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Why is white PET plastic worse than clear?

06 July 2021

White PET plastic hit the headlines recently, after comedian Joe Lycett staged a protest on TV to spark press interest and raise awareness of single-use plastics. This left many viewers wondering why white PET plastic is so bad. We explain.

What’s the difference between white/coloured and clear PET plastic?

While clear PET plastic (such as carbonated drink or water bottles) is widely recycled, white and coloured (opaque) PET plastic bottles are much harder to recycle. According to Plastics Technology, PET plastic is the largest material recycled in both the U.S. and Europe. Opaque PET, however, can significantly disrupt the recycling chain.

Although modern recycling facilities are capable of recognising different colours, they are unable to adequately distinguish between opaque and transparent PET types. When opaque PET ends up in a transparent PET stream, it will taint the material and result in a loss of clarity and transparency. This not only reduces the quality of the recycled PET but limits its suitability for transparent applications.

Recycling facilities must therefore systematically remove opaque PET bottles from their input materials, which has an impact on output and overall productivity. Moreover, there is currently no specific application that requires processing a large amount of opaque PET.

Unpigmented PET has the highest value and the widest variety of end-use applications, which is why white and coloured PET aren’t cost-effective for recycling facilities.

What is opaque PET plastic used for?

Not only does white/colourful PET plastic make eye-catching and attractive packaging, it also has some practical uses. Certain colours help to protect light-sensitive flavours and vitamins from degradation caused by exposure to UV light. For example, when packaged in PET plastic, UHT milk requires a light barrier to keep it from spoiling. This is when it becomes necessary to add a pigment to the PET (usually titanium dioxide).

Did you know?

275,000 tonnes of plastic are used every year in the UK and the average household throws away a whopping 40kg of plastic that could have been recycled. It’s really important to recycle plastic wherever possible, as it takes 500 years to decompose in landfill.

To find out more about our plastic recycling services, please get in touch with us today on 01202 675564.

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