Comparing environmental performance of virgin and recycled plastic in the production of (PET) bottles

Main Presenter: Filipa Faria 

Co-Authors: Pedro Santana Bruno Silva Catarina Basto-Silva

Session: Poster Session 1

Plastic pollution has been one of the most discussed topics around the world, and for this reason, consumers have become more sensitive and attentive to the type of packaging that they used. However, for a more conscious and environmentally beneficial decision, are needed more studies to focus on the environmental impact of products. Life cycle assessment (LCA) is one of the available tools to assess the environmental impacts of the entire production process of a product from raw material extraction to its end of life. The LCA approach follows mandatory steps, namely scope and definition, inventory analysis, impact assessment, and interpretation [1].

Recycling plastic materials promotes the circular economy and environmental sustainability of the packaging industry, being one of the best options to solve the problem of plastic pollution [2, 3]. However, the majority of recycled-based bottles are composed of granulated polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which sometimes has lower availability in the market and is expensive, due to the extensive recycling process that it needs. These topics can compromise the economic sustainability of the industry. PET in a flake could be a good alternative to granulated PET since it is cheaper, more available, and with a minimalist recycling process [4, 5]. However, despite the potential of PET flakes, no study focuses on evaluating the environmental impact of the use of recycled PET flakes in the production of a new plastic bottle.

The present work aims to present a comparative LCA of three 0.5 L plastic bottles. One bottle was made with 100% virgin PET, the second bottle was made with 75% recycled PET granulated and 25% recycled PET flake the third bottle was made with 50% virgin PET and 25% recycled PET granulated and 25% recycled PET flake. System boundaries included raw material production, transport, reception, and storage (S1), injection (S2), blowing (S3), filling (S4), and packaging (S5). This study used a mass allocation and an attributional approach. The inventory analysis was performed using SimaPro software (version 9.3.) and the background data was collected from the EcoInvent database (version 3.8.) and related literature.

Preliminary results expect that the incorporation of recycled PET will contribute to a significant reduction of the environmental impacts compared to the incorporation of 100% virgin PET.

Acknowledgments. This research was supported by the Co-development projects of Technology Research & Development (project Better Plastics, ref no. POCI-01-0247-FEDER-046091) through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), in the framework of the program Portugal2020.

  1. ISO 14040: Environmental Management-Life Cycle Assessment-Principles and Framework. 1997.
  2. Shen, L., E. Worrell, and M.K. Patel, Open-loop recycling: A LCA case study of PET bottle-to-fibre recycling. Resources, conservation and recycling, 2010. 55(1): p. 34-52.
  3. Horowitz, N., J. Frago, and D. Mu, Life cycle assessment of bottled water: A case study of Green2O products. Waste Management, 2018. 76: p. 734-743.
  4. Welle, F., Twenty years of PET bottle to bottle recycling—An overview. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 2011. 55(11): p. 865-875.
  5. Zhang, R., et al., PET bottles recycling in China: An LCA coupled with LCC case study of blanket production made of waste PET bottles. Journal of environmental management, 2020. 260: p. 110062.

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