PET beverage bottles are light, unbreakable and, thanks to these advantages, very widely used. Consumers take four fifths of their used PET beverage bottles to collection points. Compared with producing new bottles, recycling reduces the environmental impact by 50 %. It is important that the collected material is not contaminated with extraneous substances.
The non-returnable PET beverage bottle has become established as the standard packaging for soft drinks and mineral water. The advantage of plastic is that it is light and unbreakable.
PET is short for polyethylene terephthalate. It belongs to the polyester group and is produced from hydrocarbons from mainly fossil-based origins (oil, gas). The production of 1 kg of PET requires almost 2 kg of crude oil. Because the material ultimately only consists of the elements oxygen, hydrogen and carbon, it can be disposed of without releasing pollutants. Recycling PET makes sense because the production of bottles from recycling granulate only requires half as much energy as the production of new bottles. A good ecobalance for PET containers requires a high recycling rate, as currently attained in Switzerland, and the use of a high proportion of recycling granulate in the production of new containers.
A recycling system only exists for PET beverage containers. Other PET packaging and other plastic waste that cannot be recycled are disposed of in household waste incineration plants. Thanks to filters and waste gas treatment, the emissions from such plants are very low. The heat recovered in the process is used to produce electricity and for heating and, hence, replaces fossil fuels.
For many years, consumers have been collecting over 80 % of the PET beverage containers in circulation and submitting them for recycling. This currently corresponds to almost five kilograms of PET per year. The Ordinance on Beverage Containers (BCO) prescribes a minimum recycling rate of 75 %. If this rate is not attained, the federal authorities can impose a deposit system.
In accordance with the BCO, all traders, producers and importers who sell beverages in PET containers must take the empty containers back and submit them for recycling. The market participants can transfer this obligation to a recycling organisation. In addition, all market participants are subject to an obligation to notify: the BCO (Art. 18 and 19) stipulates that the weight of beverage containers, including exports and imports, placed on the market and taken back must be notified.
Although different products are manufactured from PET, only beverage containers are suitable for PET recycling. All other PET packaging materials contaminate the collected material. This is because, first, chemically different types of PET exist that cannot be recycled together and, second, strict hygiene requirements are applicable to recycling granulate for beverage containers. Milk bottles consist of polyethylene (PE) and should not be placed in PET collection containers; their collection and recycling is organised in a separate system.
Switzerland currently has over 50,000 collection points for PET beverage bottles. The website of the recycling associations provides a map indicating the locations of the collection points.
Most of the PET beverage containers used and collected in Switzerland are sorted and recycled in the country. The bottles are sent to sorting centres for colour sorting via the collection system. The clear and bluish containers are converted into granulate which is used in the production of new beverage containers. Other coloured containers are used as raw material for products like fibres, foils, packaging tape and other packaging types. Individual retailers submit their collected material for recycling abroad.
PET-Recycling Schweiz (PRS) organises the financing of PET collection and recycling on the basis of a voluntary sectoral solution. The private collection organisation levies a prepaid disposal contribution on PET beverage containers which is included in the purchase price. The proceeds are used for the development and maintenance of collection logistics and for public relations work.
The collection of PET containers should be made even easier. A more dense network of collection points at kiosks and petrol stations accompanied by motivation campaigns will contribute to a further increase in the PET return rate and reduction in littering.
Report of imported or exported beverage containers for recycling (PDF, 236 kB, 18.12.2020)(in German, French and Italian)
Ökobilanz Getränkeverpackungen (PDF, 2 MB, 10.09.2014)Study commissioned by the FOEN, in German with summary in English, French and Italian
Last modification 18.12.2020