The state of PET recycling

Figures released at the end of 2019 showed that, despite all the noise about single use plastics and legislation coming into place across the globe to ban it, recycling of and the availability of rPET in particular is actually DECLINING.

PET collection across Europe is lagging behind recycled resin demand by more than 450,000 tonnes per year. The current recycling system is fundamentally underfunded and incapable of delivering a circular economy without dramatic evolution both in the recycling industry and the consumers attitudes towards it. There are several factors affecting our ability to recycle effectively:

  • New types of packaging are coming onto the market faster than recycling infrastructure can keep up.
  • Global recycling systems are unable to supply the amount of recycled material that brands need to meet the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment.
  • Recycling stakeholders must look at building a more sustainable future recycling system that addresses previously identified challenges.
  • Consumers must take more personal responsibility in this chain. Previous surveys have revealed that the vast majority believe it is not their responsibility to be part of this and it should be 100% the brand owner that deals with it.

The shortfall of recycled material to meet brand owner demand is particularly worrying as PET is one of the easiest plastics to collect and recycle. It is estimated that for brands to be able to offer as little a commitment as a 25% inclusion in their bottles, an extra 771,000 tonnes of used plastics need to be recycled annually.

That sounds a lot but it’s actually not – if you look at households in Western economies alone, a consistent increase of only 5% in their recycling of plastics would meet a quarter of that demand. The lack of effective access to recycling services for consumers is a big issue – particularly in their complacency towards their responsibility. It is estimated that the same households in the report dispose of more than 1.4 million tonnes of PET per year through non-recycling routes, easily enough to close the 25% recycled content gap. (there are of course other plastics that are disposed of but this refers only to food grade PET)

The report identified mechanical recycling as the only recycling process currently available at scale. It recommends focusing on traditional recycling technologies in the short term and supporting chemical recycling down the road as it commercializes. Other recommendations included incentivizing recycled material use and better product design for recyclability, as well as adjusting landfill tipping fees to make recycling the more cost-effective option.

To construct a state of the art chemcycling plant costs around £7.6M – again sounds a lot, but put that into context of the recently released report on the costs of the HS2 white elephant that nobody really wants or needs - redirecting the funds from that would enable the construction of 13,000 such plants so in other words – you would need less than 1% of these funds to build a new plant for every city in the UK.

Redirecting half of the funds would enable one recycling plant in every 14 square miles. Again – you’re going to hit a roadblock with consumers there – historically there’s always lots of agreeable nods and soundbites but when it comes to having such a plant on their doorstep it becomes a big ‘not in my back yard’ issue. Basically - we suck at it.


It’s all a con anyway. Our “recycling” is just pushing our crap onto a less fortunate country and telling them to get on with it.

Only this week we saw Malaysia taking a stand. It’s a total joke. Recycling itself isn’t enough to deal with the plastic issue.

Businesses know that, so they spin it as if by continuing to produce plastic packaging they’re somehow helping. Instead of people giving up convenience, they put their fingers in their ears and mutter “recycling” as if it’s the answer.

Until we lose our obsession with convenience and laziness, we’re doomed.

Perfect example:

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yes I saw that and its to my point on consumers attitudes towards it - ill have to look back in the forum but I recall it being a heavy majority of surveyed consumers who did not believe it was their responsibility at all and it was 100% down to the brand owner - which is just ludicrous.

Similarly - the recycling industry on as a whole needs a massive investment to update and expand its infrastructure to cope with new materials that are already developed rather than relying on high profit margin mechanical recycling which is very limited in its scope.

Even talking to the Huel guys about this - they want to use rPET in their RTD bottles but the suppliers cannot make any guarantees on quantity availability. Their pouches currently cannot be mechanically recycled but could be chemcycled - there just aren’t that many facilities capable of doing that.

In a recent interview piece, Julian did cover this and reported that Huel are working on a more viable bag solution but its at least a year away due to extensive testing and qualification.

