What is PET?

What is PET and why does it matter?

PET, or PolyEthylene Terephthalate, is used to package 70% of carbonated soft drinks, fruit juices, dilutable drinks and bottled water. Light, durable, safe and with a smaller carbon footprint than alternatives, PET is the most recyclable plastic in the world.

This unique material is vitally important as what our products are packaged with can have significant impacts for our environment and the sustainability of our economy. PET packaging is easy to recognise by its number 1 logo.

PET is the most recyclable plastic in the world.

Almost uniquely among plastics, PET is fully recyclable

PET packaging is easily recognisable by its number 1 logo.

End Waste, Recycle the One:

What makes PET so sustainable?

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What does sustainable packaging mean?

Taking responsibility for our environment means taking a step back and considering the long view. Packaging performs a vital role in ensuring we can enjoy the things we love, when and where we want. But having this choice means we have to care about what our packaging is made from. We have to care about how that packaging performs. And, most importantly, we have to care about what happens when we’ve finished with it. That might seem like a lot to consider but don’t worry, when taking a whole life approach, the answer is clear – sustainable packaging means PET.

PET offers a number of advantages. It takes less energy to manufacture than alternatives. It’s also extremely light, strong and durable, meaning less packaging is needed to protect our products. Lighter packaging means that less fuel is needed for transportation, which lowers carbon emissions. In fact, PET bottles have been getting lighter and lighter, weighing 40% less than they did in the year 2000.

Almost uniquely among plastics, PET is near-infinitely recyclable and because it can be made into new products, this lowers the need for fresh PET to be made, further reducing emissions. In fact, recycled PET products show a drop of up to 90% in CO2 emissions compared with virgin PET. Its high recyclability also makes it less likely to end up in landfill and around 58% of PET bottles are recycled in Europe today. This makes it the most recycled plastic packaging material.

How do I know I’m choosing the right plastic?

How can you know if something is made of PET? It’s simple; look for the 1 symbol. You’ve likely come across PET packaging before, as it is widely used to package water and soft drinks.

At the bottom of most plastic packaging, you’ll find a number inside the triple arrow recycling symbol. This number tells you what plastic that packaging is made from and makes it easy to understand how recyclable your packaging is.

Make sure to look for the #1 symbol when you’re next in the supermarket. Why? Because choosing a product packaged in PET is the sustainable choice…as long as you recycle it. End waste, recycle the #1.

Is PET safe?

PET is approved as safe for use in direct food contact in the EU, as well as by the US’s FDA and health agencies across the world. PET’s continued use in the food, beverage, pharmaceutical and medical sectors is a testament to this valuable material’s safety and versatility. Repeated studies, regulatory approvals and testing show that PET is safe.

PET is inert and does not give off contaminants into the environment, which combined with its recyclability, means it has virtually no direct impact on the planet. Durable, shatterproof and light, PET is safe to use in food packaging, as well as in medical devices that are used inside the human body and personal protective equipment (PPE) used by medical workers and first responders.

What are the alternatives for packaging our products?

While PET clearly outperforms other plastic packaging, this isn’t the only option for packaging. What about other materials like aluminium, glass, or paper? Let’s assume that these materials are all being recycled and use that whole life approach we mentioned earlier.

Aluminium is recyclable and can be remade into packaging. However, the process of producing and recycling aluminium is highly resource intensive. To make cans, aluminium must be heated to temperatures of more than 1000°C, while PET needs temperatures of around 260°C to be made into bottles. Higher temperatures mean more emissions, and even cans made with recycled aluminium produce more CO2 per tonne than bottles made from recycled PET.

Glass also requires very high temperatures in order to be made or remade from existing glass, with this process producing up to 4.5 times the emissions of PET bottle production. Glass is also significantly heavier than plastic, weighing up to 10 times more and resulting in a significantly larger carbon footprint for transport. This means that rPET – recycled PET – bottles produce lower transport emissions than reusable glass bottles as they are much lighter.
While raw paper and cardboard are more biodegradable than PET, food packaging made with these materials is often laminated with plastic or aluminium, making it non-recyclable. This packaging ends up in landfill where it takes up more space than the same weight of plastic and it has slow rates of degradation. Cardboard is also more energy intensive to produce than plastic, producing more waste and requiring the cutting down of trees. Cardboard also weighs more than plastic, increasing transport emissions.
Packaging made from non-plastic materials is also often being discarded instead of recycled, with shattered glass being dangerous and ring pulls from discarded aluminium cans being ingested by wildlife. This means that, when taking a whole life approach and comparing with glass and aluminium, choosing PET packaging and recycling it results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

How does PET recycling work?

You can discover in detail how PET recycling works in our dedicated Recycle Now! section. The simple answer is that PET recycling begins with you. You need to separate recyclable materials so that they can be collected. Some countries use deposit schemes where deposits are refunded when bottles are returned to participating retailers or recycling centres. These schemes are highly successful and generally show far higher collection rates.
Once collected, bottles are sorted by material then compacted to reduce volume for transport and sold to collectors. Next the bottles must be processed. PET can be recycled a number of ways, including melt reprocessing or molecule breakdown, and others.

So, what is PET recycled into? A number of things. The ideal situation is that PET packaging is remade into PET packaging, enabling a more sustainable future. If government regulations do not allow for this kind of recycling, or the quality of the recycled material is not high enough, it can be turned into fibre and then into clothes. This means you could be wearing a recycled bottle right now as some fabrics can contain up to 100% recycled material.

PET can also be remade into automotive products, such as car interiors and seatbelts. And crucially PET packaging can be remade into PET packaging. Forming a closed loop PET manufacturing system, supported by high collection rates, that can supply itself to produce rPET is crucial to ensuring a more sustainable future for packaging.