From Pet to R-Pet to Bio-Pet
Environmentally friendly: a strong brand attribute
The environmental movement may have started with consumers but it has now been fully embraced by businesses. The 5Rs, Refresh, Reduce, Recycle, Reuse and Renew are now part of daily business life and on the business agenda of all leading brands. Not only is this good news for the planet, but it has led to some highly innovative packaging solutions.
Better than PET − R-PET
The benefits of traditional PET are already well-known by food and beverage manufacturers. Lightweight, shatterresistant and offering product integrity through exceptional chemical resistance, PET is energy-efficient to produce and easy to transport. It has also contributed to a reduction in primary packaging weight, which has had a direct effect on CO2 at all levels. And best of all, in these environmentally-aware days, it is fully recyclable. Today's PET bottles can easily be turned into a wide variety of different household items - from new bottles, to vacuum cleaners to clothing. Recycled PET (known as R-PET) maintains the same lightweight strength and durability as PET but requires two-thirds less energy than virgin PET to manufacture.
Commitment to recycling
Understandably, the industry has not been slow in embracing R-PET and many leading brands have integrated recycled R-PET into their processes as standard. Spa Monopole and Martens Brewery in Belgium both use 50% R-PET in their packaging. Danone currently uses 25% R-PET for the Evian and volvic bottles they export. And Coca-Cola is committed to sourcing 25% of its PET from recycled material by 2015.
Although R-PET lets manufacturers maintain all the advantages of PET, there is still one drawback: a limited supply. The next step has to be to increase supply by convincing the general public of the need to recycle - and demand recycled products. And this starts with effective collection of used PET bottles.
A study published in 2011 shows that Europe leads the way in PET collection with an average collection rate of 50% of PET bottles. That's 1.59 million tonnes of PET. This trend is reflected in recycling rates across the world with the Canadian Plastics Industry Association reporting a 13% increase in recycling rates in North America and Canada in 2011. While this is a good start, there's still plenty of room for improvement.
But the industry has not stopped its quest to improve the environmental properties of PET with R-PET. New technologies have enabled PET bottles to be created from organic agricultural by-products or agricultural scrap. Bio-PET, as it is known, reduces reliance on the fossil fuel petroleum in the production process and remains fully recyclable. The first key component of PET that has been purposely produced from renewable resources was MEG. Produced from sugar cane molasses, this accounts for about 30% of PET. Coca-Cola is the first company to fully embrace Bio-PET packaging with its innovative new PlantBottle™. This is the first ever fully recyclable PET plastic beverage bottle made with up to 30% of non-fossil material. Because the end material is still PET, it delivers the same performance with regard to versatility, durability, re-sealability, weight, appearance and recyclability. However, because these PET bottles are partially produced from renewable resources, they have a reduced carbon footprint. This bottle is already in use on selected brands and to date, over 15 billion Plant-Bottle packages have been distributed in 25 countries ref lecting the global commitment of Coca-Cola to the environment.
Industry leaders champion bio-PET
Following on from the success of the PlantBottle, Coca-Cola has joined forces with four other industry-leading consumer product manufacturers to form the Plant PET Technology Collaborative (PTC). In this strategic working group, Coca-Cola, Ford Motor Company, H.J. Heinz Company, NIKE Inc. and Procter & Gamble, PTC are working together to accelerate the development and use of 100% plant-based PET materials and fibre in their product packaging and find alternatives to fossil fuels.
Sports clothing manufacturer, Nike is continuously exploring new ways to incorporate sustainability in its business practices. For example, they are melting down reclaimed and discarded plastic PET bottles to produce new yarn and fabric for high performance apparel.
All Nike national football kits contain recycled plastic bottles, with an average of 13 recycled bottles going into the fabric of each kit. Approximately 16 million recycled plastic bottles went into the creation of this year's kit. That is the equivalent of enough kit to cover 28 soccer pitches. Not only does this process save raw materials, but it reduces energy consumption by an estimated 30% compared to manufacturing virgin polyester.
Another recent innovation is NIKE Flyknit. This is a new manufacturing process that uses special yarns to knit the upper part of a shoe in one single piece. Compared with traditional footwear manufacturers who use a number of materials and cuts, this process reduces waste to create one lightweight formfitting upper.
The City of Vancouver, Canada
The benefits of recycled PET have not escaped urban planners. In fact, in the vibrant Canadian city of vancouver, there is up to 1% recycled plastic in the asphalt used to repair and pave the city's roads. This is part of vancouver's bid to become the greenest city by 2020 and it could save up to 300 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually if widely adopted.