Study reveals Germany’s success in PET bottle recycling

Study reveals Germany’s success in PET bottle recycling

The country recycles its PET bottles at a rate in excess of 93%.

December 6, 2016

Bottle deposits have ensured consistently high recycling rates for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles in Germany, according to a study commissioned by Forum PET within Bad Homburg, Germany-based IK Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen eV, a federal association representing the interests of plastic packaging and film manufacturing in Germany and Europe. PET bottles in Germany are recycled at a total of about 93.5%, while one-way deposit PET bottles have reached a rate of 97.9%. The industry is also continuing its aim of supplying more recycled PET into the materials cycle, with the average share of recycled PET in bottle production increasing compared with 2013, despite the adverse price development in recycled compared with virgin PET. The recycling process largely takes place in Germany.

“PET bottles take the lion’s share in recycling rates compared to other forms of packaging,” says Dr. Isabell Schmidt, director of Forum PET within IK plastic packaging. In particular, one-way deposit PET bottles increased slightly on what was already a very high recycling rate of 97.2% as calculated in the first edition of the 2013 study, reaching a rate of 97.9% in 2015.

Forum PET says this development is the result of deposits placed on disposable bottles. “Consumers keep the material cycle running at a high level by returning bottles, much to the benefit of the environment,” Schmidt says. The recycling system deals with 98.8% of deposit bottles, according to the study, most of which customers return via reverse vending machine. With this in mind, Forum PET says it endorses continuance with the deposit system. On average, 95.7% of all PET bottles are collected separate, with the remainder being disposed of in the household waste for conversion into energy, the organisation says.

The beverage industry is chiefly responsible for recycling used PET bottles, with just over one-third—34%–of the recycled material used in manufacturing new PET bottles. The proportion of recycled PET used increased in bottle production even with the price gap between virgin and recycled PET decreasing from the 2013 figure of 46%. 2015 saw PET bottles containing an average of 26% recycled materials compared with 24% in 2013, according to the study.

“We would have hoped for an even higher increase, but we have to appreciate the PET industry’s commitment all the more considering the adverse price development,” Schmidt says. “The industry is committed to sustainability.”

Further increases in recycled PET levels within the recycling cycle is only a matter of time, according to the study, with an increase in PET recycling capacity already on the horizon. Lower price volatility alone would encourage more use of recycled PET, which has already passed the 55% mark by a significant margin in some disposable PET bottles.

Contrary to common assumptions against PET, the PET material cycle mainly takes place in Germany, as 2015 saw 80% of used PET recycled domestically, the study notes. Quantities exported were mainly used in neighbouring countries, and the numbers are falling.

This study has included figures for PET beverage bottles, except milk and dairy, and covered the entire PET bottle value chain from production and consumption to collection, return, export and recycling, summarising PET usage in beverage packaging in Germany in a closed materials cycle in absolute quantities. The study relied on bottle collection in Germany as well as on interviews in the PET processing industry. The study was conducted by the GVM Packaging Market Research Association, Mainz, Germany.