Petcore: Strategy for PET in the Circular Economy

Once per year Europe's entire PET value chain meets in Brussels for the annual Petcore Europe Conference. Due to its success in recent editions this year's conference was held for the first time over two days and welcomed more than 200 industry experts.
Source: Petcore

Under the theme “Strategy for PET in the Circular Economy”, the complete industry shared perspectives and strategies for a succesful future. From PET resin producers, masterbatch producers, packaging designers and manufacturers, equipment manufacturers, label producers to major brand owners, EPR schemes, waste management organisations, recyclers, waste sorting and recycling machinery manufacturers – the entire value chain was represented. Additionally, speakers from the European Commission (DG GROW), the Ellen MacArthur Foundation as well as PCI Wood Mackenzie shared their thoughts on the PET market as well as the plastics industry in the European Circular Economy.

“Petcore Europe brings together the entire PET value chain. The strenght of the organisation is the engagement of its members, which are all participating actively in the working groups and other projects”, emphasised Christian Crepet, Executive Director of Petcore Europe, when opening the conference on Wednesday, 7 February.

“This engagement, in combination with Petcore Europe’s commitment to improving the Circular Economy, is a great value for the entire industry. Petcore Europe’s growth over the past years is remarkable. Every year the association can count on more and more members”, added Paola Arlotti, President of Petcore Europe, before welcoming the first speaker on the stage.

PET Business & Strategy
The focus of the first conference day was to set the agenda with an overview of the latest PET market, collection & recycling rates. Helen McGenough from PCI Wood Mackenzie gave an overview about the 2016 PET collection and recycling rates as well as the key drivers of the market. According to her “economics is still a key driver of the PET market, however, sustainability is moving up the agenda.” Alessandra Funcia, Head of Marketing at Sukano, presented in addition the two big working groups of Petcore Europe: PET Thermoforms and Opaque & Difficult to recycle PET containers.

After this introduction, experts from the PET value chain gave a detailed market overview. First, Antonello Ciotti, President of CPME, spoke about the perspectives of the European PET manufacturers. According to him, “the Circular Economy Directive requires a major modification in the actual packaging chain. That is why CPME members are introducing and supporting innovative and sustainable packaging solutions in PET.” Antonello was followed by representatives from the PET converting industry. First, Ana Fernandez from Klöckner Pentaplast stressed the importance of sustainability when it comes to PET thermoforms: “We need to design packaging for the circular economy. PET has an excellent environmental profile due to its lightweight and recyclability.” Ana also emphasised that “end-users have to be informed in a better way since they represent the first step of recycling.” Paulo Correia, CTO at Logoplaste fully agreed with Ana during his presentation on PET bottles. For Paulo “design for recycling is key in a circular economy”.

At the end of day 1, Casper van den Dungen and Herbert Snell from Plastics Recyclers Europe (PRE) gave an outlook on PET recycling. The two experts emphasised the importance of optimising the value of collectables. To achieve this optimisation PRE will focus on collecting, sorting and recycling standards. Casper ended the presentation with a call to the entire industry: “Don’t ask what PET can do for you but ask what you can do for PET.”

Petcore Europe announced its new Plastic Aerosol Recycling Special Industry Group (SiG) in order to anticipate the need to recycle higher amounts of plastic aerosols.

European Circular Economy and Plastics
The second conference day started exactly like the first ended: with a conference room full of representatives from the PET value chain – ready for the morning session about the European Circular Economy. Eline Boon from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation presented the “new plastics economy”. According to Eline there is “a global momentum to rethink the plastics system”. However, it is not about “doing without plastics, but differently”: “We need a new plastics economy where packaging never turns into waste.”

One highlight of this year’s conference was the presentation of the EU Plastics Strategyby Eric Liégoise from the European Commission – DG GROW, who emphasised that there is finally a concrete strategy for plastics in the circular economy on the table: “Our plan should bring not only economical but also social and environmental growth while boosting the competitiveness of Europe’s plastics industry.” The presentation stressed the fact that an industrial commitment to use more recycled plastics as well as global action is essential. After explaining the strategy worked out by the EC in detail, Eric Liégoise took the time to thank Petcore Europe for its voluntary commitment to 65% recycling and reuse of PET packaging material collected by 2030.
Trends and Solutions in PET Collection and Recycling

After a clarifying round of Q&A, the focus of the conference shifted to trends and solutions in the PET post-consumer collection. First, Gian de Belder from Procter & Gamble presented the Holy Grail project on markers and digital watermarks. Gian also gave an interesting overview of the five pillars for a circular economy: design for recycling, access to collection, participation/education, separation and product innovation. Gian was followed by Clarissa Morawski from Reloop, who compared deposit versus non-deposit collection. Even though there are still many issues with post consumer waste collection, Clarissa sees a positive development: “I have seen more activities from the industry and governments in the past year than in the 20 years before that.” The last presentation of the collection focused session was held by Carlos de los Llanos and Vincent Colard from CITEO and focused on the development of opaque PET bottles and PET thermoforms collection in France.

To introduce the topic of PET post-consumer collection, Antonio Furfari from PRE proceeded with his presentation on design for recycling. Antonino presented RecyClass, an online tool that ranks the recyclability of a plastic package, as well as the European PET Bottle Platform (EPBP) providing design guidelines for recyclability.

After Antonino’s introduction Francois Lagrue, plant manager at Wellman gave an overview of the state of the art in the collection, sorting and recycling technologies of PET thermoforms. Even though the recyclers face certain problems in this area Francois is more than positive about the future: “The PET bottle recycling is a success story, but it did not happen in a finger snap. It needed some time, as it will still need some time for the thermoforms. If the entire value chain works together we will have another success story around the PET.” DuPont, for example, is already working on solutions to increase the recyclability of PET thermoforms. Heiko Schenck presented the challenges the company and industry is facing, and more importantly, possible solutions to overcome these challenges. Full body sleeves on PET bottles represent another challenge for recyclers. An Vossen gave an interesting overview of the current situation and presented a possible solution: easily removable labels as well as end-consumer education and engagement.

Chemical or Back-to-Monomer Recycling
The last session of this year’s Petcore Europe Conference focused on chemical recycling which was generally seen as one of the long-term solutions for a circular economy. Wim Hoenderdaal from Indorama Ventures Europe kicked-off the session with a general overview and stressed the following points: Chemical recycling is complementary to mechanical recycling and should recycle PET thermoforms, opaque bottles and other difficult to recycle PET products. The whole supply chain needs to invest and bridge the initial higher cost associated with the development and up-scaling of the new technologies. For Wim, chemically recycled or as he calls it “circular PET feels like a dream that is close to reality.”

After Wim’s introduction, Martin Stephan from Carbios and Maurizio Crippa from gr3n presented two chemical recycling projects in detail to end the second day of the conference. Whereas the project of Carbios relies on enzymes to rethink the lifecycle of plastics, the EU funded project Demeto with the technology of gr3n uses microwaves for de-polymerization.

Both projects are excellent examples that the PET industry is focusing on innovation in order to tackle today’s circular economy challenge. Not only the last session of chemical recycling but the entire conference shows why it is so important to gather the entire PET value chain once per year for the annual Petcore Europe Conference – to bring the PET industry forward.


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