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you’re correct also about asian countries stopping the trade in western economies sweeping their garbage under the carpet - China, Malaysia and Indonesia have all outlawed this.

So the consumer wants convenience so they buy plastic. Unfortunately, when they try to recycle it things are not straightforward. There are so many different options, even the lid is often not the same as the bottle; the packaging says, may be recycled check local recycling (but that is not quick and easy). Most people aren’t aware of the differences between plastics and what can/cannot be recycled. Local councils all operate differently, mine has been appalling, although from June they are using a new contractor to hopefully improve things.

People should try harder but most are fundamentally lazy, which is why they want convenience in the first place.


My dad chucked some old oven trays in the recycling at Christmas. I couldn’t get him to understand it’s not the same stuff they make cans out of.

He used to work in the steel industry too. We’re doomed.

(I fished them out of the bin and sent them to landfill instead. I also learned a new word: wishcycling, when you put stuff in the recycling in the hope they’ll know what to do with it.)


In that case all empty plastic coke bottles should be sent back to coca-cola. Pop always tasted nicer to me in glass bottles anyway, I remember as a kid the pop man coming round every week dropping off different flavour pop in glass bottles.


I used to like corona out of glass bottles…but look what happened…it mutated into a virus and is killing people.


Ugh, take my like…


Yeah the plastics labelling can be confusing and at times a little disingenuous as they all imply they are recyclable. Whenever you are eating or drinking out of plastic food packaging it should also have the food grade mark on it:

Here’s a quick guide for you all.

Symbol #1 - Polyethylene Terephthalate aka PET, PETE or rPET
One of the most commonly used plastics in consumer products and is found in most water and soda bottles. It is intended for single use applications; repeated use increases the risk of leaching and bacterial growth. PET plastic is difficult to decontaminate and proper cleaning requires harmful chemicals however it is easily recyclable when it is crushed and shredded before being reprocessed to make new PET bottles or spun into polyester fibre. This recycled fibre is used to make textiles such as fleece garments, carpets, stuffing for pillows and life jackets. Products made of PET plastic should be recycled but not reused.

Symbol #2 - High-Density Polyethylene aka HDPE or PE-HD
HDPE plastic is the stiff plastic used to make milk jugs, detergent and oil bottles, toys, and some plastic bags. HDPE is the most commonly recycled plastic and is considered one of the safest forms of plastic. It is a relatively simple and cost-effective process to recycle HDPE plastic for secondary use. It is very hard-wearing and does not break down under exposure to sunlight or extremes of heating or freezing. For this reason it is used to make picnic tables, plastic lumber, waste bins, park benches, bed liners for trucks and other products which require durability and weather-resistance. Products made of HDPE are reusable and recyclable.

Symbol #3 – Polyvinyl Chloride aka V or PVC
PVC is a soft, flexible plastic used to make clear food wrapping, cooking oil bottles, teething rings, children’s and pets’ toys and blister packaging. It is commonly used as the sheathing material for computer cables, to make plastic pipes and parts for plumbing, and in garden hoses. Because PVC is relatively impervious to sunlight and weather, it is used to make window frames, garden hoses, arbors and trellises. PVC is dubbed the “poison plastic” because it contains numerous toxins which it can leach throughout its entire life cycle. Almost all products using PVC require virgin material for their construction; less than 1% of PVC material is recycled. Products made using PVC plastic are not recyclable.

Symbol #4 – Low-Density Polyethylene aka LDPE or PE-LD
LDPE is often found in shrink wraps, dry cleaner garment bags, squeezable bottles and the type of plastic bags used to package bread. The plastic grocery bags used in most stores today are made using LDPE plastic. Some clothing and furniture also uses this type of plastic.
LDPE is considered less toxic than other plastics and relatively safe for use. It is not commonly recycled, although this is changing in many countries today as more plastic recycling programs gear up to handle this material. When recycled, LDPE plastic is used for plastic lumber, landscaping boards, garbage can liners and floor tiles. Products made using recycled LDPE are not as hard or rigid as those made using recycled HDPE plastic. Products made using LDPE plastic are reusable, but not always recyclable.

