Better legislation in emerging economies, improved infrastructure, and encouraging consumers to recycle is needed to boost the re-use of plastic from bottles, according to the European Federation of Bottled Waters (EFBW).
Green Week, an annual conference on European environment policy, took place June 3-5 in Brussels. Its theme included the vision of a circular economy, ‘where re-use and remanufacturing of products has become standard practice.’
Philippe Diercxsens, vice-chair environment committee, European Federation of Bottled Waters, was a speaker on ‘Making plastic fit for the circular economy’.
Recycling old bottles
He told FoodProductionDaily.com consumers are better educated about recycling than 30 years ago, but more encouragement is needed.
“If the consumer doesn’t want to collect and sort, nothing will happen. The most important thing is the willingness of the consumer,” he said.
“We all try to collect material: in Germany, Austria and Belgium we reach very large amounts, but in eastern Europe we do not collect many bottles. These countries have to improve capacity of collecting.
“We know we will never be able to avoid packaging, we are 7 bn people. We absolutely need to find the solutions to collect and sort in all parts of the world.
“So I think one of the big lessons is international agreements are necessary to force countries to have good legislation, infrastructure, and [encourage the] willingness of consumers to sort packaging.”
PET recycling rates
Diercxsens believes developments in technology will mean more recycled PET plastic can be used in each new bottle.
“When you use recycled PET you can have some effect on the yellow coloration of the PET bottles. These effects can be seen from the moment you use 40-50%.
"If you are using a colorant like a blue pigment, then depending on the pigment, you can use [more] recycled PET. These technologies are improving year after year and the side effects will disappear.
European PET bottle platform
Japan has high PET recycling rates at around 80%, with Europe at 50%, Diercxsens said. US is behind at 30%.
A European PET bottle platform presents guidelines for PET bottle recyclability, as well as evaluating new technologies and PET developments. These can serve as a handbook not only for Europe but other regions as well, he added.
“Year after year we update the platform, and we have technical experts analyzing and updating the guidelines. We try and convince other parts of the world like America and Africa to use those guidelines. If they are good for Europe, they are good for the world.
“The US has a poor PET recycling rate, around 30%. Africa is much lower, many of those countries still don’t have legislation, and that needs to change.”