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PET Recycling in India - Trends and Opportunities
The PET recycling industry had a turnover of around Rs. 3,500 crores ($500 million) in 2015. In 2020 the turnover was Rs. 5000 crores plus ($700 million) (average growth of 10 % YoY). The Indian recycling industry consists of both unorganized and organized recyclers. The PET recycling rate in India is 90% /1/.
There are value-added products made from RPET. Indian PET recycling industry is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years, as RPET will also be used in direct food contact applications in the near future. The Indian PET recycling industry’s turnover will be Rs 13,500 Cr plus ($1700 million) in the next 4-5 years, with a minimum average 20% YoY growth rate /2/.
It is important to first understand the Indian PET industry and how it has grown. PET resin consumption has grown by an average of 10-12% per year, reaching 1.10 million tonnes per year (TPA) in 2020. It consisted of bottles: 94% and sheets/ straps/monofilaments/others: 6% /3/.
The projected increase in Indian PET consumption is mainly due to steady economic growth, favorable demographics (urbanization and young population) and economic reforms driving the growth engine.
The usage of PET typically started with carbonated soft drinks (CSD), edible oil, water and jars, and today it is practically used for all the end-uses in India.
The non-bottle end-uses are thermoformed amorphous PET (APET) blisters, cartons, PET strapping, blood collection tubes (BCT), crystallized PET (CPET) trays, injection-molded items & PET monofilaments, among others. The PET recycling systems have supported the overall growth in a big way. RPET is primarily used for textile applications in India, and the break-up of different PET applications in India is also enclosed.
Recycling Industry in India
The consumption of PET bottles was 1.1 million tons (2020), and the consumption of recycled PET was 0.99 million tons (2020). There are 2000 plus baling centers in India and counting /2/. There is certainly a shift from unorganized informal to organized formal recycling setups. The mechanical recycling is mainly used for RPET in India. About 40 medium-tolarge production units use washed flakes made from recycled PET /1/. The annual growth rate in demand for recycled PET has been 10% plus in recent years /2/ (excluding pandemic times, which had affected industries worldwide and likewise in India).
In India, PET recycling usually starts with waste collectors/rag pickers collecting the discarded mix of PET bottles and selling it to ‘kabadiwallahs’ (waste traders). They manually separate the PET bottles from other plastics/waste and then press them with baling machines. The bales are transported to recyclers, who in turn sort and manually remove caps, labels, etc. The remaining bottle material is then shredded, washed and dried. The dried flakes are mainly sent to the textile spinning units. The resulting recycled polyester fibers are used to make polyester fabrics for various end uses. Other end uses include APET sheet and PET strapping.
It is important to first understand the Indian PET Industry and how it has grown.
One of the key differentiators in India’s recycling ecosystems in coming years will be ensuring traceability. Therefore, the trend is towards digitization and blockchain/artificial intelligence (AI) controlled supply chain management (SCM) of RPET bottles. This aspect will receive much more attention from brand owners and regulators and further improve the quality of recycled PET flakes/ chips produced in India.
Trends in usage of recycled PET resin in India
The use of recycled PET is presently allowed for packaging of non-food items in India. The major FMCG producers (non-Food) are studying possibilities to use RPET both in existing packs and new product variants launches. The initial target is 20-30% of RPET and then scale it up in the coming years. The awareness is rising that recyclability and sustainability initiatives by a brand influence pack choice by customers and affect brand image and loyalty.
The consistent availability of quality RPET resin is the key to the whole process and its projected growth in India. Some brand owners in India are already exploring RPET in secondary packaging, such as jars. It is driven by the need to use ‘Greener Packaging Materials’. PET Bottles currently used in India are made from 100 % virgin PET Resin. PET is slowly and surely becoming the first material of choice in rigid packages, due to its ease of recyclability and current established RPET recycling systems in India.
RPET is used in ‘non-bottle’ applications esp. the fiber industry: the different end-uses in India are fiber fill, non-woven, sheets, strapping, injection molding, bottles for non-food applications, monofilaments, masterbatches, among others. The non-woven applications include automobiles carpets, boot liners etc. The polyester fiber is used as filling material for cushions and pillows and converted to fabrics for upholstery. The other RPET products include T-shirts, caps, jackets, scarfs, carry bags etc. For instance, the Indian cricket team’s apparel is made from recycled PET bottles.
