German PET deposit scheme relaxation could increase R-PET contamination rates

Author: Mark Victory


LONDON (ICIS)--A relaxation in the type of post-consumer polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles that Germany allows to enter its deposit scheme is expected to increase recycled polyethylene terephthalate (R-PET) contamination rates, according to market sources on Tuesday.

PET recyclingFrom 1 January, Germany began allowing post-consumer PET milk and juice bottles to be returned to deposit schemes, whereas previously only post-consumer water and soft-drink bottles were allowed.

“In the past there were only carbonated soft drinks allowed for one-way PET bottle deposit and excluded were bottles like juice or milk bottles with a barrier.

"Now to reach higher return rates they decided to put in the milk and PET juice bottles a deposit.  [It will mean] higher wastage rates from the barrier, or lower quality,” a flake and food-grade pellet producer said.

PET milk and juice bottles typically include barriers composed of other plastic material, leading to cross contamination. This places additional pressure on flake and pellet producers to sort material to remove contaminants prior to processing and has the potential to increase wastage rates.

“You can guarantee we will get more milk contaminants as a result. It means more careful sorting and they put that as the responsibility of the recycler, the price remains the same,” a European flake producer said.

An additional concern with milk bottles is potential white or yellow discoloration from contact with the milk. Discoloured material is typically unsuitable for packaging applications.

One European colourless flake and pellet trader said it would be unable to use any material from juice bottles at all, and that its only suitable applications were for crops and big bags.

“The juice bottles come with a lot of barriers and this is giving complication and the recyclers further down the stream - they peel off because they're multi barrier - we cannot use them for production, they'll have to be sorted out and separated. In the end it only leads to more landfill,” it said.

Because of the time-lag between the introduction of new labels compatible with deposit recycling and old stocks being depleted, along with the time it takes for material to work its way through the R-PET chain, the full impact of this shift is not expected to be seen until the second quarter.

Concerns over contamination and product quality have been increasing across the R-PET chain in since China’s restrictions on the import of plastic waste. China traditionally imported large volumes of low-grade flake and granulate. With China no longer accepting this material the variation in European flake grade has increased.

There is pressure across Europe to increase collection volumes of R-PET because current collection rates are insufficient to meet proposed EU mandatory targets or aggressive brand pledges.

Picture source: Olaf Kruger/imageBROKER/REX/Shutterstock

Focus article by Mark Victory