With a mission of educating consumers about the value of PET, NAPCOR’s goal is to help promote and protect the PET molecule as well as protect the environmental sustainability and attributes of PET packaging. Alasdair Carmichael, Program Director for the organization, talks about its mission, Positively PET campaign and its annual PET Recycling Report.
What is NAPCOR and its mission? The National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) is a North American organization that was formed in 1987. During that time 2-liter bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) were just becoming more popular and the organization grew as a result of trying to get those PET bottles into the recycling bin, recycled and developing end markets for it. Today, we represent the entire PET industry, including resin suppliers, PET reclaimers, bottle and thermoform converters, equipment suppliers and other suppliers to the industry from the U.S., Canada and Mexico. NAPCOR’s goals are to protect and promote the PET package, and to communicate its environmental sustainability attributes. Many do not realize that PET can be recovered over and over again into many different end product applications, and right now we need a lot more of it!
Last year, you introduced the Positively PET campaign. How was this developed, what does it cover and who is the target audience? NAPCOR launched the Positively PET campaign in January 2020 in an effort to educate consumers about the positives of PET—what it is, that it can be recycled, as well as myths and facts. We feel it is imperative to use our voice to help promote and protect the PET molecule, as well as protect the environmental sustainability and attributes of PET packaging. All of us have a part to play in bettering the planet and keeping it free from litter. PET is a wonderful material that once recycled, can be used as feedstock into new bottles and thermoform packaging containers, as well as strapping, apparel and carpeting.
How successful has the Positively PET campaign been over the past year? The campaign has surpassed our expectations; we are really happy with the responses and engagement we have received so far. When COVID hit in 2020 and things shut down, we did adjust our messages and images slightly to show how PET is helping fight COVID, and how the industry is working to help protect those on the front lines. For example, we had several members that immediately shifted their operations to make face shields for healthcare workers from PET material. Overall, we had excellent response and engagement from consumers throughout 2020, and in 2021 we are continuing with the program. We are starting to see a little bit more conversation among consumers and helping them to engage in a different way, including talking about how we all can make a difference by recycling.
What plans do you have for it to continue? We will continue with our current target audience of consumers; however, one of the areas we are going to be expanding the messaging to is one that includes brand owners and retailers, specifically those with strong sustainability and packaging objectives. As packaging decisions are being made, our hope is that the Positively PET tools and resources will aid them in their decision making process and help to reassure them that PET is the best choice for their brand.
Discuss the annual PET Recycling Report, what kind of information does it provide? How is it valuable to your audience? NAPCOR authored the first PET Recycling Report in 1984 and is something that has remained steady over the years, but that we also continue to expand. Our latest report, which covers the calendar year 2019, was the 25th year for publication. It is interesting that for the last 25 years, we have found that textile fiber is the largest end use for post-consumer RPET, but 2019 saw that bottle-to-bottle applications rose to its highest level as a percentage of the total. We anticipate that this trend will continue with brand commitments and legislation surrounding post-consumer RPET content mandates in discussion. Being the group that monitors the inputs and market activity related to PET is becoming increasingly important to the overall industry as legislation picks up, and awareness develops. The PET Recycling Report is not only a great basis for monitoring what is happening, but also looks at considerations when evaluating how we are going to meet mandated RPET content.
We have increased the scope of the recycled rate report in the last two years quite significantly and we now have sections on the total supply chain into the PET industry and RPET industry overall. In 2019, we conducted a survey of the textile fiber industry and measured the volumes of RPET that were going into fibers by capacity. With the 2020 report published later this year, we plan to build out more insight related to PET thermoforms. While the report is invaluable for our members, it is also becoming more critical to outside parties that are interested in the PET and RPET markets.
In the 2019 report, we calculated a North American PET recovery number, which was the first of its kind. What was particularly important this year was that the Ellen McArthur Foundation came out in November 2020 with a standard covering their new plastics economy. Their wording is that the suggested thresholds to prove recycling or composting works in practice and scale are 30 percent recycling/composting rate achieved across multiple regions collectively representing at least 400 million inhabitants. Well, that fell right into the population for North America and taking the three countries together, we see a recycle rate of 35 percent. The big disappointment is that the U.S. rate is so low.
A major part of our current activities is to increase the recycling and collection rate for PET bottles and containers. Several states have proposed legislation of post-consumer content mandates of 25 to 50 percent, and the national Break Free from Plastics bill is calling for 80 percent in 2040. At our current rate, we would struggle on a national basis to get 25 percent RPET content because the collection rate is not there yet. Adding to the RPET demand requirements for bottles are end uses in textile fibers, thermoforms and strapping. Assuming these remain constant at 2019 levels, we will not have enough bottles in the recycling system to meet demand. The one system we see that delivers higher collection rates is the bottle deposit system. However, it would take legislation to implement it. Right now, there are a number of states discussing it, as well as at the federal level, but the logistics are very considerable. Can we do this by 2025?
What are the future plans for NAPCOR? We will continue to grow the PET Recycling Report and continue with our Positively PET messaging that has yielded new members—they have seen what we are doing and are encouraged to be part of our work. There is no other organization like NAPCOR that is focused singularly on addressing the issues affecting the PET molecule. | WA