As the global culture begins to shift toward sustainability, demand for recycled polyethylene terephthalate (R-PET) has been rising steadily over the past few years. According to ICIS Chemical Business, R-PET demand in Europe has increased by 10% per year for the past four years, and some industry forecasters expect growth in this market to increase by as much as 25% this year. This demand growth is due to an increased focus on sustainability from corporations such as Coca Cola, which plans to include 25% R-PET content in all its European bottles by 2012. Car manufacturers are also demanding R-PET flakes for car interiors, looking to minimize their costs and boost their environmental image. R-PET is also in demand in the garment and textiles industry as cotton prices increase. Companies such as H&M are launching lines of apparel made from sustainable fabrics including recycled plastics.
This surge in demand has resulted in rising R-PET prices and a supply shortage of the material. Companies are investing in reprocessing plants to increase production. Coca Cola recently announced a partnership with bottle recycler Eco Plastics to build a new plant in Lincolnshire, England. This project is expected to increase UK’s R-PET capacity from 35,000 to 75,000 tonnes per year. However, industry experts point to collection rather than production being the source of the shortage problem. Reprocessing capacities have increased but bottle collection rates have remained flat globally. Some recyclers have stated that they could sell 30% more R-PET than they currently have.
Clearly more investment in collecting mechanisms is necessary if the recycled plastics industry is to continue to grow. Consumer confusion about plastic types and recycling processes is one factor that has contributed to low curb-side collection rates. However, most recycling programs around the globe are led by governments and the private sector has not yet taken initiative to increase recycling rates. However, with the prices of both virgin PET and cotton rising, companies may find it in their interest to take action on this issue.
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