Improving the quality of food grade recycled PET

WRAP has carried out research to improve the quality of recycled PET (rPET) for use in food packaging, thus enabling the material to be more widely used.

The research was conducted in response to engagement with users of rPET in the UK who reported that their ability to increase the amount of rPET in new drinks bottles and food packaging was being affected by the quality of the rPET itself. WRAP undertook the project with plastics reprocessors, converters and end-users such as retailers and brand owners (that use rPET in packaging applications). The aim was to identify what the rPET quality issues were, investigate the root causes and develop some solutions.

Key report findings

The report makes recommendations to improve food grade rPET quality, which will help reduce the environmental impact as more material will be diverted from landfill and used as recycled content in new food packaging. By improving the quality of rPET this will further stimulate demand for rPET which can help boost the recycling infrastructure in the UK for PET reprocessing.

The factors affecting the quality of rPET include: packaging design, quality level of recovered bottle bales from Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) and reprocessing methods. Discolouration is due to contamination from PVC (polyvinyl chloride), coloured plastics, metals, plastic films, and fine particles. 

The research finds that rPET quality can be improved in the following ways:

  • brands, retailers and packaging converters designing bottles and thermoformed PET packaging to assist recycling and reduce contamination, and using virgin resins designed for recycling and reprocessing;
  • MRFs and plastics sorters working to improve the sorting and separation of plastic packaging; and
  • food grade rPET reprocessors sieving/screening rPET flake to remove particles <2mm in size.
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