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PET - Polyethylene terephthalate

Author: Lisa Parkes - Marketing Manager, PET Recycling Company

( Article Type: Explanation )

What is PET?

PETPolyethylene terephthalate (PET) is the building block of the common polyester chain. Polyester resin manufacturers create PET from mono-ethylene glycol (MEG) and purified terephthalic acid (PTA), which is derived from crude oil and natural gas.

The everyday name depends on whether it is being used as polyester staple fibre for textile and other end uses or as material for rigid packaging, the latter being known commonly as PET. PET is labelled with the # 1 resin identification code.

There are other variations on PET such as CPET (used in microwave applications), PETG (used as replacement for polycarbonates) - these are copolymer polyesters.

In South Africa the producers of bottle-grade PET resin, are HOSAF and recycled resin, Extrupet. Resin is also imported from China, South East Asia and the Middle East.

Applications for PET

Beverage bottles for bottled water, carbonated soft drinks, milk, juice, sports and energy drinks, bottles, jars, punnets, tubs and trays for food items, bottles for household, personal care and pharmaceutical products, sheet and film for packaging.

Just over half of all virgin plastic in SA is used in the packaging sector. Of this amount, the PET market size is about 26%. Close on 70% of is used in the beverage sector, with the remaining markets being the sheet/tray, personal care, food, household and edible oil sectors.

PET is recyclable

PET is technically 100% recyclable. Once recycled, from either pre-consumer (such as factory off-cuts) or post-consumer waste, (after it’s been used by a consumer), it is called rPET or Recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate. Industry in South Africa is on track towards recycling 70% of post-consumer beverage PET by 2022.


What is recycled PET used for?

The South Africa, post-consumer PET bottles collected and are recycled into 3 end-use products for the local and export market. PET


The largest end-use market for post-consumer PET bottles in South Africa is currently the polyester staple fibre market which is close to saturation.


rPET is blended with virgin material for the production of new PET containers for both food and non-food products, (bottles, sheet and film applications).


Capacity is currently being installed for expansion into carbonated softdrink grade approved Bottle2Bottle resin. This is where the future growth in South Africa will be. This and B2Foodgrade represent the most sustainable use of raw material by “closing the loop” where the resin can be used again and again.


PET properties

Because of its physical properties PET allows for great freedom and innovative design.

PET packaging is:

  • Lightweight
  • Transparent
  • Strong, rigid and shatter resistant
  • Thermostable (can resist irreversible change in its chemical or physical structure at a high relative temperature)
  • Re-sealable
  • Safe and Bisphenol A (BPA) free
  • Inert and does not leach harmful materials into its contents
  • 100% recyclable.

Polyester fibre is:

  • Light and fine
  • Resistant to light and climatic conditions
  • Well-suited to blends with natural fibres
  • Very crease-resistant
  • Quick drying
  • Strong
  • 100% recyclable.

Polyester staple fibre/ filament is used in:

· Apparel

- Shirting

- Clothing

· Home Textiles

- Duvets

- Pillows

- Carpeting

· Automotive

- Carpets

- Sound Insulation

- Boot Linings

- Seat Covers

· Industrial End Use

- Geotextiles

- Roof Insulation

The history of PET

1941 Polyester was first developed for use for fibres for the textile industry

Mid 60’s PET (as it is called in packaging applications) began to be used for packaging films

1973 The PET bottle was patented by chemist Nathaniel Wyeth (brother of distinguished American painter Andrew Wyeth)

1977 The first PET bottle recycled

1982 Manufacture of PET in South Africa was started by SANS

2009 In South Africa, the first recycled PET resin (Bottle2Foodgrade) was blended back into a sandwich pack.


PET facts

  • Recycling 1 tonne of PET saves 1.5 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide vs. land filling or incineration (Credit : WRAP)
  • Recycling one tonne of PET containers saves 6.2 cubic metres of landfill space
  • It takes 19 x 500ml PET bottles to make the fibre for a standard pillow
  • 25 recycled PET bottles can be used to make an adult's fleece jacket
  • Recycling a single plastic bottle can conserve enough energy to light a 60W light bulb for up to 6 hours
  • It is estimated that 40 000 income opportunities have been created for collectors, who collect PET bottles for recycling
  • Up to 40% less fuel is used to transport drinks in plastic bottles compared to glass bottles
  • Approximately 33 bottles = 1kg PET
  • Since 1978, manufacturers have reduced the weight of a 2 litre bottle by about 30% from 68 grams to 48 grams.