Twenty years of PET bottle to bottle recycling—An overview (2023)

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  • Abstract
  • Introduction
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  • References (31)
  • Cited by (390)
  • Recommended articles (6)

Resources, Conservation and Recycling

Volume 55, Issue 11,

September 2011

, Pages 865-875

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Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) has become the most favourable packaging material world-wide for beverages. The reason for this development is the excellent material properties of the PET material, especially its unbreakability and the very low weight of the bottles compared to glass bottles of the same filling volume. Nowadays, PET bottles are used for softdrinks, mineral water, energy drinks, ice teas as well as for more sensitive beverages like beer, wine and juices. For a long time, however, a bottle-to-bottle recycling of post-consumer PET packaging materials was not possible, because of the lack of knowledge about contamination of packaging polymers during first use or recollection. In addition, the decontamination efficiencies of recycling processes were in most cases unknown. During the last 20 years, PET recollection as well as recycling processes made a huge progress. Today, sophisticated decontamination processes, so-called super-clean recycling processes, are available for PET, which are able to decontaminate post-consumer contaminants to concentration levels of virgin PET materials. In the 1991, the first food contact approval of post-consumer PET in direct food contact applications has been given for post-consumer recycled PET in the USA. Now, 20 years after the first food approval of a PET super-clean recycling process, this article gives an overview over the world-wide progress of the bottle-to-bottle recycling of PET beverage bottles, e.g. the recollection amount of post-consumer PET bottles and the super-clean recycling technologies.


PET bottle-to-bottle recycling dramatically increased over the last years. ► Several recycling strategies for RPET have been established. ► This article gives an overview over the world-wide progress of the bottle-to-bottle recycling of PET beverage bottles.


Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) has become the most favourable packaging material world-wide for water and softdrinks bottles. The reason for this development is the excellent material properties of the PET material, especially its unbreakability and the very low weight of the bottles compared to glass bottles of the same filling volume. In comparison to other packaging polymers, PET has also a high clarity as well as good barrier properties towards moisture and oxygen. As a consequence, PET has mainly substituted glass as packaging material, but also metal cans. Nowadays, PET bottles are used for softdrinks, mineral water, energy drinks, ice teas as well as for more sensitive beverages like beer, wine and juices. The amount of PET bottles for beverages is still increasing world-wide.

For a long time, however, the recycling post-consumer packaging materials into new packaging application was possible only for glass bottles and jars just as for metal cans. For packaging polymers a recycling of post-consumer packaging materials into direct food contact packaging applications was not possible, because of the lack of knowledge about contamination of the packaging polymers during first use or recollection. In addition, the decontamination efficiencies of recycling processes were in most cases unknown. Therefore the evaluation of the food law compliance status of the post-consumer recyclates was not possible for a long time. The main problem is that substances from the beverages as well as hazardous compounds from potentially misused containers for storage of household cleaners or garden chemicals might be absorbed into the polymer. If these absorbed post-consumer contaminants are not removed from the packaging polymer during recycling, they might migrate into foodstuff from the recyclate containing packaging materials. In addition, additives which are not approved for food packaging materials might enter the food packaging stream if non-food packaging materials of the same polymer type were also re-collected and recycled together with the food packaging materials. For one packaging polymer, however, the situation is much favourable. Due to the very inert character of PET, recycling technologies have been developed to establish a bottle-to-bottle recycling of post-consumer PET bottles.

Ecological demands just as discussions, e.g. on littering and on carbon footprint, gave pressure on the public community, so that together with the increasing amount of PET bottles all over the world, also the recollection of post-consumer PET bottles and the recycling of them was steadily increasing. Recollected PET bottles were therefore more and more available for recycling. In the beginning PET recyclates are mainly used for the production of polyester fibres. On the other hand, in a bottle-to-bottle recycling stream the recollected PET bottles end up into new PET beverage bottles. On the first glance, it seems not to be so important if the recollected PET bottles were recycled into non-food applications or again into new beverage bottles. In both cases crude oil is substituted by post-consumer PET bottles. However, traditional PET recycling markets like fibre applications were hardly in a position to absorb the increasing amount of recollected and recycled PET bottles. This situation enforces the development of bottle-to-bottle recycling processes for PET beverage bottles. However, post-consumer contaminants still have to be decontaminated to concentration levels of virgin PET materials, even if worst-case scenarios are assumed e.g. the use of highly contaminated PET bottles as an input for the recycling processes. This leads to the development of sophisticated decontamination processes, so-called super-clean recycling processes. But not only the increasing amounts of recollected PET bottles available have pushed the development of bottle-to-bottle recycling concepts. PET bottle-to-bottle recycling was also driven by the softdrink and mineral water companies due to ecological and marketing reasons. Together with machinery manufactures, these bottle-to-bottle recycling concepts had been introduced into the market world-wide. Today, PET bottles with up to 50% post-consumer PET recyclates are on the market in some regions (e.g. Europe).

In the 1991, the first recycling process for post-consumer PET in direct food contact applications has been approved in the USA. Twenty years later, it is time to give an overview over the world-wide progress of PET bottle-to-bottle recycling.

