Virgin PET and Recycled PET (Plastic Material)
Many fast-moving consumer goods are switching from using virgin PET (recycling code #1) plastic to recycled PET instead. With the constant changes happening within the plastic industry, we wanted to help you break this one down. First, let’s learn a little more about each option.
Virgin PET Plastic
Virgin PET plastic/resin describes PET (#1) plastic manufacturing material when it is in its purest form. The plastic is ‘brand new” and will have never been used or processed before and is therefore in peak performance.
Recycled PET Plastic
The second option, recycled PET plastic or ‘second hand material’, can come from two different ‘streams’. The first is ‘Post-Industrial Recycled’ PET (PIR), this is faulty plastic that never leaves the factory it was manufactured in. If a machine produces a faulty PET bottle, we grind it up to be recycled into another PET product. PIR can be used to remake the same product or a new one depending on the products’ food safety specifications.
The second stream of recycled PET plastic is ‘Post-consumer recycled’ (PCR). PCR is considered ‘waste’ by the consumer who has used/finished with the product. For example, if a consumer bought a bottle of water and finished its contents, they might put it in their recycling bin. These bins are collected by recycling companies and sent for processing. Next the reclaimed plastic is washed, reground, and turned into pellets. These pellets are then sold to manufacturing companies as new PCR PET material.
So, what is the difference?
There is little difference between a virgin PET product and a rPET product with the structural integrities much the same. To the average consumer, the look and feel will appear identical, and they will be unaware of the change. Clued in consumers are usually a result of information on the label for competitive environmental advantage and consumer education. However, it should be obvious that no recycled plastic can ever be the exact same as virgin plastic.
To avoid any small compromises in safety, quality or performance of recycled plastic, manufacturers must request their evidence that shows the percentage of recycled content in any purchased raw material as well as assurance regarding the quality of the recycled feedstock. Knowing information like this and having control over it will help the manufacturer adapt or change their processes to produce industry standard recycled products.
- Is recycled PET plastic more expensive than virgin? – In Aotearoa, yes! It is approximately 25% more for rPET
- Why is recycled plastic so expensive? – There are several factors:
- With few recycled plastic resources within Aotearoa and extreme international shipping delays, the demand for recycled plastic is high therefore so is the price.
- To convert PET waste back into its original form as a resin pellet/granule the process is significant and there is limited infrastructure and capacity.
- Is recycled plastic weaker? – Every time plastic is recycled it becomes slightly weaker. However, it is important to understand that recycled products are not being made of material that has all been recycled the same number of times. The material could be made up of products on their first, second or third round of recycling!
- Can I make any product PET product out of recycled material? The short answer is yes. However, in many cases, manufacturing processes cannot just swap from virgin PET to recycled PET. Often, a change like this will require extensive research and development and if you would like to produce Food Grade Approved recycled PET products, you may need to add many more steps and infrastructure to your process.
If you require any further information, please get in touch with our experienced Waipak Team. We are passionate about this subject and love to help anyone with this common interest.