PET: Energy and Resource Efficiency in the Foreground

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When drinktec 2017, the world’s leading trade fair for the beverage and liquid food industry, opens its doors for trade visitors from all over the world from September 11 to 15, 2017, then a packaging type will be almost omnipresent in the limelight: PET. The task of beverage manufacturers to make PET greener and more environmentally compatible is reflected on all levels: in the choice of raw material, i.e., also in preform design and fabrication, in the container blowing process and filling as well as in recycling and re-using PET containers.

PET is the preferred form of packaging worldwide particularly for bottling of water and non-alcoholic beverages (CSD). While the demand for CSD is rather stagnating from a global perspective, bottling water in PET continues to boom. Many new developments of PET containers are also used in the dairy industry now. Consequently, drinktec has created a separate exhibition area with PETpoint in line with its importance for bottlers, which is dedicated exclusively to PET technology and presents all innovations with relevance for PET. As probably the only trade fair worldwide, drinktec shows the entire value chain of PET in this area. The exhibitor group on the subject of PET includes manufacturers of injection molding machines to produce preforms and stretch blowing systems for plastic containers, among others, but also filling machines for plastic bottles. Representatives are also suppliers of raw materials and auxiliary materials for the manufacture of plastic containers as well as the producers of plastic bottles made from PET, PEN, PP, PE, HDPE or other plastics. Machines and systems for recycling PET bottles and closures are on the other end of the life cycle of PET containers. “Beverage closures have reached their lightweight minimum geometrically, and they thus make higher demands on the precision and repeatability of injection molding machines than ever before. With the new high-strength HD-PE materials, the requirements for plasticizing performance have also increased sharply. A third trend is the increasing sensitivity of injector molders in matters of energy efficiency. At drinktec, we will show how to combine these challenges economically,” Michael Feltes, Head of the Packaging Business Unit at Engel Austria in Schwertberg, Austria, stated. “drinktec is the exhibition in the area of beverage/closures where all our customers really obtain information about trends and innovations. As one of the market leaders in this industry, we have to be there.”

Achieve more output with fewer resources

In advance of the trade fair, drinktec is starting “Go with the flow. Southeast Asia Roadshow” in collaboration with the trade journal PETplanet. Starting from January 2017, the editorial team will tour with the Editour Mobile through Laos, Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Singapore and Indonesia for more than half a year and thereby promote drinktec. The team will be back in time for the trade fair start of drinktec in September 2017 and present the results of the tour at drinktec with detailed analyses of the PET markets in the individual countries.

What are the technological focal points in the use of PET? Recent developments such as preferential heating, i.e., the targeted heating of special bottle areas, make it possible for the bottlers to achieve perfect quality in an energy-efficient process, including with strongly oval bottle shapes. The coating of PET containers, for example, with a very thin layer of glass, is also being developed further. It reduces in material costs on the one hand and ensures a longer shelf life of sensitive beverages on the other hand.

Energy and resource efficiency are especially important for the bottlers in manufacturing PET containers. Visitors can obtain information concerning this in the context of the focus topic water and energy management at drinktec. The industry is dealing with topics such as reduced water consumption, use of process heat, recycling and the use of more efficient components. Achieving more and more output with fewer resources: this is a goal of the future, which also includes reducing PET container weights and using recycled materials.

Numerous brewery and soft drink companies have formulated ambitious goals with regard to their footprints. Especially large corporations can make a big difference. For example, when Coca-Cola promotes the goal of making packaging plastic from renewable natural resources in the future, then that has a lot of weight. The share of recycled PET in the disposable bottles of Coca-Cola Germany is already 29.23 percent now. Goal by 2020: 40% recycled PET in plastic disposable bottles.

Machine manufacturers are increasingly employing the economic use of energy and resources as a selling point, both in their own companies and above all with customers. “Every gram less of PET that we need for our bottle is an extraordinary resource saving calculated globally,” Prof. Matthias Niemeyer, Chief Executive Officer of KHS GmbH, stated. The mold-blowing machine manufacturer Sidel calculated that a 0.5-liter PET bottle weighed 28 grams in 1985, but today it has been able to reduce this to fewer than eight grams in an extreme case today.

Use of recycled materials still too low

In addition to the lightweighting, the use of recycled PET is a challenge of the future. The trend to the bottle-to-bottle recycling is continuing unabated according to market insiders. Reason: market coverage is still very low. The use of recycled materials in PET containers is still negligible worldwide and is estimated to be around five percent. However, major PET bottlers want to achieve an approx. 25 percent share of recycled material. “That’s why the demand for bottle-to-bottle recycling is continuing unabated,” Dr. Thomas Friedlaender, PET recycling specialist at Krones AG, Neutraubling, explained. But the recycling expert considers the greatest challenge to be the diminishing quality of collected PET containers. “Advanced sorting technology and continuous improvement of recycling technology are indispensable conditions to be able to produce usable recycled materials from them.” For Christoph Wöss, Business Development Manager of the Bottle Division at EREMA, the trend to PET recycling is also continuing undiminished. “In this context, we are pursuing the zero-waste approach. By this, we mean that the cleaning and recycling process of PET needs to become more efficient, totally in the spirit of economic and ecological sustainability. We also detect increasing demand for the direct interconnection of the recycling process and further processing into a final product, most recently directly into food-grade preforms. drinktec is the precisely the right platform for discussing such trends.”

According to Petcore, approx. 57 percent of marketed PET bottles were recycled In Europe in 2014, 6.8 percent more than in the previous year. This corresponds to a collection of approx. 66 billion 1.5-liter bottles.

Alternatives in demand

Consequently, drinktec will also highlight the latest possibilities for PET recycling and the use of alternative materials. In the meantime, PET bottles can be made from almost 100 percent recycled materials, such as Coca-Cola has demonstrated in Germany with the introduction of a one-way deposit bottle for the product Coca-Cola Life. The research for alternatives to PET is also continuing. In a development project, containers made of PEF (polyethylene furanoate) are to be produced, which can be produced from 100 percent vegetable raw materials according to a consortium of Avantium and Alpla with participation of Coca-Cola and Danone. Scientists at the University of Hohenheim want to use the root of chicory as a basis for this. PEF bottles could be drawn thinner than PET bottles, reducing transportation costs as a result.

All in all, developments in the market for beverage containers remain very exciting. However, it is clear that they are moving in the direction of sustainability. The next drinktec will certainly contribute its part as a catalyst for ideas in the discussion about the optimum solution.