Recycled PET makes inroads in produce market

07/27/2009 03:03:00 PM
Pamela Riemenschneider

As corporate sustainability initiatives take root, the market for recycled polyethylene terephthalate grows as well.

It has taken some time to get the supply chain lined up, said Chad Smith, manager of sustainability initiatives for the Earthbound Farm brand, which is marketed by San Juan Bautista, Calif.-based Natural Selection Foods LLC.

Earthbound Farm is changing over all of its PET clamshells to 100% postconsumer recycled PET.

Bowling Green, Ohio-based Phoenix Technologies sees a lot more than just interest for its postconsumer recycled PET.

“A lot of that interest is turning into demand,” said Lori Carson, sales and marketing manager. “The market itself is changing. Once you start to change a mindset, it takes a while.”

Carson said there has been food grade rPET available for a decade, but only in select places.

“I think now it’s just the whole sustainability movement — reducing carbon footprint,” Carson said. “All of that is now much more widespread and well-known.”

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark., had a lot to do with the big push that has happened over the past 18-24 months, Carson said.

“The market was moving in that direction, but it probably wouldn’t have moved as quickly if Wal-Mart hadn’t made the demand that their suppliers get better on the sustainability front,” she said.

There still are some barriers to rPET’s proliferation. One is cost.

Carson estimates rPET costs on average 8% to 10% more than virgin PET.

That can be a significant barrier for many companies, said Jim Scattini, director of new business development for Watsonville, Calif.-based Sambrailo Packaging.

“The extra added cost has to be justified,” Scattini said. “It really depends on how much virgin resin you buy and how big a buyer you are,” she said.

Another is the availability of materials.

A lot of municipal recycling facilities still do not accept all types of PET for recycling.

The industry is working to change that, Smith said.

At present, Smith said, about 18% of clamshells get recycled.

“If municipal recycling facilities are hand-sorting recyclables, then they are generally sorting by shape,” he said. “Since the vast majority of beverage bottles are made from PET, that’s the shape they recycle.”

The percentage of clamshells that are made from PET is not high enough to warrant that in many places, so they wind up in a landfill.

“Our economy is market-based so the most important step we can take to encourage recycling of all types of PET is to contribute to the creation of market demand for postconsumer PET,” he said.

Phoenix Technologies plans to contribute to that demand by going local.

The company established a sister — PTI Recycling Systems, Holland, Ohio, — whose sole purpose is to sell its rPET production and manufacturing systems. 

By locating rPET resin manufacturing lines close to sources — such as large-scale municipal recycling facilities — recyclers have more incentive to take on different types of PET.

It’s cost-effective because of the scale and the reduction in transit between recycling facilities and rPET production.

“It is much easier to source for a 10-million-pound-line than it is to source for a 100-million-pound-line,” Carson said. “Our whole philosophy is to keep everything as local as you can.”



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