The American R-PET market is evolving in a context of tight supply


HOUSTON (ICIS) – Prices for recycled polyethylene terephthalate (R-PET) flakes and granules remain high, driven by strong demand due to sustainability commitments from major consumer brands.

In the context of a tightening market, some suppliers have shifted their sales from the fiber industry to packaging.

This move is due to the premium that packaging or food grade R-PET commands, as well as the expected stability of demand over the next few years as post-consumer recycled content commitments and mandates. (PCR) increase.

In 2020, 38% of R-PET materials in the United States and Canada were used in the fiber market, up from 47% in 2018, according to statistics from the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR).

The fiber market historically targeted the low-cost, curb-based R-PET material as product specifications were more flexible for fiber applications.

The curbside quality is derived from the sorting of the consumers’ mixed recycling collection. These balls generally have higher wastage levels. This is due to contact with food waste or other plastics such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which act as contaminants. Traditionally, prices for curbside products have been lower than premium prices.

The Premium category includes bottles collected from Return Deposit Programs (DRS), also known as Bottle Bill programs. DRS collection systems generally result in lower contamination, resulting in higher recycling efficiency.

A west coast recycler noted a deterioration in the quality of curbside bottle bales throughout the past year, with yields of usable raw material bottles as low as 50%. Historically, street curb bottle bale yields have hovered around 60%. The quality of curbside bales is highly dependent on the technology or sorting method and may require additional capital or production time to improve.

Along with growing market demand and bale quality issues, recycling rates for PET bottles are dropping, warning of continued supply strain. According to the 2020 NAPCOR PET Recycling Report, recycling rates for PET bottles in the United States fell to 26.6% in 2020, from 27.9% in 2019.

To complete R-PET’s offer, the recycling market is generating great interest in the capture and processing of PET thermoforms. Thermoforms present challenges for the sorting process, and some present a risk of reduced mechanical performance of the flakes.

When thermoforms are baled, they tend to nest within each other, making it difficult to separate individual plastic items for the sorting process. PVC is widely used in the thermoforming market, which increases the risk of chloride contamination. Many recyclers are unwilling to take this risk.

Currently, few reclaimers sort PET thermoforms for sale in individual bales. In some bales of bottles at the curb, thermoforms may be present in small quantities. The increased mix translates into even lower bale prices.

With regulations against single-use plastics continuing to intensify and public pressure at an all time high, the underlying demand for recycled plastic from packaging is expected to increase over the next few years. In order to meet this demand, R-PET’s supply will have to adapt.

ICIS is in the process of prototyping an R-PET price report in the United States, covering premium post-consumer and curbside bales for the East Coast and West Coast, hot-washed flakes derived from bottles and post- industrial, and food and non-food grade pellets. To learn more about the new report or to receive a copy of the prototype, please contact Emily Friedman at
[email protected].

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