Background

Working together to accelerate CIRCULARITY

Overview

Members of the European Federation of Bottled Waters (EFBW) are pleased to announce the adoption of four industry-wide pledges that put our full weight behind efforts to achieve a more circular European economy.

These aim to increase the collection of PET bottles as well as the use of recycled PET to create new ones. These pledges will be implemented through to 2025 and complemented by enhanced innovation and consumer-focused campaigns aimed at promoting the optimal disposal of packaging.

Natural mineral water and spring water producers have a long track record of sustainable natural resources management and protection. All drink containers used by the industry – whether glass, PET or aluminium – are recyclable. None of it should end up as litter.

PET is a safe and lightweight material that preserves the pristine qualities of natural mineral waters, while helping consumers stay hydrated anytime, anywhere. It already has the highest recycling rate of any other plastic packaging used in Europe. This makes it highly sought after. Empty PET bottles should be viewed as valuable resources, not as waste.

On average, almost 60% of all PET bottles put on the European market are collected for recycling.[1] However, there are still considerable variations from country to country: while some Member States are able to collect over 90% of all PET bottles, others manage less than 20%.

We agree that action is needed to dramatically increase the collection, high-quality sorting and recycling of PET bottles. The achievements of certain countries have shown that this is possible. We want them to be the norm, not the exception.

EFBW believes that the solution lies in greater collaboration with the many value-chain stakeholders involved in ensuring that packaging is given a second life. We are committed to working together with them to accelerate the circularity of this valuable material.

Policymakers are important actors too. We therefore call on the European Commission to help us achieve these pledges, by establishing EU-wide quality and safety standards for recycled PET (rPET) and by driving consensus on how to acquire specific data on the collection of PET drink bottles.

With these conditions in place, Europe’s natural mineral and spring water producers can work further towards greater use of rPET in their supply chains – a key step in enabling true circularity within the production and consumption of PET bottles.

 

Our pledges:

1) COLLECT: 90% of all PET bottles should be collected by 2025

 

Ensuring that PET drink bottles are collected rather than discarded means that a valuable resource can be used over and over again. 

According to PCI Wood Mackenzie[2], the collection of PET in the EU varies amongst the different Member States. There are good examples in countries using Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), like in Belgium (86%), Austria (73%), Ireland and Spain (both at 70%), while other countries using the same system underperform. This is valid for Bulgaria (14%), Latvia (17%) and Greece (26%).

In line with PCI Wood Mackenzie[3], the collection of PET in the EU, achieved with Deposit-Return Systems (DRS), also varies in different Member States. Very high collection rates are achieved in Germany (92%), Estonia (88%) and Sweden (83%) while there is room for improvement in Croatia (53%), Finland (45%) and Lithuania (35%).

By adhering to best practices for the collection of PET and collaborating with the value-chain stakeholders, we can help scale up collection efforts in every Member State in the most relevant and appropriate way. 

To help achieve this, consensus must be reached on a method for calculating the collection of drink containers, and PET bottles in particular. To date, there is no official, harmonised data for their collection across the EU. Reaching such a consensus is necessary in order to measure progress on our 2025 commitments.

EFBW is currently discussing the data collection methodology with other key stakeholders in the value chain to assess whether data on PET drink bottles could be isolated from global data on PET applications. Conversations with Petcore Europe, Plastic Recyclers Europe, and Municipal Waste Europe are also underway.

Meanwhile, the European Commission should address this issue in its upcoming collection and sorting guidelines, announced in the context of the EU Plastics Strategy. Ultimately, PET bottle collection and recycling rates should be integrated into EU-level statistics as well as Member States’ recycling reports to the European Commission.

 

2) COLLABORATE: By 2025 the industry aims to use at least 25% recycled PET (rPET) in all its water bottles

 

R-PET is PET that has been previously used in manufacturing and which is subsequently collected and recycled. It can be integrated into new bottles, converted into other plastic items (such as pipes, canisters, and containers) or made into textile fibres (including carpets, blankets, and insulation and fleece sweaters).

