Whether water or soda, many drinks are nowadays offered in so-called PET bottles. PET stands for polyethylene terephthalate, petroleum is used to manufacture this type of plastic. In the great outdoors, the bottle only decomposes after 450 years – none of this sounds exactly environmentally friendly. Even if the plastic bottles are recycled, only about a third of them are used for new PET bottles, the rest goes into products such as satchels or clothing. How can you make this process more environmentally friendly? The key to this lies in the so-called rPET. This is made entirely from recycled PET bottles. Dr. Frank Welle is an expert in this area and does research at the Fraunhofer Institute on this topic. We asked him a few questions.
BUNTE.de: Dr. Wave, wHow exactly does rPET work? How does the production work?
First, the bottles are collected. As in Germany, this can be done using a deposit system. The bottles can also be collected via plastic collections or via a dual system. The collected bottles are then chopped up and washed thoroughly. The labels and the closures are also removed. The washed PET pieces, the so-called flakes, are so clean after washing that they can be used for clothing. If you want to make new PET bottles from it, you have to use a further cleaning step. The PET pieces are first melted and processed into granules. The granulate is then heated for a long time. The flavors evaporate and a clean and safe recyclate is created, which can be used for new PET bottles.
How many times can a bottle be reused and recycled?
Dr. Welle: Basically, a PET bottle can be recycled almost any number of times. However, from a European perspective, not all PET bottles are collected and not all PET bottles are processed back into PT bottles. Some of the bottles go into clothing, others into foils. For PET bottles, therefore, only roughly a third of the recyclate remains. This means that the recyclate is usually only used to a certain extent in new PET bottles. However, rPET bottles made from 100 percent recyclate are already on the market. Technically this is not a problem.
Does the material affect the taste or color of the content?
rPET, which is used for PET beverage bottles, is safe. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has confirmed this to the recycling companies. Each recycler must apply for approval from EFSA. Only then can the recycler manufacture rPET for beverage bottles.
If the beverage bottles contain a high proportion of rPET, you can see a slight gray haze on the bottles. But you have to look closely to see this.
What are the advantages of PET over glass in beverage packaging?
PET is a transparent, unbreakable and lightweight plastic that is also very easy to recycle. The beverage bottles can be made from very small quantities of plastic. A 1.5 l PET bottle weighs just under 30 g. A 0.7 l glass reusable bottle, on the other hand, weighs over 500 g. This is an enormous difference, which affects above all during transport.
Are there conditions through which the plastic can influence the contents of the bottle, due to heat, sunlight or the duration of storage?
Mineral water is a sensitive food. One should not put PET mineral water bottles in the sun, because then a slight plastic taste can develop. This is harmless to health.
So if you want to pay more attention to the environment in the future, you should make sure that the bottles are made of completely recycled old plastic. From September 2020, for example, all Volvic bottles will be made entirely of rPET.
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