SYSTEMIQ, Synthesis report: Circularity of PET/polyester packaging and textiles in Europe
February 18, 2023

SYSTEMIQ, Synthesis report: Circularity of PET/polyester packaging and textiles in Europe

“This synthesis report is the first in a series exploring circularity pathways for PET/polyester. It draws on insights from existing published reports and research to assess the current state of PET/polyester circularity in Europe and explore the role that chemical recycling – currently utilized in very low volumes – could play in complementing mechanical recycling, reuse and other circular economy approaches.[…]”

Executive summary

Since its discovery in the 1940s, the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) molecule has become a key building block for plastic packaging and polyester textiles. It has valued uses across many industries, including food and beverages, healthcare, homeware and synthetic fibres in apparel or other industries.

In the past decade, governments, civil society and industry have focused on plastic packaging and textiles as archetype sectors for the application of circular economy approaches, to reduce plastic waste and micro-plastic pollution and mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Circular economy approaches considered in this synthesis include reduction of avoidable material usage, reuse of products or packaging, mechanical and chemical recycling, re-design of products and packaging to be more durable or more suitable for reuse and recycling and substitution to materials with improved environmental performance.

Three research findings are highlighted in this synthesis study:

1. The PET/polyester system in Europe is mostly not circular today, and is predominantly dependent on virgin production using fossil-fuel based feedstocks.

2. Chemical recycling technologies for PET /polyester can increase circularity by complementing mechanical recycling and upcycling hard-to-recycle plastic waste into high-quality recycled PET/polyester.

3. Complementary application of mechanical recycling, chemical recycling and reuse in the PET/polyester system has potential to optimise environmental and socioeconomic benefits.

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