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Study which concludes landfill is less carbon-intensive for PET bottles than recycling is slammed by industry body

A study has found that landfill might be a better option for PET plastic bottles than recycling them when it comes to the carbon footprint of the material.

SRI Consulting carried out research that looked at the carbon footprint of a PET drinks bottle, from the production of oil and gas for use as a virgin material to its eventual disposal. It considered the use of the bottle by consumers in Europe, collection in a kerbside scheme and then when it was sent for sorting and recycling.

The study, called PET’s Carbon Footprint: to Recycle or Not to Recycle concluded that kerbside take-back systems are no better than landfill when it comes to the carbon impact. It suggested that landfill and recycling are also better options than incineration.

It says that countries with developed recycling infrastructure should aim to maximise the use of recycled PET in bottles ahead of virgin PET, and seek to maximise the yields of materials recovered through better sorting and, to a degree, improved reprocessing. But for those countries without developed recycling infrastructure, it would be better to landfill bottles, which it describes as “carbon capture and storage…on an economy budget”.

But the report has been slammed by the trade body EuPR, which represents European plastics recyclers.

PET working group chairman and vice-president Casper van den Dungen said: “This publication is unwise, dangerous for sustainability and goes against European legislation.

“By applying the SRI Consulting results, we would lose valuable material in landfills. The used model is intrinsically wrong as, in reality, landfill should be avoided as a starting principle.

“These kinds of studies are hazardous because they are bringing a wrong message to the population [which is that] your efforts to recycle are useless. It goes against all the efforts achieved during the past decades in order to reduce litter.”

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