Recycling may not be reducing carbon emissions as much as had been hoped. This seems to be the finding of an interesting new report from consultants SRI on recycling of PET bottles.
It looks at the benefits of recycling 1.5 litre carbonated beverage bottles made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate). Stricter legislation has led to many European countries collecting 80% of these bottles. The blog, along with its neighbours, dutifully puts its bottles into a green bin every week.
Yet the study finds that such ‘kerbside’ collection leads to only 45% of PET actually being reused. The other 35% somehow gets ‘lost’ in the cleaning and sorting process. This is perhaps not surprising given the difficulties of separating PET from other polymers, especially when the initial sort is done in cold and wet conditions on the road.
It concludes that this inefficiency means that recycling PET at the kerbside ‘is no better than land-fill’ in reducing carbon emissions. And it suggests that if politicians are really serious about reducing emissions, they should focus on improving the yield when sorting and reprocessing PET.
This would likely involve more effort by consumers. The best model is apparently Switzerland’s, where bottles are returned to supermarkets. This leads to a 70% yield, and a clear benefit in terms of reducing carbon emissions.