West Europe PET bottle recovery grows, but challenges for RPET supply chain remain
The total volume of PET bottles collected in West Europe during 2017 was near 2 Mt, compared to an estimated 3.2 Mt of bottles placed in the market, according to Wood Mackenzie Chemicals' latest report on the RPET market in West Europe.
Commenting on the findings of the study, Helen McGeough, Wood Mackenzie Chemicals Senior Consultant, said: "2017 was a rollercoaster year for the PET packaging market in West Europe. With exceptionally good weather in Europe boosting demand and capacity outages impacting output, the European virgin PET resin market environment rapidly shifted from one of excess supply to supply challenges.
"Our research points to a significant shift in RPET market prospects from an industry solely focused on economics to one with a greater emphasis on sustainability. With recycling firmly in the spotlight and sustainability on the agenda of an increasing number of brand owners, demand for RPET is rising.
"The potential for recovery of large quantities of PET containers is evident, and PET bottle collection volume is projected to reach 2.3 Mt by 2022. As noted in the study, almost 75% of the collection volumes came from just five key markets. Compared to 2016, only a few countries saw significant increases in recovery volumes, most saw minimal change and six countries actually saw a decrease in collection volumes."
The study also highlights the growing challenge in improving collection rates and bale qualities. Wood Mackenzie Chemicals' analysis reveals that roughly two thirds of collection systems currently in use in West Europe are kerbside systems, as opposed to deposit systems. The ever-decreasing bale yield, due to contamination, suggests the dominant collection systems (i.e. kerbside) are not producing optimum qualities, therefore adding weight to the argument in favour of bottle deposit systems.
Helen McGeough continued: "Clearly post-consumer PET bottles being recovered and recycled is the optimum solution for the entire supply chain, as this provides a circularity and avoids PET going to landfill or being irresponsibly disposed of.
"There has been some talk of governments introducing financial incentives, such as levies, to support the competitiveness of recycled plastic. However, taxation in isolation is unlikely to increase collection rates, as there needs to be a better appreciation of how recycling works and the benefits of doing so. This level of education is one that could be spearheaded by governments, who have access to the necessary funding and resources needed to make a lasting difference."