Although the recycling industry has been hard hit by the falling prices of virgin materials over the past year and dwindling beverage sales, the interest in PET recycling and technologies - bottle-to-bottle and otherwise - remains unabated.
According to Austrian recycling machinery manufacturer Erema, there are two main reasons for this. PET bottle recycling technology has matured and gained acceptance over the past two decades, enabling the reliable, safe and cost-effective production of bottles even with a high percentage of recycled content. In addition, plastics recycling and the circular economy now occupy a permanent place on the agendas of brand manufacturers, policy makers and society in general, in addition to the European Union's targets for recycling quotas and minimum recycling levels in PET bottles.
The trend, says the company, is towards big plants and the highest quality recyclate. Erema estimates the total capacity of all PET recycling machines sold to date for various applications at 2.6 million metric tons per year, with the recent trend pointing clearly towards large-scale systems processing 2,000 kg/h upwards. A recycling system installed in Mexico this year is outstanding in this respect. It
According to Christoph Wöss, business development manager at Erema Group GmbH, the company built its biggest system ever this year, for a customer in Mexico, consisting of two Vacurema Basic T machines with a throughput capacity of 4,000 kg/h each and Solid State Polycondensation (SSP).
"The customer is planning an annual production of up to 60,000 tonnes of food contact compliant [recycled] PET. These are the largest systems we have ever built, but our order books already have an order for an even larger one," said Wöss.
In the two short years since being launched, Erema’s Vacunite technology, developed in cooperation with Polymetrix, has proven a success. The Vacunite process combines vacuum and nitrogen technology to ensure maximum decontamination efficiency and, with the best recycled PET color values, also allows the use of a higher content level of recycled PET in the bottle end product. The Multi Purpose Reactor, the company’s technology that makes flake-to-preform or film processing possible in a single step, is also driving demand in this segment.
Technology aside, Erema also offers customers support in other ways, including by taking on the task of applying for assessments of the respective recycling process by the European Food and Safety Authority (efsa) and providing advice and support in the preparations for the approval procedures required for the production of food contact compliant recycled PET. Also, the customer center at the company headquarters in Ansfelden is also undergoing expansion and will, in the future be equipped with a Vacunite system. This will make it possible to carry out material tests using the Vacunite process on-site at Erema, hopefully starting in the course of the first half of 2021.
The company is also striving to develop and implement the type of closed-loop systems already available in the bottle-to-bottle cycle, for other types of packaging as well, To that end, it is involved in various research projects such as PET2PACK and CORNETPolyCycle. PET2PACK aims to develop PET rigid recyclates that are approved for use in food packaging, while CORNETPolyCycle is focused on the development of a test strategy for the comprehensive safety assessment of plastic polymer recyclates. This will pave the way for recycled polyolefins and polystyrene to be used in packaging with direct food contact.