Photo credit: Sidel

A Retrospective Analysis of the PET-Bottle

How does Sidel view the issue around PET?

"SIDEL": The name is an acronym of the French “Societé Industrielle Des Emballages Légers”, the “Industrial Company of Light Packaging”. Monica Gimre, CEO, Sidel and Vincent Le Guen, Vice President Packaging look back on the company history going back nearly 170 years.

When did PET take on a leading role in the market?

Le Guen: PET started taking on a leading role between the end of the 80s and the early 90s, at the beginning especially in the beverage segment. After the success of PET bottles for all types of drinks, Sidel started engineering PET packaging alternatives for food, home care and personal care products. For example, in 1993, the first PET jars with wide-mouth for food were launched on the market.

A year later, the preferential heating blowing process offered the possibility to produce complex shapes and flat PET containers for home care and personal care industries, as well as for food and condiments, such as mayonnaise and ketchup.  But the journey was long from being over: in 1997, we revolutionised the PET bottle production by combining blowing, filling and capping in one single solution with the Combi configuration. Compared with traditional standalone equipment, the integration of the different production phases into a single system eliminates conveying, empty bottles handling, accumulation and storage. The Combi development, therefore, offers a huge advantage in terms of significant bottle lightweighting opportunities and great freedom of shape for each container.

What was the focus of the developments: the needs of consumers or those of the bottling industry? Which of the two was the driving force?

Le Guen: We can say that both had their part to play in positioning PET as the leading packaging material in the beverage industry. On the one hand, the bottlers saw its benefits in terms of safety, lightweighting, transparency, design flexibility and affordability of the raw material. Consumers, on the other hand, particularly appreciated its minimal weight and the much greater convenience that PET had to offer.


What was the PVC bottle like? Was it technical/technological or environmental issues or environmental activists who made life difficult for PVC as a packaging material?

Le Guen: There were a number of factors at play that made PVC not ideal as a packaging material. For example, the PVC bottle was exposed to cracks because of its high fragility; it was not transparent, difficult to lightweight, and PVC, as mentioned, was not suitable for CSDs. Last but not least, its end of life was quite challenging, as the burning of PVC leads to the generation of toxic fumes.


What were the technological challenges at the beginning with PET as a new material?

Le  Guen: The main technical challenges at the beginning were two-fold: for one, the bottle stability was an issue. Before the invention of the Petaloid base, the bottle base was typically hemispherical and was not quite stable, when standing on a table. To overcome this, we went for the so-called “base-cup”, mentioned above, which brought its own complexities in terms of implementation. The second big challenge was the increasing blowing speed, which was needed to support mass market requirements. As indicated before, the first SBO blower, in 1979, was running at 360 bottles per hour per mould (bphm). Today, the industry standard is to 2,700 bphm. All of that while maximizing lightweighting opportunities and flexibility, i.e. through fully automatic or very easy and fast changeovers. This naturally required a great focus on innovation, both in terms of packaging and engineering.

What is it like for Sidel as a plastics machinery manufacturer to be part of a carton packaging corporation?

Le Guen: Let me allow a clarification here: Sidel is one of the three industry groups forming the Tetra Laval Group, together with Tetra Pak and DeLaval. Those companies are focused on technologies for the efficient production, packaging and distribution of food. DeLaval is a market leader and trusted partner for thousands of farmers around the planet, providing integrated milking solutions designed to improve dairy farmers’ production, animal welfare and overall quality of life. The company develops, manufactures and markets equipment for milk production and animal husbandry worldwide. Tetra Pak is the world’s leading food processing and packaging solutions company. Working closely with customers across the globe, they provide a broad range of innovative products, technologies and services, helping to make food safe and available, everywhere.

There have been standard and custom developments in the industry, such as preferential heating: Which of these developments have gained a lasting importance for PET technology?

Le Guen: Three developments have been deeply influencing the industry. First, we need to mention the Heat-Resistant (HR) blowing, which allows us to package juice, isotonics and teas in hot-fill PET; secondly, we should note preferential heating with which we control the material distribution for an ideal container shape and wall thickness, and thirdly, the dry preform sterilisation with Predis, which I described above.


