Give beverage firms ‘priority access’ to rPET: trade bodies

European beverage companies should be given priority access to their recycled plastics material to be able to close the bottle loop and accelerate the transition to a more circular economy, trade bodies have argued.

The non-alcoholic beverage industry should be prioritised or given the right of first refusal to its rPET material in the upcoming revision of the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, according to the Union of European Soft Drinks Associations (UNESDA), the European Fruit Juice Association (AIJN), and Natural Mineral Waters Europe (NMWE).

As the beverage industry continues to invest in circularity and to put highly recyclable PET on the market, it needs to have priority access to its own recycled packaging material, the organisations claimed.

This will help the beverage industry produce new packaging that is food-grade rPET compliant with EU food safety standards, while achieving its recycling targets and preventing its rPET from being downcycled, they added.

Closing the bottle loop is considered a necessary step in the beverage industry meeting the EU Single-Use Plastics (SUP) Directive targets, while also contributing to building a more circular economy for beverage packaging.

The beverage industry is subject to several mandatory requirements under the SUP Directive, one of which is that PET in bottles has to be food-grade to comply with EU food safety standards.

In addition to introducing mandatory collection targets for PET bottles, the Directive also mandates the beverage industry to use a minimum of 25 per cent recycled content by 2025, and a minimum of 30 per cent by 2030.

According to the trade bodies, the beverage industry’s commitment is not only to achieve these EU targets, but to go much further by creating a closed loop for its PET bottles.

They suggested that granting the beverage industry fair access to the amount of PET material it puts on the market, and of which it finances the collection of, is key to promote effective bottle-to-bottle recycling.

UNESDA director general Nicholas Hodac said the entire European beverage industry is fully supportive of the EU Green Deal and Circular Economy Action Plan and is committed to delivering full circularity for PET bottles.

“However, to get there, we need the European Commission to allow us to have priority access to our own recycled plastics material to meet our EU recycling obligations and avoid downcycling, which will break the bottle loop,” he added.

“It is just fair that we regain the equivalent quantity of collected and recycled material that we place on the market to move circularity forward.”

Wouter Lox, secretary general of the AIJN, said access to the right packaging material is essential to continue providing high quality and safe foods.

“This requirement needs to be merged with the sector commitments to respond to the EU Green Deal and the Circular Economy Action Plan,” he claimed. “Therefore, the access to the recycled material responding to the highest food quality standards needs to be reassured at every stage of the circularity circle.”

Patricia Fosselard, secretary general of NMWE, said that thanks to significant investments in collection schemes and in eco-design, PET bottles have become the most collected and recycled items around Europe.

“Through well-designed deposit return schemes, several countries already achieve collection rates above 90 per cent,” she added. “Our members are determined to give every bottle a second life, but they can only do this if they get back the material that they place on the market so we can successfully close the loop.”