Germany recycles more than 90 percent of its PET bottles, and container deposits deserve credit for the high rate, according to a new study from the German trade association Forum PET.
The Dec. 6 study said that Germany recycled 93.5 percent of its PET bottles and 97.9 percent of its one-way deposit PET bottles in 2015. That compares with 30.1 percent recycling rate for PET bottles in the United States in 2015.
“Bottle deposits have ensured consistently high recycling rates for PET bottles in Germany,” according to a press release from Forum PET, which is part of the larger IK Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen eV trade group.
IK represents plastic packaging and film manufacturing in Germany and Europe.
The study also highlighted that most of the recycling takes place in Germany.
“Contrary to assumptions against PET, the PET material cycle mainly takes place in Germany, as 2015 saw 80 percent of used PET recycled domestically,” the group said. “Quantities exported were mainly used in neighboring countries, and the numbers are falling. Recycling hardly plays a role in the Far East.”
The association said the percent of PET reused in bottles also increased in 2015, to 26 percent, compared with 24 percent in 2013, the first year the group did the study.
The PET Forum said that was a good development, especially considering the tough market conditions for the recycling industry, with the traditional price gap between virgin and recycled PET narrowing by almost 50 percent.
“We would have hoped for an even higher increase [in recycled content], but we have to appreciate the PET industry's commitment all the more considering the adverse price development,” said Isabell Schmidt, director of the Bad Homburg-based Forum PET. “The industry is committed to sustainability.”
About one-third of the PET collected in Germany went back into making new PET bottles, the report said.
The study said that most customers in Germany return the bottles via reverse vending machines, and it said that the high return rate sustains the system.
“Consumers keep the material cycle running at a high level by returning bottles, much to the benefit of the environment,” the group said. “With this in mind, Forum PET endorses continuance with the deposit system.”
In the United States, individual states with bottle deposit systems report much higher PET bottle recycling rates than the national average. Those deposit systems, while politically controversial, help drive up the national container recycling rate.
California, for example, reported that 83 percent of the PET containers covered by the state's container deposit legislation were recycled in the first six months of 2016.
And Oregon reported a 64 percent recycling rate for containers in 2015.
Starting in April, Oregon's deposit per bottle will increase from 5 cents to 10 cents, as part of a 2014 law that state passed requiring deposits to increase if the state's container recycling rate dipped below 80 percent for two years.
The nationwide rate for PET bottle recycling fell marginally in the United States, from 31 percent in 2014 to 30.1 percent last year, according to the National Association for PET Container Resources in Florence, Ky.
Like the German group, NAPCOR highlighted tough market conditions, including very low virgin resin prices and softness in some end markets, and said the industry can “stay strong in a challenging market.”