What’s rPET and why do we use it for food packaging?

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Factsheet: Everything you need to know about rPET (recycled PET) and its use in food packaging

calender 05 Jan 2024
clock 5 min
user Mario van den Hoeven

What is rPET?

rPET is recycled PET plastic (polyethylene terephthalate), a material often used as a replacement for virgin PET.

Regular PET is one of the most common plastics used in packaging, you will find that most water bottles are made from PET.

If you recycle your water bottle or another PET item, it gets ground up and melted into pellets. The resulting pellets are rPET and can be moulded into many shapes. rPET can withstand temperatures up to 70℃ and, as you might expect, has fairly similar characteristics to PET.

What does rPET’s arrival mean to the packaging industry?

According to Plastics Europe, the packaging sector produces 40.5% of plastic demand in Europe in 2020, and in packaging, PET is everywhere. By not only replacing but reusing that amount of virgin PET, rPET marks a breakthrough in tackling Europe’s plastic waste problem.

What else is rPET used for?

rPET isn’t just useful for packaging; it can be used for all sorts of products, including fabric. All clothes advertised as “made using recycled water bottles” are made from rPET. However, the manufacturing process is slightly different for creating fabric. Rather than moulding molten PET into pellets, it is spun into fibres.

Recycle plastic
rPET is recycled PET plastic

When is a product classified as rPET?

For a product to be classified as containing rPET, it must contain minimum amounts of recycled content. However, some countries haven’t yet established these minimum amounts, and there are notEU-wide rules preventing businesses from marketing a product as with as little as 1-5% recycled content as “recycled”.     

Calling something “recycled” when it is composed of less than half recycled materials feels dishonest. As we’re all about transparency at Verive, therefore we pledge to commit to a minimum of 51% or more recycled content. That way, when you choose us, you are certain that at the very least half the product is made from recycled materials.  

What is the best end-of-life for rPET?

Products that contain rPET should be recycled.

Recycling rPET packaging is a fantastic way to help keep resources in use and reduce our global environmental footprint. So rPET can be treated like most other plastic packaging items and put in the plastic recycling bin.

Has rPET been affected by the SUP Directive?

Yes, some of rPET’s applications have been affected by the Single-Use Plastics (SUP) Directive. For instance, all single-use plastic cutlery and plates were banned in Europe from July 2021including those made from rPET. By July 2022, all rPET cups and containers must carry the appropriate ‘Made of Plastic’ turtle logo. And by 2024, changes to rPET bottle and composite container and their lids will come into effect.

Read more about the Single-Use Plastics Directive here.

Is rPET food safe?

rPET is safe for food contact as long as it passes the relevant regulations. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) sets these, and regulation EC 282/2008 establishes the relevant rules. All Verive products containing rPET meet these food safety standards. 

Verive - Smoothie in the hand
Our rPET cups are easily recyclable in mainstream systems with minimum 51% recycled content.

How many times can plastic be recycled?

Plastic can be recycled more than once, but there are conflicting views on how many times.

As there are many types of plastic and different ways to recycle it, the number of times can vary. Some people think plastic can be recycled only once or twice; others show it can be recycled anywhere from four to ten times. There’s even some evidence showing that HDPE can be recycled at least ten times.

However, it is generally agreed that the typical plastic recycling method does degrade its quality because the polymer chain grows shorter each time it is recycled. So, virgin plastic is often added to the mix to help restore the quality of recycled plastic.

Recycling plant
Products that contain rPET should be recycled

Recycled vs. recovered plastic: what’s the difference?

Recycled and recovered plastic are sometimes the same thing, but not always.

The word “recovered” is used in a more general setting within the EU’s Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) to refer to the recovery of waste that results in that waste serving a ‘useful purpose,’ without specifying that it must be a product or material. ‘Recycled” refers to waste used as a product or material.

Additionally, recovered plastic can sometimes refer to material discarded incorrectly or ended up in the natural environment and then collected for recycling. 

What is the difference between pre- and post-consumer recycled plastic?

Pre-consumer recycled plastic is a waste material that is recycled before it has reached the consumer, i.e., waste generated by industry mainly during manufacturing. 

Post-consumer recycled plastic is plastic that has been used by the consumer, such as in food packaging, and is then recycled after that point.

Why should you use rPET as a material?

rPET constitutes a widely recyclable, reusable, sturdy material that supports the recycling industry and circularity through its multiple reuses. What’s more, it’s freezable, durable, and offers a good seal that keeps food fresh.      

Rather than banishing plastic, rPET creates the opportunity to reuse (multiple times) an already existing material.

Verive - Pasta and fruit salad
Our rPET cups are easily recyclable in mainstream systems with minimum 51% recycled content.

Why aren’t all plastic products made using rPET?

Despite its status as the packaging industry wunderkind, there are some challenges rPET is yet to overcome. For example, when products contain a higher level of recycled materials, they lose their transparency. Oftentimes rPET cannot be certified food contact grade. As a result, a mixture of PET and rPET offers a catch-all solution to these challenges to meet those critical standards. 

That said, with innovation and investment in waste processing technologies, today’s challenges might soon be a distant memory.

More questions?

If you have any questions about rPET products like cold cups, drinks cups, takeaway containers, or other sustainable materials, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

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Mario van den Hoeven

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