PET Bottle Recycling & Nonwovens

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Avinash Mayekar, Suvin Advisors Pvt. Ltd.

  • Introduction

Latest trend that is catching up in the textile industry is the recycling of PET bottles for manufacture in to fibres. PET bottles recycled into fibres and other applications not only help us in saving energy but also in reducing carbon emissions. This market is growing at a relatively faster pace globally as well as in India as the PET recycled fibres can replace most of the applications in which polyester fibres can be used. The recycled PET fibres can even be used in the manufacture of various types of nonwovens for high-end technical use.

PET Bottle Recycling & Their Benefits

Polyethylene terephthalate or as it is more commonly known PET or PETE is a polymer resin that is part of the polyester family. Polyethylene terephthalate is a transparent, lightweight, strong, safe, shatterproof and recyclable packaging material with an inherent barrier, making it suitable for a wide array of product applications. It has a wide range of uses including synthetic fibers, food, beverage and other liquid containers. Average 60% of global production of PET is used in the manufacture of synthetic fibers. Bottle production accounts for about 30% of the PET produced.

PET is simply referred to as polyester when it is used in textile applications. The name PET or PETE is used mainly in packaging applications. The most common use of PET as a packaging material is its use as a raw material for bottles and other containers of consumer goods. Some of these are used in bottles for soft drinks, alcoholic beverages, edible oils, pharmaceuticals and detergents. PET is one of the most common plastics being used by consumers.

The PET package is simply discarded by the consumer and becomes part of the waste stream as post-consumer waste. In the recycling industry, this is known as post-consumer PET. Most thermoplastics can be recycled and PET is no exception. PET bottle recycling is also more practical and more easily executed because they are more easily identifiable in the recycle stream since most soft drink and water bottles are made exclusively of PET. PET has the resin identification number 1.

The sorted bottles are first broken down into small flakes and compressed into bales which are easier to transport and are then used to make new bottles or other products such as textile fibers. PET is easily recycled and since there is abundance post-consumer PET in bottle form it is becoming a preferred source of material in the production of carpet fiber.

PET is the most widely recycled plastic in the world. PET can be recycled multiple times and used in a variety of products. Recycled PET is used for many end products including fiber, fiberfill, carpet, strapping, food and non-food bottles, and thermoformed packaging such as cups and take-out containers. PET reclaimers wash, grind and further process PET containers for re-use in new products. PET thermoform manufacturers are using increasing amounts of recycled PET in their packaging, up to 100%.

PET recycling not only saves energy and reduces emissions, it creates domestic jobs. On an average, it takes 70% less energy to produce a product from recycled plastic than from raw materials. For every pound of recycled PET flake used, energy use is reduced by 84%; greenhouse gas emission by 71%.

Conversion rates of bottles are as follows:

5 PET bottle of 2 Liter                        →        1 T-shirt

5 PET bottle of 2 Liter                        →        1 Ski-jacket

19 PET bottle of 2 Liter                      →        1 Sweater

20 PET bottle of 2 Liter                      →        1 Filter

35 PET bottle of 2 Liter                      →        1 Sleeping bag

60 PET bottle of 2 Liter                      →        1 m2 Carpet

Globally the collection rate of PET bottles is at an average of around 36%. Asian region has the highest collection rate of 78.2%. China has the highest collection rate of almost 90% whereas India is second to it with around 75%. The collection rate in India has appallingly grown to this rate from negligible in last five years.

The collection rates in North America and South America is around 30% and 37.5% respectively. Approximately 1.5 billion pounds of used PET bottles and containers are recovered in the U.S. each year for recycling, making it the most recycled plastic in America. In Canada, PET container recycling rates range from 60–80% depending on the province. In Toronto, single-use PET bottles comprise less than 1% of the city’s municipal solid waste.

In Europe, PET is the largest plastic material recycled, with the equivalent of more than 60 billion bottles recycled in 2012. From a sustainability perspective, European industry has achieved an overall collection rate in 2012 of more than 52% of all post-consumer PET bottles available in the region.

In Africa-Middle East region, the collection rate of PET bottles is around 13.9%. As per PET Plastic Recycling Company (Pty) Ltd. (PETCO) and its’ 28 signatories, post-consumer plastic beverage bottle recycling in South Africa grew by 18% year on year in 2012. The recycling rate rose from 42% in 2011 to 45% in 2012, while the local market consumption of PET grew from 145 000 to 166 000 tonnes. According to PETCO, this amounts to the recycling of over 1.9 billion PET plastic beverage bottles in 2012 – that’s an astonishing 5.3 million bottles each and every day.

