PET producer UAB Neo Group,in Klaipėda FEZ in Lithuania has produced its first PET resins containing up to 25% recycled content. The materials are currently being trialled at selected customers. The commercial launch of the company’s NEOPET cycle is expected to be in May of this year.
The development marks a step change in the PET production process of the Group, which had hitherto solely relied on the use of fossil-based virgin raw materials. However, in response to market trends and in anticipation of the EU directive mandating the use of 25% recycled content that will come into force in 2025 for PET bottles, the company started in 2019 to explore the use of secondary raw materials - rPET - to produce high-quality PET resins.
One year and many lab trials later, the company successfully produced food-contact PET resins with a rPET content of 15% on one production line. In terms of quality and technical parameters, the resins were indistinguishable from virgin PET material. This year saw the development of PET resins containing 25% rPET.
Neo Group CEO Ruslanas Radajevas noted that it was an important achievement, for a number of reasons. Not only does it support the sustainability goals of the company, it enables its customers meet the upcoming regulatory requirements, without having to make any adjustments to their equipment and process.
He also explained why Neo Group had chosen to develop and patent its own process technology.
“Back in 2011, we installed a technology that allowed the by-products of the PET production process to be chemically recycled into polyester polyols, which are widely used in the construction industry,” he said. “This experience and know-how have helped us a lot over the past few years in the development of the technology for using rPET in our PET resin production process: our technologists have adopted a market-unique way to dissolve, purify and use secondary rPET material in our production lines.”
Over the next 3-5 years, the proportion of recycled PET of the total production is expected to reach 25-30%. Production of the grades with an rPET content of 25% will commence on the other two production lines in 2023-2025, depending on the availability of secondary raw materials and the growth in customer demand. Radajevas added that although the Directive enters into force in 2025, some European beverage producers have not yet started preparing for the transition.
Among the customers testing the new resins is UAB RETAL Lithuania, a manufacturer of PET preforms and a member of the Neo Group.
“We are glad that the first commercial production with our raw materials will be started by a member of our group,” he said.
The company is currently working to increase the amount of rPET in its resins, especially in light of the EU requirement that PET bottles must contain 30% rPET in 2030. While the Group is confident that its technology makes this possible, a major bottleneck is the shortage of secondary raw materials in the EU market. This will have to be tackled by further strengthening the ecosystem for the collection of post-consumer packaging and society education, said Radajevas.
The successful technology development and production of rPET-based high-quality PET resin ahead of the EU’s timetable is a source of pride for Lithuania, said Lithuania’s Minister of the Environment, Simonas Gentvilas,
“This involvement of secondary raw materials into the production process will undoubtedly give NEO GROUP a unique competitive advantage in the market,” he said, adding that the ministry of the Environment is ‘planning significant changes in the organisation of the secondary raw materials and packaging system this year’, to address the supply issue.
Neo Group is a part of the international group RETAL Industries Ltd., which operates across 10 countries and manages 17 factories. In Lithuania, RETAL Industries Ltd. also manages the PET preforms producer UAB RETAL Lithuania and the food films and cap producer UAB RETAL Baltic Films. Anatoly Martynov, a Cyprus citizen, is the president and main shareholder of the RETAL Group.