The Plastic Sense Foundation‘s main mission is to promote the use and recycling of thermoformed PET containers in Europe through three lines of activity: awareness, certification and collaborative projects. Its ECOSENSE process certification scheme, launched in 2017, and the future RETRAY product certification scheme, which will be launched in 2021, have become the main tools to guarantee the recycling and recyclability of this type of packaging, giving confidence in the market to be able to achieve the objectives established by the European Commission in the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy.
Although the recycling of PET bottles is a consolidated sector which counts on several industrial facilities along Europe, this is not the case of the recycling of PET trays, which has a very incipient recycling infrastructure. Despite the continuous attempt by PET bottle recyclers to incorporate the tray into their recycling processes, it is estimated that only 20% by weight of thermoformed PET containers is actually recycled in Europe.
PET tray has totally different mechanical and thermal properties from the PET bottle that imply the need to create a proper separate collection system for the recycling of post-consumer material. Solving this obstacle should lead to get a critical mass in Europe in order to create a market so that, as required by the European Commission, this type of packaging could be recyclable in a profitable way by 2030. Thus, various systems of expanded producer responsibility in European countries (such as Netherlands, Belgium or Germany) are already working in the separative flow of post-consumer PET trays.
The Plastic Sense Foundation works to close the loop of the thermoformed PET containers in Europe and has already certified under the ECOSENSE scheme the incorporation of recycled material in 19 company facilities in the Iberian region. Despite the circumstances of the current health crisis by Covid-19, it is expected to have 25 certified facilities by the end of 2020, with facilities certified in Italy and France.
The reintroduction of waste from the value chain of thermoformed PET packaging – sheet producers, thermoformers, food packers and end consumers – is currently carried out through the approved recycler Sulayr Global Service. The Foundation expects to add to the scheme to new approved recyclers in the coming years as there are already business initiatives for the setting up of recycling facilities specialised in this type of waste packaging, both in Spain and in France.
Sulayr is currently the most advanced solution for the recycling of monolayer and multilayer thermoformed PET trays in the European market. It is estimated that one million tons are annually placed in this market; around 50-60% are high-barrier thermoformed containers that incorporate a layer of Polyethylene (PE) in order to guarantee the conditions of sealability, water-tightness, oxygen and water steam barrier that enables an adequate conservation and safety conditions of packaged food throughout the manufacturing and distribution process until its final consumption within households.
A transparent high purity rPET flake is produced at the facilities located in Granada (Spain) and it is reintroduced by the main European sheet producers, with the traceability of this process certified under the ECOSENSE scheme. Additionally, the Sulayr’s facilities are certified under the EuCertPlast scheme, which recognizes those recyclers in the plastic sector who operate under high standards and implement good environmental practices.
The Plastic Sense Foundation supports all the initiatives in the manufacturing and recycling value chain of the PET tray that allow its recovery and recycling in order to guarantee the European objectives established by 2030. In this sense, the product certification scheme RETRAY will be launched in 2021 and will allow to quantify the percentage of recycled material content in PET trays and compliance with the recyclability guidelines published by the foundation.
Within a challenging legislative horizon, the next few years will be crucial for strengthening the closing of the loop of thermoformed PET trays: the involvement and participation of the value chain companies in the ECOSENSE and RETRAY certification schemes will be decisive.