Symbol #5 – Polypropylene aka PP, OPP or PolyProp
Polypropylene plastic is tough and lightweight, and has excellent heat-resistance qualities. It serves as a barrier against moisture, grease and chemicals. When you try to open the thin plastic liner in a cereal box, it is polypropylene. This keeps your cereal dry and fresh. PP is also commonly used for disposable diapers, pails, plastic bottle tops, margarine and yogurt containers, potato chip bags, straws, packing tape and rope. Polypropylene is recyclable through some recycling programs, but only about 3% of PP products are currently being recycled. Recycled PP is used to make landscaping border stripping, battery cases, brooms, bins and trays. PP is considered safe for reuse.

Symbol #6 – Polystyrene aka PS
Polystyrene is an inexpensive, lightweight and easily-formed plastic with a wide variety of uses. It is most often used to make disposable drinking cups, take-out “clamshell” food containers, egg cartons, plastic picnic cutlery and foam packaging. Polystyrene is also widely used to make rigid foam insulation and underlay sheeting for laminate flooring used in home construction. Because polystyrene is structurally weak and ultra-lightweight, it breaks up easily and is dispersed readily throughout the natural environment. Beaches all over the are contaminated with polystyrene and an untold number of marine species have ingested this plastic with immeasurable consequences to their health. Polystyrene leaches styrene, a human carcinogen, into food products - especially when heated in a microwave. Chemicals present in polystyrene have been linked with human health and reproductive system dysfunction. Recycling is not widely available which is why this material accounts for about 35% of landfill material. While the technology for recycling polystyrene is available, the market for recycling is small. Polystyrene should be avoided where possible.

Symbol #7 – BPA, Polycarbonate (PC), PLA and LEXAN aka OTHER or O
The #7 category was designed as a catch-all for polycarbonate (PC) and other plastics, so reuse and recycling protocols are not standardized within this category. Of primary concern with #7 plastics, however, is the potential for chemical leaching into food or drink products packaged in polycarbonate containers. Number 7 plastics are used to make baby bottles, sippy cups, water cooler bottles and car parts. BPA is found in polycarbonate plastic food containers often marked on the bottom with the letters “PC” by the recycling label #7. A new generation of compostable plastics, made from bio-based polymers like corn starch, is being developed to replace polycarbonates. These are also included in category #7, which can be confusing to the consumer. These compostable plastics have the initials “PLA” on the bottom near the recycling symbol. Some may also say “Compostable.” When possible it is best to avoid #7 plastics, especially for children’s food. PLA coded plastics should be thrown in the compost and not the recycle bin since PLA compostable plastics are not recyclable.


This is a great topic thanks @Phil_C.

Just going to add if you ever see this symbol it doesn’t mean the packaging is recyclable. All it means is the manufacturer has paid into a scheme that supports recyclable packaging and systems. AHHHHH


Dan is correct Der Grüne Punkt or Green Dot is a German scheme where brands pay a license fee and providing they pay the fee, DSD collect their used packaging from households and take it away which as he said - doesn’t necessarily mean the pack itself is recyclable.

The Green Dot logo merely indicates that a company has joined the Green Dot scheme.


I’ve got 2 cats I need recycling, which is the correct box to out them in? They don’t have any PET labels but they are microchipped so I don’t want to just chuck them in a hedge as they will link back to me.


Microchips are technology so you need to take them to the tip and throw them in the skip with the old toasters and stuff.

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@hunzas can’t you launch them into space and track them with an app on your phone? They might find some new decent planets better than us.

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Well that’s fucking stupid. I always thought this meant the packaging was recyclable. No wonder the system is in such a mess.


It’s all a load of Shit

Me too @Coup

It’s just one of the devices used by less than transparent brands to try and beef up their credentials - same as the old Tidy Man logo that’s still in use and has absolutely nothing to do with recycling.

It’s my understanding that the Tidyman logo is nothing more than an anti-litter symbol.