Globally, around 72% of recycled PET is converted to fibre whereas the other products manufactured from recycled PET are PET sheets, strapping, Bottles-non food contact, bottles-food contact etc. In India, the conversion rate of recycled PET is around 95% for use in to textile application and other applications are strapping etc.

Globally, the production of recycled PET stands at 9.5 mn. tons in 2012 and is growing at a rate of 7% whereas in India, the production of recycled PET is 0.35 mn. tons growing at a rate of 12%.

  • Nonwoven Industry

As per EDANA, nonwovens are unique, high-tech, engineered fabrics made from fibres and which are used across a wide range of applications and products. Nonwovens are innovative, versatile and indispensable. The production of nonwovens can be described as taking place in three stages, although modern technology allows an overlapping of some stages, and in some cases all three stages can take place at the same time.

Following are the three stages of nonwoven manufacturing:

According to a new study by Smithers Apex, the global nonwovens market is projected to reach $40.1 billion by 2015 with a CAGR of 8.5% over a five year period. Driving this figure is the high growth Asian market with forecast CAGR of over 14% for the same period. Currently, the demand in North American region is the highest in the world. However, owing to the rapid growth, Asian markets are bound to be the highest consumer of nonwovens by 2015.

In terms of consumption, there are 2 types of nonwovens – durable and disposable. The market share of durable markets is around 60% of the total nonwoven market whereas the disposable market is around 40%. As has been the case for most of the 2005-10 period, disposable nonwovens are expected to continue their loss of market share to durable nonwovens in everything but value through to 2015.

EDANA, the International Association Serving the Nonwovens and Related Industries, in its public summary of its annual statistics on Nonwovens Production and Deliveries for 2011 has shown a growth in production volume for 2011 of 5.7%, with several market segments recording their best output ever in both tonnage and square metres, including baby diapers, medical, personal care wipes, civil engineering, automotive and agriculture. The total deliveries reached the level of 18,97,748 tonnes and 55,740 million square metres in 2011.

With the global economy strengthening, raw-material consumption is projected to reach 9.574 million tonnes by 2015, with a CAGR of 8.5% for 2010-15. This is up on a 6.1% CAGR for the 2005-10 period. Polypropylene polymer is by far the single largest raw material used in nonwovens, accounting for 37% of all raw materials for nonwovens in 2010 and Smithers Apex expects this share to exceed 40% by 2015. PET fibre is the second largest consumed of the raw materials for nonwovens with around 18% share.

Market gains in developing parts of Asia, Eastern Europe, the Africa/Mideast region, and Central and South America will outpace gains in the US, Western Europe and Japan. Product sales in developing areas will be fueled by above-average economic growth, ongoing industrialization efforts and rising living standards. China alone will account for almost half of additional global volume demand through 2015. Lower-volume markets such as India and Brazil are also expected to achieve growth above the global average.

In India, the consumption of nonwoven fabrics has increased by 12.7% per year in constant dollars to USD 390 million by the end of 2012. These dollar sales represent nonwoven product that is produced within India and nonwovens that are imported in roll good forms or in a converted state, such as baby diapers or modified bitumen roofing materials. Driving this growth is the rising standard of living as the country industrializes. The rising consumption of nonwoven materials versus other nations is illustrated in the figure on the following sheet.

India’s disposable markets accounted for 35% of the total whereas the durable markets account for around 65% of the total market. The major durable markets are interlinings, bedding and upholstered furnishings, automotive, geotextiles, building construction, agriculture and landscape, carpet components and coated/laminated substrates. Absorbent hygiene products, wipes and some medical/surgical are some of the largest segments within the disposable market. The other disposables segments are fabric softener substrates, oil and chemical sorbents, sterile and non-sterile packaging materials, courier envelopes, miscellaneous airlaid pulp markets and numerous other small and emerging markets.

Driving this growth has been the industrialization of India that has resulted in the growing purchasing power of consumers. The rising number of woman working outside the home in new industries is increasing disposable family incomes. This continues to have a significant impact on raising consumer spending on many products that use nonwoven materials.

