What is RPET? Well the PET bit means polyethylene terephthalate, a polymer of ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid. PET is the stuff plastic drink bottles are made of and the ‘R” refers to ‘recycled’.
Put simply, PET starts life as a resin and is, in part, a by-product of oil. PET resin is either spun into fibres to make fabric like materials or injected into moulds to create products like fizzy drinks bottles.
As long ago as 1977 some bright spark worked out how to recycle PET. Now, it’s big business and the number of different types of products you can make from RPET is growing.
So how does the recycling work? Well, you collect the bottles and compact them into bales so they are easier to move about. Then you subject them to a recycling process which typically involves either heat or chemicals. After that, you are left with varying forms of RPET – recycled polyethylene terephthalate. Again as with the creation of the original PET product, RPET can be re-spun or moulded into a new item. PET is very recyclable.
But as with most so-called ‘eco’ materials, there are issues. Firstly, the recycling process is not, in itself, environmentally friendly. Secondly, most PET products have been contaminated with foodstuffs or liquids. Contaminated PET can’t be used for food-related applications again, but food-grade RPET is becoming more widely available. Finally, like most plastics, the use of PET and RPET can create microplastics, tiny particles of plastic which are invisible to the human eye but pollute our oceans and rivers.
So the story is a familiar one. Yes, it is good to recycle waste. And yes, an RPET product is probably ‘better’ than a standard item. We can only hope that continued innovation and increased demand will allow manufacturers to achieve higher levels of sustainability.