Research report shows bottle recycling is not always the lowest-carbon option
For countries with adequate space and little recycling infrastructure, disposing of bottles in landfill generates a lower carbon footprint than recycling or incineration.
SRI Consulting (SRIC), a business research service for the global chemical industry, published PET’s Carbon Footprint: To Recycle or Not To Recycle, an independent evaluation of the carbon footprint of PET bottles with an analysis of secondary packaging from cradle to grave and from production of raw materials through to disposal.
Recycling programs using curb-side collection typically displace less than 50% of new PET (polyethylene terephthalate). Community programs with plastic bottle take-back, mandated separate collection, or deposits on bottles tend to report much higher displacement rates. For regions that already have a recycling infrastructure, the aim should be to boost recycled PET (rPET) displacement of virgin PET (vPET) significantly above 50%.
Mike Arné, Assistant Director, SRIC’s Carbon Footprint Initiative, commented, “The key to this is not in raising collection rates, but in improving yields, especially in sorting and to a lesser extent in reprocessing. For countries without a recycling infrastructure, the best choice may well be to landfill bottles.”
The report finds:
* Shipping distances are not footprint critical-Contrary to some popular belief the common practice of shipping baled PET bottles to China for recycling does not significantly affect the footprint
* Incineration creates the highest footprint-Burning used bottles in waste incinerators converts them largely to the greenhouse-gas carbon dioxide, which then goes straight into the atmosphere. This footprint debit can be reduced somewhat by generating power and heat from the incinerator, but the net effect is still carbon positive.
* PET recyclate has a lower footprint than new virgin PET-Manufacturers making product from recycled PET-such as straps, films and fibers-should be able to claim that they are lower-carbon than alternatives made from new PET.
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