Michael Du Preez
The bottled water revolution boomed from a sophisticated 1970s Evian advertising campaign advocating healthy habits like consuming more beverages on the go. It promoted taking the convenience with you in your busy schedule of a day. However, the demand for bottled water and soft drink beverages have resulted in plastics production doubling every decade with no drop in sight.
The problem is that U.S. households have high-demand for plastic packaging (food and non-food). China used to handle U.S. plastic bottle recycling until the Chinese sword policy was put into place. banning imported plastics including PET bottles. Are Americans still recycling PET bottles with the latest Chinese plastics ban?
What is PET? It stands for Poly Ethylene Terethphthalate, also known as PETE. A PET bottle refers to a plastic that is not “single-use” or mixed plastic. The PET scrap allows for it to be remade back into recyclable bottles, fabrics, carpet or furniture.
The circular economy for recycled PET will be of use for buyers to start the manufacturing process at a discount. The financial value of recycled PET is about $259/ton in terms of carbon emission savings.
According to EPA reports, 2.1 million tons of plastic waste was recycled in 2008. This number equals to 6.8% of total plastic waste generated in the U.S. that year. In 2019, this has not changed; in fact, curbside recycling communities still believe this sorted waste goes to municipal facilities. However, most of it is ending up in landfills.
The rivers and oceans have their micro-plastics pollution, but landfills are improving trash deposits into cells, with the material in 20 years extracted for bidders in land use planning.
Developed markets like the U.S. are not slowing down the manufacturing of plastics for food and non-food packaging. PET bottles, as recyclable waste may be re-introduced back into reusable plastic packaging up to 10 times.
As the technology for dealing with PET bottle recycling improves, the PET scrap and flakes may be useful for the circular economy. With a 31% PET recovery rate, the only two factors that would halt the stockpiling would either the nil production of virgin materials or 350 million people not demanding bottles altogether.
These are not necessarily a reality at all, but the stockpiles are up and where does this recyclable material go? The U.S.’ 56% of current waste that once exported to China, now ships to Senegal, Turkey, Malaysia and Vietnam, with enough shipping containers that could fill 250 olympic-sized swimming pools each month.
In countries that rely on bottled water as the only source for water, the creativity around the use of the PET bottle is another innovation that could be shared with the U.S. PepsiCo pledged to increase recycled content in all its plastic packaging 25 percent by 2025. Nestlé vowed to phase out all plastics that are not recyclable or are hard to recycle for all its products worldwide by 2025, and Nestlé Waters will increase the recycled PET content in its bottles to 35 percent globally and to 50 percent in North America by 2025. Additionally, recycled content for European brands will increase to 50 percent by 2025. Coca-Cola pledged to recycle a used bottle or can for every one the company sells by 2030 and increase recycled material in plastic bottles to 50 percent by 2030.
If average U.S. citizen reduced their plastic consumption from 220 pounds per year to an average Asian consumption of 88 pounds per year, imagine the financial impact of reduced carbon emissions, as well as landfills handling additional waste. Some creativity of recycling PET results in reducing the demand for virgin materials are used. Regulators and brand owners should take responsibility in curbing the demand of plastic bottles.