What Is rPET and Why Its Use Protects the Environment

What is rPET? What role does it play in protecting the environment. Evergreen explains.

At Evergreen, we talk a lot about rPET, in particular, food grade rPET. We’re proud of the fact that as of January 1, 2022, we produce 147 million pounds of this plastic resin a year. But unless you’re in the recycling, plastics, packaging or consumer products industries, you may have no idea what rPET is. You also may be unaware why it plays a key role in reducing plastic in landfills, in oceans and waterways, and along roadways. So we’ve put together some quick information for you.

What Is PET?

Polyethylene terephthalate plastic (PET) is a type of plastic resin that is highly flexible, colorless and semi-crystalline. Depending on how the PET is to be used, it is either semi-rigid or rigid. PET plastic is prized by beverage and food companies because it can be used to make lightweight bottles and containers in a myriad of shapes, with excellent clarity and product protection. PET is pretty much the standard packaging material for the beverage industry.

PET is 100 percent recyclable and is the most recycled plastic in the United States and worldwide. According to the PET Resin Association, more than 1.5 billion pounds of used PET bottles and containers are recovered in the United States each year for recycling. Evergreen alone collects 11.6 billion post-consumer bottles each year.

What then is rPET?

rPET is recycled polyethylene terephthalate plastic. This recycled plastic resin is highly sought after by beverage and food companies as well as many others that make strapping, clothing, shoes, and carpeting to name a few. The reason? They want their packaging and products to contain recycled content to lessen the environmental impact and help close the loop on plastics.

Evergreen’s food grade rPET pellet

Companies like Evergreen operate recycling facilities that collect, sort, and clean post-consumer PET bottles for recycling into rPET pellets. Evergreen produces 147 million pounds of high quality, food grade rPET pellets each year. At Evergreen, food grade rPET pellets are made to the specifications of the customer following rigorous manufacturing and quality control processes. Learn more here.

Converting post-consumer PET bottles and containers into a valuable resource such as rPET helps the environment because rPET has a lower carbon footprint than virgin PET. It also reduces demand for virgin PET, which requires more energy and water to produce.

Why are companies using rPET?

There are many reasons companies are using rPET. These include a desire to provide consumers with packaging and products that align with their desire to save the planet for future generations. Companies also want to reduce reliance on landfills. Currently just 29 percent of plastics are recycled. The rest goes to landfills. By using rPET, companies close the loop on PET plastic. Also, an alarming amount of plastic bottles and containers find their way into oceans, impacting marine life and the environment at large. By using rPET, companies increase demand for post-consumer PET, which in turn supports more recycling and diverts plastic waste from oceans. Basically, using rPET benefits everyone and is a tremendous motivator for companies.

Are the major beverage companies onboard with using rPET in their bottles?

Absolutely! The American Beverage Association’s Every Bottle Back initiative is jointly sponsored by The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, and Keurig-Dr Pepper. Together these companies are working to increase used bottle collections, recycling and rPET usage in new bottles. Other companies like Nestlé have made recycling and rPET usage a priority. The beverage industry is “all in” on closing the loop on PET so this versatile material, in the form of rPET, can be used in convenient beverage bottles.

Does curbside recycling really make a difference?

Yes, it does. The only way to produce rPET is to collect and recycle post-consumer PET bottles and containers placed in curbside recycling bins. If curbside recycling isn’t available where you live, we encourage you to find other collection points. Supermarkets like Publix have recycling bins outside of their stores. Cities and counties also have recycling collection points. A growing number of companies and businesses encourage their team members to recycle and provide recycling bins. Every person who participates in curbside recycling plays an important role in protecting our world and making it a better place.

What actually happens to PET bottles placed in the recycling bin?

When you place PET bottles in a recycling bin, they are collected and transported to a materials recovery facility where they are sorted from other materials. PET bottles and containers typically have a #1 in the triangular chasing arrows recycling logo on the bottom or side of the container or on the label. The PET bottles are baled and sent to PET recycling facilities. At recycling facilities like Evergreen’s four facilities across North America, the bales are broken and sorted to remove any non-PET materials. Evergreen employs AI-enabled robots to accelerate the accurate sorting of bottles.

Once sorted, the PET bottles are ground and put through a separation process, often a float/sink tank. The denser PET material sinks, separating it from the lighter cap and label material. The PET material is then cleaned and dried. Clean PET flake undergoes additional processing  depending on the intended end market. Evergreen is focused on producing high quality, food grade rPET pellet, which requires specific manufacturing and quality control processes.

How many times can plastic bottles and containers containing rPET be used?

A bottle with PET and/or rPET can be recycled multiple times. Some breakdowns in the polymer chains occurs when the resin goes through multiple heat cycles during the recycling process, which degrades the PET’s intrinsic viscosity. However, recyclers can use additives to raise PET’s intrinsic viscosity and extend the materials use life.

Interested in supporting the use of rPET? Here’s what you can do.

  • Properly dispose of and recycle all PET packaging and products.
  • Follow your local recycler’s guidelines for the disposal of recyclable products.
  • Seek out and purchase products made from rPET, such as beverage bottles, food  containers, household cleaners and beauty product bottles and jars.
  • Encourage others – friends, family, schools and business –  to recycle PET bottles, containers and products.
  • Support investments in U.S.-based rPET production facilities.

We hope this post has been helpful and you are now inspired to join Evergreen, your favorite brands, and others with a passion for our world in increasing both plastics recycling and the inclusion of rPET in packaging and products. You can learn more about Evergreen and our North American network of recycling and rPET manufacturing facilities here.

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