The new packaging of the Spa Reine 6-pack of 1,5 litre bottles notes that the bottles contain 25% recycled PET. Spadel thus establishes itself as a pioneer in the use of recycled PET. This environmentally friendly choice is in line with the company’s mission. The use of recycled PET enables to reduce CO2 emissions by about 11% throughout the chain, including production of the material, distribution of the bottles, and end-of-life processing.
Spa Reine bottles contain one quarter recycled PET
The Spadel Group has used recycled material in its bottles since 1998. That year, it marketed its first mineral water bottles incorporating 25% recycled PET. ‘At that time, the market was less sensitive to environmental aspects,’ explains Bernard Michotte, Manager Environmental Affairs at Spadel. ‘Today, consumers have a more positive perception of environmentally friendly initiatives. We wanted to highlight the fact that the new Spa Reine bottles marketed in 2008 contain 25% recycled PET and are lighter than their predecessors. Just as we previously did with our glass bottles, we aim to close up the recycling circle.
CO2 emissions reduced by 11%
‘Every time a ton of PET is recycled, the PET bottle manufacturing chain, including collection and transport, reduces its CO2 emissions by 2,5 tons,’ declares Bernard Michotte. ‘Per 1,5 litre bottle, the CO2 emission savings amount to 11% over the entire chain. In addition, this enables us to consume less fossil resources, since virgin PET is obtained from oil.
Recycling one ton of PET reduces CO2 emissions by 2,5 tons
Bernard Michotte, Manager Environmental Affairs at Spadel.
Good to remember
- Spadel wanted to incorporate recycled PET into its bottles without compromising the quality of the packaging.
- By incorporating 25% of recycled PET in its Spa Reine bottles, the company reduces its CO2 emissions and uses less fossil resources to produce new PET. Since 2000, Spadel has thus reduced its consumption of virgin materials by more than 16.000 tons.
- Tests enabled the company to develop a lighter bottle, with an optimal colour, that fully guarantees food safety.
Controlling the colour of the bottles
‘The development of the bottles is preceded by numerous tests,’ explains Bernard Michotte. ‘The key challenge is controlling the PET colour. Too great a percentage of recycled PET gradually entails a loss of material colour after a number of cycles. However, in the case of bottled water, the colour of the bottle must be particularly pure. Any yellowish aspect is enough to discourage its purchase. There is no such problem with 25% levels of recycled PET, even after several recycling cycles.’
Ensuring food safety
‘Recycled PET must also guarantee food safety,’ adds Bernard Michotte. ‘Even though the material used is officially certified for food contact, we have carried out migration tests with different types of recycled materials, as well as organoleptic measurements at different storage temperatures. These tests have enabled us to design bottles incorporating 25% of recycled PET, and with identical performances as bottles made entirely out of virgin PET.’ In order to harmonize the national legislations of member states, the European Commission has published Regulation 282/2008 in its Official Journal of 28 March 2008 on recycled plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with foods.
Recycled PET available in limited quantities
The quantity of recycled PET available on the market for food contact applications is limited. The average collection rate of PET bottles in Europe is 37% (as opposed to more than 68% in Belgium). Half of the collected PET is used to produce textile fibres. In other words, the production of 100% recycled PET bottles is currently not a realistic option.
Spadel and the environment
Care for the environment is part of the Spadel Group’s commitment to sustainable development. In addition to using recycled materials, this commitment translates itself into a multi-level proactive approach:
- Waste prevention : the weight of a Spa Reine 1,5 litre bottle (including cap and label) has gone from 56,6 grams in 1971 to 33.9 grams in 2007. This represents a 40% reduction of the end-of-life waste, or 1.800 tons less waste each year.
- Lower CO2 emissions : the Spa Monopole plant has reduced its CO2 emissions by 40% since 1990. In addition, Spadel’s offices in Brussels, as well as its production sites in Bru (Stoumont) and Brecon (Wales), purchase 100% of their electricity from renewable sources.
