Design for recycling

Petco, the plastic bottle recycling industry body, will soon release a guideline document with information on what to consider when designing bottles, to ensure improved recyclability.

Petco, is also piloting a tool to rate the recyclability of different plastic bottles. The organisation hopes to share this with its members and is seeking input on how to ensure the tool is as accurate and user-friendly as possible.

“When designing a product, considering what happens after its demise will soon become as important as its performance. People must consider the end of life when designing,” said Claude Naidoo from Serioplast at a Petco workshop in Cape Town. He emphasised that this kind of circular, life-cycle thinking would need to be driven by brand owners who specify their packaging needs.

Consumer pushback and increasing government bans on single-use plastics are encouraging plastics producers and chemical companies to respond to these pressures through innovation and technical advances. Intercepting plastic waste and sending it to facilities where it can be recycled is one important way of ensuring that it does not litter the environment or end up at landfill sites.

Chandru Wadhwani, joint managing director of Extrupet, which is Africa’s largest PET plastic recycler confirmed that there has been high demand for recycled plastic resin (known at rPET) in 2018. In July, Extrupet announced a R200-million expansion of its food grade rPET operation, PhoenixPET, which would double capacity to 40 000 t/y.

rPET is used to make new products such as polyester staple fibre/filament used for clothing, home textiles – the hollow fibre in duvets and pillows, carpeting, automotive parts and industrial end-use items such as geotextiles and roof insulation. New PET packaging and bottles for both food and non-food products can also incorporate rPET, and it is generally blended in a ratio of virgin to recycled, although a 100% rPET bottle will soon enter the market.

With the markets for rPET becoming more and more established, the specification of recycled materials in the design of new products supports the recovery of plastics. Brand owners which use plastic to package their products should also ensure that their packaging is easily recyclable.

Petco, which represents the South African PET plastic industry’s joint effort to self-regulate post-consumer polyethylene terephthalate (PET) recycling.


In his presentation at the Petco workshop, Wadhwani outlined some of the principles that will likely be included in the Petco guidelines on design for improved recyclability. As someone who manages a recycling facility, he highlighted some of the frustrations that recyclers face, and gave advice how to make bottles more recyclable:

  • Colour: Non-pigmented (transparent) plastic is more recyclable, avoid coloured bottles, rather use coloured sleeves.
  • Do not print directly onto PET (labels, barcodes and best before dates).
  • Avoid metals caps as these are difficult and costly to remove.
  • Paper labels on plastic film represent a significant problem to conventional recycling. Polyethylene and polypropylene are preferred label materials.
  • To help eliminate residues, design pack with a wide neck and consider using a pack that can stand inverted to ease emptying.

From a consumer perspective, it is good to be aware of these details as they can also inform purchasing decisions.

Discussions at the workshop also highlighted that while the benefits of ‘light-weighting’ have been touted as a sustainability benefit because it uses the least amount of material to do the job, which seems logical, it does, in fact, present a dilemma for recyclers. Light-weighting means that recycling collectors are reluctant to collect the material because they get paid by weight, meaning less of it ends up at the recycler’s door. Also, maintaining the strength of the packaging while reducing the weight often means that additives are added to the plastic, which makes recycling more complicated.


A recent report from Citi Global Perspectives and Solutions entitled RETHINKING SINGLE-USE PLASTICS: Responding to a Sea Change in Consumer Behavior, noted that the global plastic market is expected to grow to about $1.2 trillion by 2020.

Europe leads the global initiative in plastics recycling with its goal for all plastic packaging in the EU market to be recyclable or reusable by 2030.

IHS Markit predicts that recycled plastic resins could replace up to 6 million tonnes of virgin resin demand in Europe by 2030 (about 14% local demand), up from 1 million tonnes in 2016 (about 3% local demand). “We expect the impact to be relatively small as 6 million tonnes of virgin resin displacement in Europe would account for just 2% of 2016 global demand,” stated the report.

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