What have been the most serious mistakes or shortcomings in the PET packaging industry in general, and at Sidel in particular?

Le Guen: Nowadays, we are significantly strengthening the cooperation with all the actors in the packaging value chain – from FMCG manufacturers, brand owners, NGOs, to OEMs, master batch suppliers and, of course, the end consumers. Only by closely working together can we make a true circular economy of plastics possible.


Do you give PET a chance for the future? Would Sidel start and invest in the PET sector today?

Gimre: At Sidel, we believe that PET is the best answer to the current sustainability challenge, as long as you are properly collecting and recycling it. Looking at primary packaging in general – also beyond beverage – PET is one of the most widely used consumer plastics. The advantages of PET as a packaging material are numerous: it is strong, unbreakable, light, transparent, safe, and above all recyclable. As a lightweight material, PET offers considerable environmental advantages in the form of lower transport costs and reduced fuel emissions. Its unique geometric properties and inherent barrier properties, together with its design flexibility, have enabled producers to use less and less material in the packaging process, while optimising energy use. These processes also help reduce waste and improve sustainability measures. With the world currently consuming more resources than it can hope to carry on producing, the shift in consumer attitudes towards a circular economy is resulting in: 

  •  A reduction of the types of plastics that can be used as packaging materials. PET – as a consequence – is expected to gain market share, because of the properties I just indicated
  • It can help rethink secondary and tertiary packaging toward alternative materials or reusable solutions
  • It may open up new distribution vessels in addition to our traditional PET, glass, can, and refillable packaging solutions
  • In emerging countries without a decent water distribution network, the current packaging solutions will stay crucial, thus contributing to a strengthening of efforts on collection and recycling.  

We are welcoming these developments towards higher collection goals, together with the measures suggested for increasing adoption of all recyclable packaging materials. They will have a positive environmental impact, definitively changing the image of packaging and opening opportunities for higher levels of recycled content embedded in future packages.


Let’s imagine that PET is reinvented today. What would a so-called green field approach change? In the value chain and in the industry?

Le Guen: Since the birth of the PET industry, the supply chain was purely concentrating on building massive PET manufacturing capabilities;


''We will continue to design to recycle - which is was, is and remains a top priority for us." - Vincent Le Guen

if done today, we should balance this manufacturing capacity with an appropriate end of life capacity and infrastructures (i.e. to cover collection, sorting, recycling) to be fully neutral in terms of environmental footprint.


The PET bottle - what would be its downfall?

Le Guen: Even though PET is suffering from a negative public perception, based on misconceptions from end consumers and poor collection schemes, we should remember that it is the only plastic that is 100% recyclable bottle-to-bottle and that the usage of r-PET is already a reality today. Our new X-LITE Still packaging solution, for example, is compatible with r-PET, as long as the quality of the r-PET is appropriate. According to the blowing tests we performed under industrial conditions, X-LITE Still can contain between 25% and 50% of r PET, yet ensuring the quality and the performance of the bottle. Additionally, our blowmoulding equipment is technically able to process any concentration of r-PET, provided that it is of good quality. To ensure this, as mentioned earlier, wellorganised recycling streams need to be in place.


What actions are you already taking today and in the future to make your PET packaging visions become a reality?

Le Guen: We will continue to design to recycle – which was, is and remains a top priority for us. For instance, by partnering with Sukano, a global specialist in the development and production of additive and colour master batches and compounds for polyester and specialty resins, we have recently technically proven that making light barrier white opaque PET bottles from recycled material is possible – and can be done at the same throughput. The collaboration demonstrated that light barrier white opaque PET bottles can indeed be up to 100% bottle-to-bottle recycled, going back to the same application or being upcycled and used for new addedvalue outlets. In essence, we saw no measurable difference in processing conditions or blowing output while processing the 100% recycled white PET material from Sukano-designed white master batches, even under the most challenging conditions. This is a good example of how challenges which looked very complex in the near past can be overcome through close collaboration across the industry.


/1/ This hypothesis takes into consideration the European situation, where a KWh equals 300 g of CO2 equivalent emissions.

/2/ This one lies at 70.6% of the carbon footprint compared to the reference bottle.

/3/ This hypothesis is based on a PET bottle weighing 12 g.




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