How does PET plastic recycling work?
PET is one of the most used plastic packaging materials in the world
PET is fully recyclable, over and over
Bottle-to-bottle recycling means more sustainable packaging
Go behind the scenes
at a PET plastic recycling plant!
PET bottles are not waste. A PET plastic bottle has many potential after life uses and its status as one of the most used plastic packaging materials in the world is due to its performance qualities and its highly recyclable nature. Packaging made with PET is easy to spot as well. Just look for the #1 symbol to make sure that your plastic is fully recyclable.
PET can be heated and moulded into a variety of shapes, but the most recognisable is the plastic water and beverage bottles that provide clean, safe and convenient ways of packaging drinks. PET’s low melting temperature, relative to alternatives such as glass and aluminium, makes it easy and sustainable to turn PET packaging into more PET packaging in a closed loop.
Every year billions of PET bottles are being collected across Europe, before being compressed into bales and sent to recycling plants. The success of collection schemes is central to getting the most out of this unique material. Deposit schemes are a great way of helping consumers understand the value of PET and that not all plastic packaging is the same.
Once all the non-plastic waste has been removed, high-value recyclable plastics like PET are separated using automatic systems or sometimes by hand. This is because the presence of other plastics would contaminate the PET recycling process, limiting its quality for reuse, reducing efficiency and contributing to waste.
The PET bottles are separated into their colour streams and then ground up into small crushed flakes.
Washing & Decontamination
After the washing process, they are converted into a high-temperature decontamination section where migrated post-consumer substances and flavors are removed. These migrate into the material for example because of misusing PET bottles for non-food liquors. Further, during this process step the mechanical properties are increased again up to the values of virgin material. Depending on the recycling technology, the material is melted either before or after this step and solid contaminants are separated by a melt filter.
These PET preforms are heated and then formed into the correct size and shape. This closes the bottle-to-bottle loop, ensuring a more sustainable future for packaging.
Recycled PET is perfectly safe for use in food packaging and has been approved by agencies and governments across the world.
In those cases, recycled PET is flaked and washed before being heated and stretched into fiber. This is then spun into recycled polyester yarn and used to make fabrics that can be used in seat belts, bags, carpets, roofing insulation and even clothing.
When all parts of the process are working correctly, PET bottles end up being made back into PET bottles, over and over again. The technology is tried and tested, and the capacity is there waiting to be used. Improving collection rates so that the industry gets its bottles back is crucial to boosting recycling and ensuring a more sustainable future for packaging.