RETRAY Certification / 03.11.2021

PET thermoforms in the forthcoming Spanish legal frame

PET thermoforms in the forthcoming Spanish legal frame

On October 28, the public information period of the draft of the Royal Decree on Packaging and Packaging Waste ended. The Royal Decree aims to carry out a comprehensive and coherent review of all the regulations on packaging and packaging waste currently in force in Spain. After reading the draft, we reflect on the 5 key questions that may arise for the PET thermoformed packaging sector and the role that the RETRAY certification will play in it:

1. How is the goal of reducing the weight of packaging waste addressed?

Article 6.a: prevention objective by reducing the weight of packaging waste produced by 13% in 2025 (and 15% in 2030) compared to that generated in 2010.

PET containers have already achieved a very significant weight reduction in recent years, reaching their limit. Thanks to the design engineering of the multilayer PET sheet, thermoformed containers with minimum thicknesses have been achieved, optimizing to the maximum the ratio of the weight of packaging material used per quantity of packaged food.  We shall have to be very vigilant on this matter, keeping in mind that some of the monolayer solutions that are being presented as alternatives to multilayer ones must greatly increase their thickness, in order to offer barrier properties similar to multilayer solutions, and therefore the weight of the container. The balance between functionality and eco-design should not be lost.

2. To what extent can the goal of reducing the number of single-use plastic beverage bottles on the market affect thermoformed packaging?

Article 6.b: prevention objective by reducing by 50% in 2030 the number of single-use plastic bottles for beverages that are marketed with respect to the second calendar year of operation of the packaging section of the Product Producers Registry.

The European association Petcore estimates that thermoformed PET packaging in Europe already incorporates on average over 50% recycled material. As bottle waste is the main source, the reduction in the availability of PET bottles in the market, added to the specific recycled content objectives that for this container, will make the demand for recycled PET from thermoformed containers of the tray-to-tray circuit increases, so it is necessary to invest in the improvement of the recovery channel of this post-consumer waste stream, selected in PET bales, so that it would be recycled in a profitable and effective way.

3. What objectives and measures are established regarding the recyclability of packaging?

Article 6.c: all packaging placed on the market will be 100% recyclable by 2030.
Article 13.2: additionally, in order to improve transparency and help consumers make informed decisions regarding the recyclability of packaging, they may be marked with the percentage of packaging material available for quality recycling.

The recyclability of thermoformed PET containers goes through the knowledge and application of the design guidelines for recycling this type of container. The Foundation has defined these guidelines for both thermoformed monolayer PET containers, aligned with the guidelines that Petcore has already defined for this type of packaging, as well as for thermoformed multilayer PET containers that will be used as a starting point by Petcore for its next publication of guidelines. Sheet producers, thermoformers and packers can verify compliance with these guidelines through the RETRAY Product certification.

4. How can prevention measures affect PET containers for fruits and vegetables?

Article 7.a: retail trade will adopt the necessary measures to present fresh fruits and vegetables without using plastic containers (within the month of entry into force of the Royal Decree).

This obligation does not apply to fruits and vegetables packed in batches of 1.5 kilograms or more, as well as to fruits and vegetables that present a risk of deterioration when sold in bulk, which will be determined by the Spanish Agency of Food Safety and Nutrition (AESAN). A priori, thermoformed PET containers are used primarily to fulfill this last functionality, that is, to protect and preserve “fruits and vegetables that present a risk of deterioration when sold in bulk”. Such is the case of salads or cut fruits and vegetables or other food that require special storage conditions. In this sense, what can be expected is that AESAN determines it in this way and the impact on the use of thermoformed PET containers will be minimal.

5. What are the targets established for plastic packaging recycling and what specific measures are introduced to promote and verify their achievement?

Article 10: general minimum objective of 50% and 55% by weight of recycling of plastic material contained in packaging waste for the years 2025 and 2030 respectively.
Article 11.3: to guarantee the circular use of this waste, requirements are established on the mandatory minimum recycled plastic content of 25% for PET containers from 2025 and 30% for plastic containers in general from 2025 onwards. 2030, calculated as an average of all packaging placed on the market.
Article 11.4.b: for the containers of pots, tubs and trays, incorporation of 15% of recycled plastic by 2030

It is important to note that the rule established for the calculation of compliance with the objectives is that the weight of the recycled packaging waste will correspond to the weight of the packaging waste that enters the recycling operation by which the waste materials are actually transformed into products, materials or substances (Annex II.1.b). In other words, in the case of thermoformed PET containers that enter the bales of bottle recyclers, the collective systems of extended producer responsibility (SCRAP) must verify that they are recovered and subsequently recycled.

Regarding the mandatory minimum recycling content established for 2025 and 2030, thermoformed PET containers will comply with them without difficulty as long as the recycling from its own circuit continues to gradually increase to cover the deficit that the demand for recycling of PET bottle for your own.

Certification as a tool to tackle the established obligations

After the analysis of the draft Royal Decree, it is clear the necessity of certification tools, such as RETRAY Process and RETRAY Product, by companies in the value chain of thermoformed PET containers, both in order to verify the recycled plastic content in the packaging as to justify the application of bonuses to the modulations of financial contributions before the SCRAP. In this sense:

a) Minimum recycled plastic content.

The draft states that manufacturers and intra-community importers or acquirers of packaging must ensure the minimum content of recycled plastic in packaging in accordance with the provisions of article 11.3 and 11.4 and that, for these purposes, the amount of recycled plastic contained in the products It must be certified by an accredited entity to issue certification under the UNE-EN 15343: 2008 “Plastics. Recycled plastics. Traceability and conformity assessment of the recycling of plastics and recycled content” or the regulations that replace them. In addition, as stated in article 13.6, the containers may include information about the certified percentage of recycled material they contain.

b) Modulations of financial contributions to SCRAPs

The draft includes minimum modulation bases through bonuses and penalties. Specifically, regarding its recyclability, a minimum discount of 10% will be granted to containers that are marked with the percentage of material, including its components, available for quality recycling, in accordance with the provisions of article 13.2. Additionally, a discount will be granted to plastic containers that incorporate at least an additional 10% over the mandatory minimum recycled plastic content set out in article 11.3 and 11.4, provided that the recycled plastic comes from packaging waste. In the specific case of PET, it is specifically foreseen that, from 2025, containers with a minimum of 35% recycling may receive a bonus of 0.05 €/ kg for the amount of post-consumer recycled PET incorporated and a penalty of 100% of the financial contribution on PVC and opaque PET.