EPBP position for colored bottles
Over the last years, some brand owners have committed to phase out green and other colored bottles from their product portfolio. Colored PET bottles have been recently banned by law in some legislations, such as South Korea and India, while in Japan a voluntary ban is in place since long through industry standards. Discussions on similar voluntary or regulatory bans are ongoing in other companies or countries worldwide.
According to ban proponents, removing colored PET bottles from the market could increase the availability of clear rPET. When clear, light blue and colored bottles are collected together, the latter need to be sorted and recycled in a stream of its own, which is a less attractive proposition for recyclers, as it leads to rPET that it is used in fibers, thermoforms and other applications.
The position of the EPBP Technical Committee is that clear (unpigmented) or light blue bottles should be the preferred solution for beverage bottles, whenever possible.
- Clear and light blue bottles are the most economically attractive feedstock for mechanical recyclers, as the resulting clear rPET is in high demand for the production of items such as bottles and thermoforms, both for food and non-food applications.
- The demand of rPET resulting from the recycling of clear and light blue PET bottles is going to increase significantly in the coming years, as beverage companies will require more food-grade clear rPET to meet or exceed the EU mandatory minimum recycled content requirements.
However, the EPBP Technical Committee position is that transparent colored PET bottles should not be banned, as they increase the overall value of PET bottle recycling.
A transparent colored bottle is defined as a colored bottle of any color rather than light blue that does not contain opacifying agents and therefore still allows see-through of the content under normal ambient light conditions.
- Near Infrared (NIR), combined with optical sorting, is a robust and efficient way to automatically sort PET bottles according to their colors, and properly designed (i.e., according to the dedicated EPBP design guidelines) transparent colored bottles can be successfully sorted and recycled. Additional sorting by individual color (e.g., green or amber) is also possible, further increasing the resulting rPET value.
- As dark objects absorb light and NIR radiation, lighter color bottles have more chances to be properly detected by automatic sorters. Therefore, transparent lightly colored bottles should be preferred over darker ones. In order to be properly recognized and sorted, transparent colored PET bottles should have colors with an L value of more than 40 and a NIR reflectance greater than 10 percent.
- The rPET obtained from recycling of transparent colored bottles is a valuable stream that can be successfully used for production of items such as fibers, thermoforms and strappings, as a replacement for virgin PET. These applications do not require rPET with precise colors as feedstock.
- As the main recycling outlets for colored transparent bottles are non-food applications, the use of transparent colors other than light blue should be maximized for non-food PET bottles and minimized for food (i.e., beverage) bottles. This constitutes a simple and efficient way to keep the two streams separated at the recycling level, until marker technologies reach commercial maturity.
- Some technical solutions used to improve the performance of PET bottles and make them suitable for packaging of sensitive products, like additives, scavengers or barrier, have no negative impact on the mechanical properties of the rPET obtained from these bottles, but lead to discoloration (i.e., yellowing) of the recycled resin. By making these bottles transparent colored, it becomes possible to avoid them from entering the clear rPET stream, maximizing its quality.
The EPBP reserves the right to update and change the conditions of this endorsement at any time, in accordance to the most recent technologies, assessments and experience.
The European PET Bottle Platform EPBP is a voluntary industry initiative that provides PET bottle design guidelines for recycling, evaluates PET bottle packaging solutions and technologies and facilitates understanding of the effects of new PET bottle innovations on recycling processes. This initiative fully supports the economic and environmental sustainability of the European PET value chain.