It is encouraging to see companies like Adidas and Nike among others in India making sporting goods and other items from recycled polyester, aiming to make the brand greener and offer premium over traditional products. In the non-bottle area, one of the applications of recycled polyester is toothbrush blister packaging in RPET sheets, both for domestic and export markets by the major brand owners. This has been made possible by close collaborations between all stakeholders, including major PET raw material manufacturers, sheet suppliers, machinery manufacturers and brand owners.
As the quality of recycled chips depends holistically on all process steps, there is a shift in mindset towards high-end machines and recycling technology for new projects in India to improve the quality of recycled PET further. It is being achieved through a proper mix of sorting, washing and pelletizing machines. It is noteworthy to point out that along with major global machinery suppliers, Indian machinery suppliers are slowly but surely gaining ground in this arena. Technical alliances at the Indian and international level for machinery for the recycling ecosystem are already in the offing. Many of these machines are produced in India and at times with foreign collaboration. For example, in the sorting sector, an Indian machinery supplier is making machines for medium to high line speeds (6 TPH) to handle all types of mixed plastic waste, including RPET.
The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) frames standards for different packaging materials and end-uses in India, including recycled resins. For example, BIS 14534: 1998 covers guidelines for the recovery and recycling of plastic waste, and BIS 14535: 1998 is the standard for using recycled plastics for manufacturing different products focusing on non-food sectors. As per the Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules, 2016 and its further notifications, the use of ’single-use plastics’ (as are being identified) is proposed to be banned from July ‘22 in India.
The usage of RPET for packaging of food and beverage end-uses is not allowed till now in India by M/s Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI, a Govt. of India body) and BIS. FSSAI has now come out with ‘Draft Food Safety and Standards Packaging (Amendment) Regulations’ regarding the use of recycled plastics in 2022 as food contact materials based on PWM rules 2021. The draft amendment regulations are in the process of approval by the Food Authority, and its notification is likely to take some more time. Products made of recycled plastics may be used for packaging, storing, carrying, or dispensing food products as and when the Food Authority frames standards and guidelines. Accordingly, the approved guidelines for using recycled post-consumer PET for food contact applications and acceptance criteria for recycled PET resin for food contact applications will be made effective for implementation in the near future.
There has been quite a spurt in the installation of reverse vending machines (RVM) in the last 5-6 years with concerted efforts of machinery suppliers and PET resin manufacturers. Today 1000 plus RVM machines /4/ have been installed all over India. The objective has been to sensitize both the public on the need for recycling and create awareness in the minds of decision-makers about the vast infrastructure existing for PET recycling in India.
Some of the major organizations supporting the recycling industry including RPET in India are: AIPMA, APRA, CIPET, ICPE, IIP, IPI, MRAI, Plast-India Foundation, PACE, among others (these names are in alphabetical order, and it is not an ‘exclusive’ list).
Although PET is a relatively new packaging material, its versatility, affordability, and convenience contribute to its rapid growth in India. It is thus both a challenge and an equal opportunity for the PET recycling infrastructure currently in operations in India. The Indian societies likewise globally are on a learning curve in their usages, handling and disposal of PET packaging. The industry is benefitting from better PET waste management, and it is also parallelly introducing more RPET items.
Design for sustainability and ease of recycling is now key for new product launches in India. The regulatory support being extended by FSSAI & BIS will further enlarge the scope of RPET in the coming years in India and will open new avenues for all in this chain. The sustained mantra of ‘Reduce & Reuse’ along with innovations in the cost-competitive recycling machineries will help to establish a robust recycling and Sustainability eco-system in India.
/2/ Discussions with Indian recycling industry
/3/ Discussions with Indian PET industry
/4/ Discussions with Indian manufacturers of RVM machines
About the Author:
Rajesh Kumar Gera has worked with major raw material suppliers of Polystyrene (PS and EPS), Glass Fiber Reinforced Plastics (FRP) and PET resins in India. He has over 36 years of experience in Business Development, New Product Development (NPD), Technical Services, Market Development and Promotion, Recycling & Sustainability areas. Rajesh Kumar Gera has superannuated from Reliance Industries Limited (as AVP in RIL-PET Division). Based in Mumbai, India, he is working as a Packaging and Recycling Consultant focusing on business development, recycling & sustainability ecosystem globally for the plastics and recycling industries. Contact Details: RK Gera, 0091-9967033107 (M) and email@example.com
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