Beverage industry SMEs call for fairer access to recycled PET

UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe is calling on the European Commission to solve the current problem of the access to recycled material in the EU by granting them a priority access mechanism or a right of first refusal to access the recycled PET coming from the packaging they put on the market.

This enabling condition should be created in the upcoming revision of the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive to help beverage producers, including SMEs, meet the EU mandatory recycled content targets, the association said.

It added that in the EU, recycled PET is becoming “almost as rare and expensive as white truffles or gold”. The reason is everybody wants qualitative recycled PET from beverage bottles, and the demand significantly exceeds the offer.
UNESDA finds that only some:

  • have to meet mandatory recycled content and collection targets;
  • have to comply with strict food-grade safety requirements for their packaging;
  • make considerable investments in the recyclability, collection, and recycling of their
    packaging; and
  • can recycle their packaging several times in a closed-loop.

This is the case for beverage producers. Despite those legislative requirements and their investment in bottle-to-bottle circularity, many companies in the soft drinks sector have limited or no access to the recycled PET issued from their own packaging.

Lucia Morvai, director of external affairs and communications at Správca zálohového systému, the
Slovak Deposit Return System (DRS) Administrator, said it has some “reasonable” concerns
regarding the risk faced by some producers not to be able to meet the obligations arising from the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive, especially when it comes to access the sufficient amount and quality of recycled material needed to produce new drink containers made with recycled PET.

UNESDA said SMEs are struggling to afford the very high prices of recycled material. Recycled PET price premium over virgin PET is continuously reaching new records. In Europe, rPET is reported at a 30%-plus premium over virgin (source: plasticstoday.com).

The Portuguese SME Água de Monchique confirms that the current rPET price is already way too high and “when more producers will start incorporating rPET to meet the 2025 and 2030 targets, the access to rPET will be even more limited and the situation may get worse”, they add.

Petra Medved Djurašinović, secretary general of the Slovenian Beverages Association, said in
Slovenia, over 100 companies operate in the beverage industry, employing over 1,200 workers. These are mainly SMEs and many of them are currently facing a severe crisis due to the rising prices of recycled material and its general unavailability. In this context, and to support our sector’s efforts to create a closed loop for beverage bottles, a mechanism that grants a better access to recycled material is crucial.”

The need for action is also supported by Bert Harwig, SHEQ manager at United Soft Drinks, a Dutch beverage SME: “The demand for high quality recycled PET is growing by the day, which means it becomes increasingly difficult to get the right amount of rPET. To stay competitive with larger companies, for an SME like us, it is very important that basic rules about the buying of recycled PET from our packaging are set. It means we should have the first right to buy back the amount of recycled PET in proportion to what we put on the market”.

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