(Video) The Journey of Used PET Bottles to Green Fashion

Section snippets

Recollection rates

In many countries recollection systems for post-consumer PET bottles as well as for other packaging materials (paper and board, metal cans, glass, plastic packaging) have been established. For PET beverage bottles, in principle, there are two major recollection systems established: (i) curbside collections and (ii) deposit systems. In curbside collections, the PET bottles are recollected together with other packaging materials e.g. recollection within green dot systems. The PET bottles are

PET manufacturing and recycling processes

In this chapter some typical PET polymerisation and recycling processes will be discussed. It should be noted here, that all given process parameters like recycling steps, temperature profiles, residence times or vacuum conditions should be understood as parameter sets typically used in such processes. The given process parameters are not linked to a certain polymerisation or recycling process.

Guidelines and regulations

In the United States the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discussed the use of post-consumer plastics in food applications since the late 80s of the last century. As a result of this discussion, guidelines for the approval of PCR plastics (in general) were published in 1992 (FDA, 1992). This guideline gives recommendations how to determine the cleaning efficiency of a recycling process. A detailed description of the so-called challenge test with recommended input concentrations of the

Conclusions and outlook

Within the last two decades the PET bottle to bottle recycling has dramatically increased. Starting with the first FDA approval on chemical recycling, nowadays huge capacities for PET bottle-to-bottle recycling processes have been established all over the world. And this trend seems to be still ongoing. Especially in Europe a growing PET recycling business has been established since the European Commission has been published the Recycling Regulation (EU, 2008). However, the development is not


Special thanks are due to Dr. Roland Franz (Fraunhofer IVV) for very fruitful discussions over the last 15 years. Thanks are also Mrs. Melissa da Costa Teixeira (Global PET, Brasil) for information about the South American PET recycling market.


Bottle-to-bottle PET recycling
A production system in which the recollected post-consumer PET bottles are used in the production of new PET beverage bottles by use of so-called super-clean recycling processes.

Conventional PET recycling
A recycling procedure using the process steps grinding, washing and surface-drying of re-collected PET bottles. The output material of conventional recycling processes are PET materials customary used for non-food or for the core layer of multi-layer applications

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    Copyright © 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


    How many years it takes for a plastic bottle to break down in the marine environment? ›

    Once in the ocean, a single- or multi-use bottle moves with the wind and ocean currents as it faces the elements. Plastics can take hundreds of years to break down into microplastic, which gives them plenty of time to sail the seas.

    How many times can a PET plastic bottle be recycled? ›

    Every time plastic is recycled, the polymer chain grows shorter, SO ITS QUALITY DECREASES. The same piece of plastic can only be recycled about 2-3 times before its quality decreases to the point where it can no longer be used.

    What is the method for recycling PET bottle? ›

    Processing. These compressed bales of PET bottles are then sent to a processing centre. It is here that the bottles are processed so they can be turned into recycled PET (rPET) ready to be turned back into packaging. The PET bottles are separated into their colour streams and then ground up into small crushed flakes.

    What is the shelf life of PET bottles? ›

    Simply put, plastic is porous meaning that gas leakage over time is inevitable, capping carbonation shelf life for PET-packaged drinks at 12 months as a guideline; or at least until recently, that is.

    Can I reuse 1 pet bottle? ›

    Reused Plastic Bottles Can Leach Toxic Chemicals

    Repeated re-use of plastic bottles—which get dinged up through normal wear and tear while being washed—increases the chance that chemicals will leak out of the tiny cracks and crevices that develop in the containers over time.

    How much PET plastic is actually recycled? ›

    While 52% of recycling facilities in the U.S. accept that kind of plastic, the report found less than 5% of it is actually repurposed — and the rest is put into a landfill.

    Do unopened bottles expire? ›

    The packed bottled water is good to drink by the recommended manufacturer's expiration or best by date. If your water bottles don't have expiration dates, a good rule of thumb is to drink them before they hit the two-year mark.

    Do plastic bottles have an expiration date? ›

    Though it's not required, bottled water is usually printed with an expiration date. Over time, plastic can begin leaching into bottled water, which can negatively affect your health.

    What happens when a plastic bottle expires? ›

    ✅ Does bottled water go bad? Water is a natural substance and does not go bad, however the plastic water bottle will degrade over time and begin to leach chemicals into the water, which is why it is always important to choose BPA free bottled water.

    Does it take 1000 years for a plastic bottle to decompose? ›

    Traditional plastic bottles are made out of polyethylene terephthalate (PET). It's a lightweight and flexible material that doesn't decompose easily, mainly because bacteria cannot consume and break down the chemicals used in PET. A plastic bottle made from PET takes around 450 years to decompose.

    Why don t plastics just sink out there? ›

    Because of its low density, most commercial plastic floats. It needs help to get below the surface. Plastic can become attached to ocean detritus that sinks, or fragment under the sun or waves, or find its way into something's stomach.

    Will the plastic bottle decompose in 10 years? ›

    Normally, plastic items take up to 1000 years to decompose in landfills. But plastic bags we use in our everyday life take 10-20 years to decompose, while plastic bottles take 450 years.

