New developments in the recycling of PET thermoforms in Europe

Collection, Sorting and Recycling

Since recycling targets go up, also collection targets follow. Even in countries where today PET thermoforms are not yet collected, this will happen in the future. A large test in France showed that recycling of monolayer PET trays together with bottles can work under certain conditions. The sorting requires software and devices that can distinguish between mono- and multilayer packaging and the recycling process is creating fines when the process is using high friction coefficient in washing/drying steps. Another approach is to sort all PET trays from bottles, eventually then sort monolayer from multilayer and develop outlets for the sorted fractions. Dedicated recycling lines for PET thermoforms are under development.

Development of applications for recycled PET thermoforms

The most obvious market for r-PET coming from thermoforms is to use them for the manufacture of new thermoforms. Several studies have shown that washing, extrusion and solid stating result in a good quality material for coloured applications. Retailers can increase the amount of deep coloured trays for vegetables and fruits and are invited to work with packaging producers on this solution. The material is also suitable to be used for agricultural trays.

Several tests have also shown that the use of PET thermoforms granulates can be used for monofilaments because the mechanical properties are very close to virgin PET. PET compounds for pellets and automotive applications are the next target and several connections within the industry have been established.

The workshop furthermore investigated the economics of a recycling stream of pure PET trays to produce material for compounding for injection molding applications and the final outcome looks quite promising.

Chemical Recycling

Chemical recycling is a promising technology for future recycling of “difficult to recycle” PET streams. Several start-up companies are in the stage of scaling up their technologies and tests have shown that recycling of PET/PE and PET multilayer trays will work. However, the important question is if industry will be able to develop these technologies to an industrial and economically feasible scale.

Source: Petcore Europe