The drive toward lightweighting water and other PET bottles is reflected in two simple numbers, said David Clark, sustainability director for Amcor Rigid Plastics.
In 2009, it took 11 used bottles to generate a pound of PET for recycling, Clark said. It now takes 16 bottles.
Recyclers have to work harder to get the same tonnage of recycled PET, Clark said during the Society of Plastics Engineers Blow Molding Conference, held Oct. 5-6 in Atlanta.
Both the beverage industry and blow molders have embraced lightweighting and thinner PET bottles, and the use of lighter designs is also spreading to other containers, he said. But there are more ways to improve sustainability beyond decreasing PET use, he said.
Amcor is looking at PET from natural sources such as sugar cane, for instance, and also investing in more energy-saving operations in its plants.
Injection and blow molding are energy-intensive operations, Clark said, and increasing efficiency in production can produce real savings.
The company has spent about $6 million on energy-efficiency projects, ranging from improved lighting to equipment use. Amcor said it will reduce its carbon-dioxide footprint worldwide by 7 percent this year. Globally, Amcor's goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent by 2011 compared with 2005, and 60 percent by 2030.
Recycling and waste reduction will allow five plants to reach a status of providing zero waste to landfill this year, which is better for the environment and reduces landfill costs.
We have so many opportunities to improve efficiency that we haven't even started to look at green and renewal energy projects like solar or wind energy, he said.
Lighter bottles and using recycled material are still important for the industry, however, Clark said.
Amcor developed its line of Arches bottles, designed with a more rectangular shape with arches and pillars, for hot-fill beverages such as sports drinks and juices. The design saves 22 percent of the PET weight from a 96-ounce bottle and 19 percent from a 64-ounce bottle.
The shape also makes it easier to pack and ship those bottles, which also saves money and improve sustainability for customers, he said.
Lightweighting throughout the packaging industry taps into consumer demands for more sustainable products, but it also comes as the industry and consumers rethink the amount of plastics they use, said Chase Willett, director of polyester and polyester raw materials with Chemical Market Associates Inc. of Houston That became especially clear when raw material prices increased.
The economy got people reconsidering the amount of bottle buying they were doing, he said.
The use of recycled material will continue to play a part in sustainability efforts. About 28 percent of PET is recycled, Clark said, and 15 percent goes from bottles back into bottles.
It's maybe a small portion of consumers who are conscious of sustainability, Willett said, but a large number of our customers say it is very important.