A surprisingly recent study by ClientEarth, ECOS, Eunomia Research & Consulting, and Zero Waste Europe has come under intense scrutiny in the world of plastic PET beverage bottles, claiming to be "100% recyclable" or "100% recycled". The research reveals that these assertions often fall short of reality, challenging the accuracy of scientific methods like Life Cycle Assessments. Critical components like caps, labels, adhesives, and inks in beverage bottles remain largely unrecycled. Nusa Urbancic, CEO of Changing Markets Foundation, warns of the looming threat of greenwashing litigation amidst tightening global legislation. As the spectre of legal action grows, industry-wide support for systems like Deposit Return Systems (DRS) is recommended to substantiate claims. Innova Market Insights identifies "Green but Clean" as a top trend for 2023, reflecting a global crackdown on controversial environmental claims. UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe acknowledges the effective implementation of DRS in Europe but highlights challenges, including being priced out of the recycled PET (rPET) market.
After all of those research results, is PET clearly concluded as "unrecyclable"?
In the realm of sustainability, r-PET, commonly found in the market, is usually pre-consumption plastic. In simpler terms, this entails the recycling of clean, unused plastic scraps generated by industries. Subsequently, these recycled materials are sold again in the form of r-PET. The claim of recycled PET (r-PET) in plastic bottles doesn't automatically translate to a genuinely eco-friendly or closed-loop recycling system. The intricacies lie in the fact that many regulations restrict the use of post-consumption plastic in contact with food or beverages due to health considerations.
This is a critical aspect that companies must transparently address. Consumers might be led to believe that bottles with such claims are part of a circular model. However, the reality is often less optimistic, with post-consumer PET bottles, in the best-case scenario, being downgraded to lower-quality plastics rather than seamlessly integrated into a circular economy. It's a reminder of the importance of scrutinizing sustainability claims beyond face value.
When comparing prices of r-PET and PET, the production of PET is generally more cost-effective, given the well-established refining process. Nevertheless, the economic viability of choosing r-PET over PET depends on the legislative landscape. For instance, Spain imposes a tax of 0.45 euros/kg on the use of virgin plastic in packaging. This legislative framework makes opting for r-PET more economically competitive. This law has been entered into force on 1st Jan 2023, indicating a potential trend for other countries to adopt similar measures in the future.
Companies and Their LCA
Companies making claims should publicly share their studies and consider second-party verification or expert reviews for credibility. Independent verification of Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) is advised, and claims should be supported by references for public scrutiny. Choosing a robust LCA standard is optional, as no regulation mandates independent verification. Businesses enjoy the flexibility to select methodologies and standards that align with their preferences. While standardisation remains a challenge, the ongoing evolution of the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology, spanning two decades, reflects the continuous improvement efforts led by research groups. A recommended approach is to opt for a standard featuring product category rules developed by the industry and validated by a standard entity. This not only fosters fairness but also mitigates the risk of unfair competition within the sector. Legal consequences may arise for claims based on inadequately conducted studies. The European Commission's Green Claims Directive mandates supporting documentation for green claims, addressing transparency issues. They are developing the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) methodology, requiring default verification for all LCAs. Similar global initiatives are expected in the near future.
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Certification of recycled products has also been developed to ensure the distributor and consumer (both middle and end-user) with the plastic they are using. This means the amount of recycled plastic used, the origin of the plastic, content of the plastic in the product can be traced. At Peterson Projects & Solutions, we can assist your business with Textile and Recycled Product Certification preparation. Our textile and recycled product expertise is available for downstream and upstream levels. In addition, Our textile consultancy is not limited to synthetic fibre but also non-synthetic and cotton, wool and down products. Our consultancy will comply with Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Global Recycled Standard (GRS), The Organic Content Standard (OCS Standard), The Recycled Claim Standard (RCS), The Content Claim Standard (CCS), Responsible Wool Standards (RWS), Responsible Down Standards (RDS), Higg Index, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Waste and Resource Action Programme (WRAP), and many other textile standards of your needs. Click here to read more about our service of certification assistance in recycled products!
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