In order to use rPET for new drink bottles, natural mineral and spring water producers need a reliable supply of high-quality material. This is crucial, since they must adhere to strict legal requirements on issues such as structural design and quality control which apply to packaging materials coming into contact with food and drinks.

The amount of rPET used by producers in new bottles varies across brands and is dependent on a number of factors, such as the availability of high quality recycled materials, local infrastructure, competition for other uses with lower and fewer quality requirements, and the regulatory environment (need for EU approval of recycling processes and quality standards). By committing to an average uptake of at least 25% rPET by 2025, EFBW is pushing for the necessary conditions to be in place at national level.

Firstly, adequate, harmonised standards for sorted plastic waste and recycled plastics are crucial to ensure that rPET can be safely used by the producers. EFBW members are already working on this within the European PET Bottle Platform, a voluntary industry initiative that provides design guidelines for recycling, and evaluates new bottle packaging solutions as well as technologies on the market.

Mandatory standards, however, are non-existent. The European Committee for Standardisation and the industry should develop these in close collaboration. 

Secondly, the European Commission is set to promote additional actions for increasing the uptake of recycled content in food-contact applications. We encourage the swift finalisation of pending authorisation procedures for plastics recycling that are positively evaluated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

 

3) INNOVATE: The industry will invest in eco-design and research on non-fossil-based materials

 

The industry is continuously optimising its packaging through light-weighting and investment in eco-innovation, new packaging design, and research for plastics from renewable origin.

Eco-design involves optimising the format of water bottles so as to reduce packaging waste. This is an ongoing priority for European natural mineral and spring water producers who are leading the way in reducing the amount of plastic used for their water bottles.

Light-weighting means reducing the weight of bottles and, therefore, the amount of plastic used to create them. Between 1994 and 2012, there was a 37% reduction in the weight of 1,5 L PET bottles used to package still water.

EFBW’s members, along with other actors, already devote particular attention to both eco-design and light-weighting solutions under the European PET Bottle Platform.

An example of such innovation in action is the European Commission-funded “Polymark” project, which enables automatic sorting of food and non-food contact plastic through sensor-based sorting technologies. This was made possible as the plastic itself was coded for an easy identification. If scaled-up, such a technology would help ensure quality sorting and, in turn, increase the amount of quality secondary PET available for further use.

Another example of the EFBW’s dedication to optimising environmental performance is our voluntary participation in the Commission’s work on developing Product Environment Footprint Category Rules (PEFCR) for food and non-food products. Specific category rules for packaged waters will enable bottled water producers to better assess their environmental performance, based on qualitative life cycle assessment.

 

4) ENGAGE: The industry will run information campaigns about the optimal disposal of packaging

 

EFBW’s members are committed to using the power of their voices, whether separate or combined, to raise awareness of the importance of litter prevention in protecting our planet’s urban and marine environments.

We therefore support initiatives aimed at helping consumers understand the key role they can play in accelerating the circular economy, by properly sorting and disposing of their packaging.

 

Conclusion

Through these pledges, our industry wishes to become a driving force in accelerating progress towards the circularity of PET bottles. We expect that these will support positive, national-level actions from our members, while enabling partnerships with key stakeholders which can, in turn, help achieve greater circularity within the PET bottle production and consumption value chain. Finally, we encourage EU and national policymakers to put in place the necessary conditions for our pledges to come to fruition. By working together, we can ensure that every PET bottle has its chance at a second life.

 


[1] Petcore Europe press release (18.12.2017) PET collection and recycling rates in Europe significantly increase in 2016: https://www.petcore-europe.org/news/pet-collection-and-recycling-rates-europe-significantly-increased-2016

[2] PCI Wood Mackenzie ‘RPET Study – 2016 West Europe’. Remark from EFBW: PCI Wood Mackenzie data refers to all PET used in Europe and not only to drink bottles.

[3] PCI Wood Mackenzie ‘RPET Study – 2016 West Europe’. Remark from EFBW: PCI Wood Mackenzie data refers to all PET used in Europe and not only to drink bottles.

by PEAK Sourcing