  • Recycled PET in Nonwovens

Polyester is today the second most used fibre in nonwovens both in terms of production and consumption. Polyethylene terephthalate or polyester is made by condensation polymerisation of ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid followed by melt extrusion and drawing. It can be used in either continuous form or as short staple of varying lengths. The popularity of polyester largely stems from its easycare characteristics, durability and compatibility with cotton in blends. Its very low moisture absorbency, resilience and good dimensional stability are additional qualities.

Polyester is used in variety of application of nonwovens like geotextiles, agrotextiles, automobiles, medical textiles, consumer goods etc. In geotextiles, polyester based nonwovens can be used in variety of applications like drainage systems, roadway separation / railroad stabilization, asphalt overlays, geomembrane protection, landill leachate collection, hard armor underlayment etc. In agrotextiles, polyester nonwovens can be used in variety of applications like mulch mats, crop covers etc. In automobiles, polyester nonwovens can be used in applications like carpets, acoustics, ceilings, seat covers, interim trim etc. Some of the medical applications of polyester nonwovens are wipes, surgical gowns, masks etc. These are just some of the applications wherein polyester nonwovens can be used. There are many more applications in sectors like construction, clothing, home textiles, industrial textiles etc.

The polyester fibres obtained from recycling of PET bottles is similar in properties of virgin polyester. The difference between virgin PET and Recycled PET is indistinguishable. Hence, nonwovens from recycled PET fibres can be used in most of the above mentioned applications where strength is not the major parameter for its application.

  • Challenges faced by the Nonwoven Industry in India

There are various challenges faced by the nonwoven industry in India. India is not witnessing many investments in this industry even though the market is growing at a decent rate. One of the major constraints for the investors to enter this sector is the complex marketing aspect of the applications of nonwovens. The nonwovens are used into both consumer and industrial applications. There is wide range of consumers from hospitals to railways to automotive industries to agriculture to road infrastructure. Hence, to have a common mantra for marketing of nonwovens becomes a bit difficult for the industry. The marketing strategy for each and every product will differ depending upon its end use.

Also the raw material, machinery and equipment differ from application to application. Hence, the difficulty rises in generalizing the use of nonwoven in different applications. The other difficulty which investor faces is in huge capital investments in case of high-end technical products and in requirement of huge working capital. Also the investor being a novice in the field of technical textiles finds it difficult to get a joint venture partner for selling of his/her products. Absence of existing norms and mandatory requirements of technical textiles for specific end applications makes it difficult for the investor to understand the actual requirements of the market.

  • Summary

About 20,000 plastic bottles are needed to obtain one ton of plastic. The process of a recycled plastic bottle is energy saving and green. It has wider applications and can replace all the conventional products including nonwovens which are used in geotextiles, agrotextiles, automobiles, medical textiles, consumer goods etc. The challenge is collection of bottles and segregating it based on colour, grade and foreign materials.

Recycling of PET bottles is increasing across the world in order to reduce carbon emissions from the virgin polyester manufacturing. With classical Indian tradition of reuse and recycle, any form of waste into various applications has automatically diverted attentions of many entrepreneurs to look at the opportunity of PET recycled fibres & yarns. This has resulted into one of the largest PET recycled country to the tune of 75% after China. The process of converting bottles into fibres & yarns is relatively easier and has a cost advantage. The cost of such fibres & yarns is 10-20% cheaper than the virgin polyester.

Recycled PET can be used in all segments of technical textiles in one or the other form and has wide range of application. One of the major significant uses of recycled PET is in nonwoven industry which is still in nascent stage in India. The trend of consumption of nonwovens has been established with respect to average purchasing power of the country and as we know that India’s purchasing power has started growing and will lead to increase in per capita consumption of nonwovens. With the increase in consumption of nonwoven, recycled PET will lead to increased consumption in various applications.

It can also be blended with cotton, viscose etc. and can be used for apparels and made-ups. In short, it has no limitations in terms of applications. It can replace almost 40-50% of virgin polyester products. Recycled PET will reduce the pollution and improve energy conservation as compared to manufacturing of virgin polyester by chemical process as recycle process is nothing but de-polymerisation and reorientation of polymer chain. This industry is creating a huge indirect employment for collection of bottles and provides self-sustainability to poor laborers. It will also help to reduce the waste and directly and indirectly helps society, nation and environment.

Resources:

  • Plastic News
  • Relpet Newsletter, Reliance Industries Limited
  • European Disposables and Nonwovens Association (EDANA)
  • Smithers Apex
  • Handbook of Technical Textiles edited by A R Horrocks and S C Anand