- Protecting the environment and ground water : Spadel has put stringent security measures in place, as well as surveillance of its water resources. The security area around the Spa sources today covers over 13.000 hectares. Following the creation of a new Bru water production facility close to the main access roads, the ancient industrial site has been abandoned and returned entirely to nature in its original state. More than 400 shrubs were planted on this occasion.
Corporate social responsibility:
- The Spa Foundation supports European scientific research projects.
- Through its Corporate Funding Programme, Spadel supports two water supply projects in poor regions of Chile and Mexico.
- Spadel supports the Princess Elisabeth Polar Research Station in Antarctica, the first zero emission base of its kind. This scientific research base marks the much-publicized return of Belgium to the Antarctic.
Obtaining recycled PET that is suitable for food contact
The PET that Spadel uses for its blue Spa Reine bottles incorporates 25% of premixed recycled PET. The process used enables to produce PET that is suitable for contact with food. Obtaining such quality implies a complex process that is detailed below.
Step 1: selective collection and sorting
In Belgium, plastic, metal, and beverage carton packaging is collected using transparent blue bags and container parks, and sorted at specialized centres. The PET fraction is primarily composed of mineral water and sparkling beverage bottles. The PET bottles are sorted by colour and compressed into bales. These bales are sold to recycling plants that purchase them from sources throughout Europe.
Step 2: recycling plant
Transparent PET bottles are sorted using a technology based on optical detection to separate them from wrongly sorted coloured PET bottles and from any foreign bodies. The bottles are then cut up and pre-washed before they are transformed into flakes. These flakes then go through a hot wash with friction in order to eliminate impurities. The washing water is recovered and recycled. The flakes then pass through a flotation system to remove stickers and caps. This technique uses the difference in density: PET sinks while the other types of plastic float. After the flotation process, the flakes are rinsed several times, and then dried and sorted again at the end of the process by an optical sorting device. Measurements are carried out to determine the quality of the flakes all along the process. These now look like secondary raw materials. They can be used directly to produce thermoforming sheets, straps, or textile fibres, among other things.
Step 3: pellet producer
The recycled PET flakes are fed into a twin-screw extruder that produces recycled PET pellets in an amorphous (non-crystalline) state. The pellets are mixed with virgin PET — the appearance of which is identical — and are then crystallized. The pellets used by Spadel contain 25% recycled PET. These pellets are then placed in a Solid State Polymerization (SSP) reactor. The molecular weight and intrinsic viscosity of the PET are increased inside the reactor. By increasing the temperature and depressurizing the product, the process eliminates all contaminants that might have been in the product from the start. During that stage, the recycled PET is transformed into a material that is suitable for food contact and ready to be used in bottles.
The efficiency of the recycling process is demonstrated by specific tests called ‘challenge tests’.
These tests measure the quality of recycled PET in which contaminants have been deliberately added. A challenge test simulates the worst possible bad usage scenario of bottles by consumers. It also supplies data on the efficiency of the recycling process in eliminating possible contaminants. Specific decontamination rates must be achieved in order for recycled PET to be suitable for food contact. The official approval of the recycling process requires, among other things, compliance with these challenge tests. The European 282/2008/EC regulation also confirmed their necessity.
‘Barrier’ materials and certain additives make the task complex
The primary challenge of this process is to have a good starting product in sufficient quantity. More and more ‘barrier’ materials (nylon layer, for instance) or additives are used in PET bottles. The risk is that these materials might wear during recycling. When that happens, the recycled PET becomes yellowish. To avoid this, these bottles can be removed at the beginning of the recycling process. That, however, reduces the efficiency of this process. The number of usable PET bales is then reduced, which means that it becomes more expensive to produce high quality flakes.
Your company can also use recycled PET in its packaging
Some tips from Spadel:
- The recycled material used in the packaging must be suitable for the packaged product and comply with food security standards.
- The rate of recycled PET used must enable several recycling cycles without resulting in a yellowish tint of the material.