Packaging, Building and Construction

The pros and cons of recycling PET bottles and other plastic waste

Recycling has become very important over the last several decades. Not only is recycling a more sustainable way of dealing with waste, waste, in itself, has also largely changed to becoming a valuable resource of raw materials.

Recycling is one of those things that just makes sense. But like many things that make sense, there are cons as well as pros. Here’s an overview of some of the most important seen from our perspective as an innovator in sustainable colorants for plastics.

Recycled plastic is obtained either by melting down used, sorted plastic - resulting in granulates- and turning these into new articles (mechanical recycling), like fiber for clothes Or by reverting it to its original building blocks and producing new plastic (chemical recycling). In both cases, much of this material comes from used items, such as plastic bottles, containers and so on that have been collected by consumers, retailers and waste deposit schemes.

The pros of recycling polyester (PET) and other plastics:

• Recycling prevents plastics from being incinerated, or going into landfill or ending up as marine litter. This matters because, in some estimates, if we keep dumping plastic at our current rate, in 30 years there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans.

• Recycled PET (rPET) is as good as virgin polyester and its production requires significantly less energy. Next, CO2 emissions are 50%, or even less, compared to regular polyester.

• Recycling reduces demand for crude oil and natural gas and reduces emissions from incinerators.

• The potential uses of recycled plastic, and rPET in particular, are growing. Existing applications: bottles, sheets, clothing and much more.

• Recycling plastic creates jobs and helps to drive innovation in recycling.

• Chemical recycling, unlike mechanical recycling, has the potential to make plastics infinitely recyclable without any loss of performance.

• Different plastics can be repurposed for different applications, such as textiles, insulation, chairs and benches, and so on.

• Governmental pressure in legislation is increasing. In 2025, 50% of all plastic must be recycled in Europe. Changing the design of plastic products and their packaging could increase the recycling opportunities enormously.

The cons of recycling polyester and other plastics:

• Mechanical recycling, which involves washing, shredding and melting used plastic, weakens that plastic over time and can result in discoloration (yellowing). In the case of rPET, the lower mechanical strength is compensated in both the recycling process and with the addition of Virgin PET in the use phase.

• Chemical recycling returns a waste plastic product to its original small molecules (monomers) or small fragments. These are indistinguishable from the ones used in virgin plastic production and can be fed into the regular polyester manufacturing system. But chemical recycling is a more expensive process than mechanical recycling.

• Recycled plastic used to create textiles releases microplastics when washed. These microplastics reach the oceans and cause pollution.

• Some people argue that recycling plastic blinds us to the real problem – the use of plastic, most of which does not get recycled, either because of a lack of technology, infrastructure or economics.

• Coloring is a challenge when recycling PET due to the variability and impurities in the recycling feedstock. This makes it hard to keep color consistent between batches.

Would you like any help in creating a consistent quality of your recycled plastic? Please talk to us! We offer unrivalled coloring and compounding expertise, turning your waste into fit-for-purpose recycled plastic.