnecessary usage is an important component of circularity, increased PET recycling is another critical step in advancing circularity. Company commitments and recycled-content mandates in proposed U.S. legislation also are leading to skyrocketing demand for recycled PET even though supply is currently limited.
Most Americans with recycling access are able to recycle PET bottles, but just 54 percent can recycle other types of PET packaging like plastic egg cartons and fruit containers, according to The Recycling Partnership. Additionally, the recycling rate for PET bottles was only 26.6 percent in 2021 and as much as 17 percent of bottles that are recovered are lost at material recovery facilities (MRFs) due to sortation challenges. There is the potential to increase recovery and reduce plastic waste and help make progress toward packaging circularity goals by supporting solutions identified by the PET recycling coalition, the organization says.
The PET recycling coalition will make grants to recycling facilities for sorting equipment and related capital needs. These upgrades will improve PET bottle capture, deliver more rPET for use back into bottles and thermoforms, increase the acceptance of nonbottle rigid items in community recycling programs and strengthen recycling opportunities for pigmented and opaque PET. Through grants, technical assistance and knowledge sharing, the coalition envisions a thriving PET recycling system that captures significantly more material, enabling more circular PET packaging with increased amounts of recycled content, The Recycling Partnership says.
“The Recycling Partnership is dedicated to building a stronger U.S. recycling system, including material-focused efforts such as the PET recycling coalition. The success of these material-specific coalitions shows us that when we take a systems approach, we’re able to not only lift up that targeted material but all the other recyclables in the bin as well,” says Keefe Harrison, CEO of The Recycling Partnership, which is based in Falls Church, Virginia. “We encourage all companies that use PET to join the coalition and be part of the solution.”
The PET Recycling Coalition is part of The Recycling Partnership’s Pathway to Circularity initiative and aims to advance the circularity of all packaging. The coalition is supported by and open to members representing all segments of the material’s value chain, including founding steering committee members Eastman, Indorama Ventures, Procter & Gamble and the Walmart Foundation.
“Eastman is deploying technology that transforms plastic ‘waste’ into valuable feedstock. And while making waste valuable improves the economics of recycling, we know technology alone cannot solve this crisis. Our country needs substantial innovation and investment in its recycling ecosystem,” says Scott Ballard, Eastman plastics division president. “We are excited to partner with leaders across the value chain to catalyze the change that will get all forms of PET, not just clear bottles, into our recycle stream. Together, we can create a circular economy, leave fossil feeds in the ground and do it with a lower carbon footprint.”
“Recycled PET is an extremely useful material when used and reused responsibly,” says Mark Agerton, group scientist from Procter & Gamble’s responsible packaging R&D team. “This PET coalition is a partnership to help provide the essential funding and innovations needed to increase recycling rates and drive true circularity of nondesired plastics.”
“The Walmart Foundation is committed to programs that enable system-wide transformation – and this effort is a critical element of scaling on the infrastructure needed for PET circularity. The Walmart Foundation looks forward to working with the coalition on transforming the recycling sector – and setting the foundation for designing a more circular economy for all,” says Julie Gehrki, vice president of the Walmart Foundation.
“PET is made to be remade. We are a proud member of The Recycling Partnership, and by joining this coalition our goal is to ensure PET never becomes waste and stays in the circular economy,” says Muthukumar Paramasivam, business head, PET & aromatics Americas at Indorama Ventures.
Additional founding members include The Coca-Cola Co., Danone, The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation and Niagara Bottling. The coalition set an initial funding target of $25 million over five years and is seeking additional supporters.
The PET Recycling Coalition is aided by an advisory committee of industry leaders, including the American Beverage Association, Association of Plastic Recyclers, Closed Loop Partners, Foodservice Packaging Institute, National Association for PET Container Resources and RRS. In addition to serving on the advisory committee, RRS will serve as the coalition’s technical partner and inform the coalition’s strategy with supporting research.
“We are pleased to continue our work to build PET packaging recycling by supporting this important collaborative effort,” says Resa Dimino, managing principal at Resource Recycling Systems, Ann Arbor, Michigan. “The PET recycling coalition builds on the important actions of the Foodservice Packaging Institute, the Association of Plastic Recyclers and other industry leaders to optimize the mature market for recycling PET bottles, while building the recycling infrastructure for newer entrants to the recycling market, such as PET cups, clamshells and colored bottles.”For MRFs and PET reclaimers interested in applying for a grant, the application is available on the PET recycling coalition website.