PET Bottles using 100% PCR? Is it Possible?

Bottles and jars produced using Post-Consumer Resin (PCR) represent a growing trend in the packaging industry – and PET containers are at the forefront of that trend. PET (or Polyethylene terephthalate), typically produced from fossil fuels, is one of the most common plastics in the world - and it is one of the easiest plastics to recycle. This makes manufacturing Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) with PCR content a high priority for Brand Owners. These bottles can be produced with anywhere between 10 percent and 100 percent-PCR content – although incremental content percentages do require a willingness of Brand Owners to compromise clarity and color aesthetic.

WHAT IS PCR?

PCR is derived from post-consumer recycled content – mostly materials that have been recovered or diverted from your local municipal solid waste stream. A good example is a plastic water bottle tossed into a curb-side recycle bin. Instead of that item going to a landfill, it goes to a recycling center where it is processed and reconstituted into an acceptable aftermarket resin material. That material is then sold to converters who turn it into usable bottles, jars and closures once again. Thermoplastics, such as PET, are generally easy to recycle because the polymer chain breaks down at a relatively low temperature, so there is no degradation of the polymer chain during the recycling process. This allows PET to be recycled many times before it becomes unusable, though contamination can reduce the number of ‘closed loop’ cycles that PET can go through.

WHAT IS THE ADVANTAGE OF PCR?

By using PCR, we reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and improve the environmental impact of packaging by reducing the amount of waste going into landfills. Post-consumer recycled plastic (PCR) makes all the sense in the world. It is cost competitive, available, and creates greater positive impact than other choices. For example, the carbon footprint of manufacturing 100% PCR Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), like in a water bottle, is 60% lower than virgin PET – and that includes all the energy to collect, recycle, and remanufacture the plastic.

WHAT ARE THE DISADVANTAGES OF PCR?

The required reheating process can alter the color and clarity of the bottle; as the concentration of PCR is increased, the look becomes gradually darker. This can be counterbalanced with the use of colorants, but these bottles are generally more applicable for products that don’t require crystal clear packaging – particularly past the 25-percent ratio. Below you can see the gradual differences in appearance as the percentage of PCR increases.

Critics will say that there’s not enough PCR available to check growing demand, but as Brand Owners currently using virgin PET demand greater PCR content, the market will grow – which is especially important given the current low rates of recycling (PET recycling rate in the US is 24%, NAPCOR).

WHAT'S THE BOTTOM LINE?

As Brand Owners respond to growing consumer interest in sustainable packaging, manufacturers are responding with technologies to enhance the PCR supply chain. Though these markets are still evolving, ecologically-conscious initiatives such as these represent a growing availability of PCR content based products.

If you have specific questions about suitability, leave them below and we’ll try to help!

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