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Chemical Recycling - Q&A

The Q&A clarifies the definition of chemical recycling as published by the Coalition for Chemical Recycling http://www.coalition-chemical-recycling.eu/

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Is recycling of PET comparable with glass?

Yes, it is.  Although glass has been recycled virtually continuously since its invention and its recycle is a well-established industry, PET can be collected in the same way and recycled by washing and remelting in a similar manner to glass.  Recycling of PET bottles is now a common practice in most industrialised countries.  However, because PET can be used for a variety of other applications it is not always recycled into new bottles.  Melting and forming fibre products is the historic choice for the recycled PET material, as these markets are well developed.

Is PET the best plastic for soft drinks packaging on environmental criteria?

Not specifically, although several LCA comparisons show excellent environmental benefits from the use of PET.  It is important to ensure that the material is 'fit for the purpose' and can be washed and cleansed adequately, in order to make its recycling easier.  Developments in PET materials, improvements in bottle manufacturing technology and lower temperature sterilisation techniques ensure that PET is the preferred material for such a demanding task, as at the same time it confers the benefits of light weight and low material usage.

How can PET have a positive environmental profile if its raw materials are petroleum-based?

PET is a remarkably energy-efficient packaging material.  First of all, it's highly recyclable.  Although the feedstocks for PET are crude oil and natural gas, the environmental impact of PET is very favourable in comparison to glass, aluminium and other container materials.  Because PET is so strong yet light in weight, it allows more product to be delivered with less packaging, less weight and less fuel are required for transportation.  Life cycle studies of PET have consistently shown it to be a highly sustainable material with a positive environmental profile.

Do Eco-profiles show which packaging material is best for the environment?

This is a frequent question that is almost impossible to answer.  When looking at environmental criteria - unless each effect is categorised, classified, and ranked in order of societal importance - a clear answer cannot be given.  For example, which is the most important - reduction of global warming gases, fossil fuel depletion rates, consumption of water, emissions to water courses, air emissions, eutrophication of waterways, reduction of ozone depleting gases, or other parameters?

What happens if PET is burned or used as a substitute fuel?

PET will burn like paper, wood, and coal.  Since it is very difficult to ignite and usually melts away from any flame sources, accidental ignition is unlikely.  In this respect, it is similar to most natural organic materials.  It has the same calorific value as soft coal (22-23 MJ/kg) and this energy can be very efficiently recovered in up-to-date 'Waste to Energy' power generation facilities.  Residues (ash) are measured in parts per million and can be disposed of with normal fuel ash.

What happens to PET if it is dumped into landfills?

It will stay there, inert, similar to glass.  It will not degrade biologically; one of the reasons it is such a good choice for packaging foods is its resistance to attack by microorganisms.  It will be crushed flat without fragmenting (no shards) and occupy less space that the more rigid glass. It is resistant to the chemical species found in landfills and will not give rise to any harmful leachates. Indeed, these very properties are utilized in stabilisation of landfills and processed baled PET bottles have been used for stabilisation of the foundations for road works.

What is PET resin or PET?

PET is the most commonly used acronym for the polymer polyethylene terephthalate. PET is the most common form of polymer in the "polyester" polymer family. It is heated and shaped into plastic bottles, trays and containers for packaging foods and beverages, personal care products, and many other consumer products.