    What happens to recycled PET bottles? ›

    These PET preforms are heated and then formed into the correct size and shape. This closes the bottle-to-bottle loop, ensuring a more sustainable future for packaging. Recycled PET is perfectly safe for use in food packaging and has been approved by agencies and governments across the world.

    Why is PET easy to recycle? ›

    Thermoplastics, such as PET, are generally easy to recycle because the polymer chain breaks down at a relatively low temperature, and so there is no degradation of the polymer chain during the recycling process.

    Why is recycling PET bottles important? ›

    Recycling bottles helps to drastically reduce the amount of environmental litter. According to Plastic Oceans, 14% of all litter consists of beverage containers. Therefore, recycling plastic bottles can help to reduce the amount of litter on our streets, waterways, and oceans.

    Can PET be 100% recycled? ›

    Polyethylene terephthalate, also called PET, is the name of a type of clear, strong, lightweight and 100% recyclable plastic. Unlike other types of plastic, PET plastic is not single-use -- it is 100% recyclable, versatile, and made to be remade.

    Why is PET 100% recyclable? ›

    This is because PET bottles are made to be remade. As the only plastic which can be 100% recycled in closed loop, bottle-to-bottle recycling, this versatile material is the complete opposite of disposable 'single-use' plastics.

    What is the problem with PET plastic waste? ›

    Plastics like PET can break down into tiny pieces called microplastics, which are pervasive in our oceans – as well as our bays, lakes, and even drinking water.

    Can PET be recycled multiple times? ›

    Although the recycling rate for PET plastic bottles in the U.S. is a meager 29.1%,2 this category is regarded as highly recyclable compared to other types—it's picked up by most curbside programs and able to withstand the recycling process several times, depending on what it becomes in its postconsumer life.

    Can PET plastic be recycled infinitely? ›

    PET plastic is infinitely recyclable because, if necessary, recycling facilities can use additives during the recycling process to raise the recycled PET's intrinsic viscosity (IV), a measure of the molecular weight of the polymer that reflects the melting point, crystallinity, and tensile strength of the material.

    Is PET plastic infinitely recyclable? ›

    Unlike other types of plastic, PET plastic is not single-use -- it is 100% recyclable, versatile, and made to be remade. That's why, America's beverage companies use it to make our beverage bottles.

    What are the limitations of PET plastic? ›

    Resins made from PET can oxidize, resulting in a degradation in the taste of food and beverages when the items have a long shelf life and are stored in PET packaging. PET is not a biodegradable plastic, which may be a disadvantage depending on the intended application.

    Why is PET not recycled? ›

    While the aim is for every PET bottle to be remade into yet another bottle, sometimes the quality of the plastic can deteriorate throughout its lifetime due to use or in the recycling process.

    Why is PET the most recycled plastic? ›

    PET plastic is recognized by the number 1. Coincidentally, the material is in first place among the most recycled in the the world. Due to its purity, it simplifies the separation process and, because it is thermoplastic, it can be melted and molded countless times when heated without loss of quality.

    Which type of plastic Cannot be recycled again? ›

    Examples of non-recyclable plastics include bioplastics, composite plastic, plastic-coated wrapping paper and polycarbonate. Well known non-recyclable plastics include cling film and blister packaging.

    Why is PET plastic a problem? ›

    Because PET doesn't readily break down, it contributes to plastic pollution. Plastics like PET can break down into tiny pieces called microplastics, which are pervasive in our oceans – as well as our bays, lakes, and even drinking water.

    What products are made from recycled PET plastic? ›

    Recycled PET applications

    Similarly, recycled PET may be used for many applications such as food packaging and non-food packaging, automotive parts, technical and textile fibres such as clothing, carpets and bedding.

    What is the difference between PET and plastic? ›

    Is PET safer than other types of plastic? As previously mentioned, PET is shatterproof and will not cause harm if broken or damaged — it's known as the 'safe' plastic. PET doesn't contain Bisphenol-A (BPA) either, a chemical that can be harmful in large quantities.

    Why does PET plastic not decompose? ›

    A major reason for the poor biodegradability of PE and other polyolefins is minimally reactive C–C bonds in the backbones. Other factors, such as flexibility of the polymer chain, its crystallinity, and hydrophobicity of the surface, also limit enzymatic degradation.

    What happens if we drink hot water in plastic bottle? ›

    The Dangers of Drinking from a Warm Plastic Bottle

    Whenever a bottle is heated, the material releases the chemicals bisphenol and antimony, also known as BPA. There have been studies to suggest that this chemical can cause adverse health effects in children.


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    Name: Dong Thiel

    Birthday: 2001-07-14

    Address: 2865 Kasha Unions, West Corrinne, AK 05708-1071

    Phone: +3512198379449

    Job: Design Planner

    Hobby: Graffiti, Foreign language learning, Gambling, Metalworking, Rowing, Sculling, Sewing

    Introduction: My name is Dong Thiel, I am a brainy, happy, tasty, lively, splendid, talented, cooperative person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.