Expert views 4 min

Austria is betting on reusable and returnable plastic bottles!

We spoke to Sebastian Rosenberger, Project Manager, and Jörg Schwärzler, Senior Technology Manager, at Austrian packaging manufacturer Alpla.
Austria is betting on reusable and returnable plastic bottles!
Austria is betting on reusable and returnable plastic bottles!

By developing a returnable plastic bottle, Alpla is truly breaking new ground. How is this environmentally friendlier than a glass bottle?

For a start, numerous studies* have shown that the carbon footprint of a PET bottle is much smaller than that of a glass bottle. In fact, the ratio is almost double. Glass certainly has its qualities, but it takes an enormous amount of energy to manufacture and recycle, and is also a very heavy material.

 

Transporting the same number of bottles requires at least ten times as many lorries! We carried out our own studies in Austria, and the results were indisputable: PET bottles always came out on top, whether they were reusable or not. The bottle we proposed to the Vöslauer water brand (with a capacity of 1 litre) weighs 55 g, compared to around 500 g for the same glass bottle. It also makes good economic sense, as it significantly reduces transport costs.

Did Vöslauer play a part in the creation of this bottle?

Right from the start, Vöslauer has been a partner in the development of this new product, which we brought to market in 2022. In Austria, Vöslauer is a major water brand known primarily for its spring water drawn from the spa town of Bad Vöslau. It also bottles Almdudler, a very popular fizzy drink in the country.

 

 

We drew up the product brief together. From the very start, the main objective was for the bottle to withstand at least 15 washing cycles. In fact, 12 washing cycles is the minimum required to obtain the Austrian eco-label. With this bottle, Vöslauer and Alpla were jointly awarded the Austrian national Smart Packaging 2022 prize in the B2C category.

This new recycled PET bottle is primarily aimed at the general public. How is the collection system organised?

Obviously, Vöslauer wanted a bottle that would be for everyone. As mentioned earlier, it can be reused around fifteen times, which gives it a lifespan of 3 to 4 years. For Vöslauer, it also makes good economic sense, as the bottle saves around 80% of virgin material every year while reducing CO2 emissions by 120 tonnes a year.

As far as collection is concerned, in Austria, there are systems for recovering returnable glass bottles almost everywhere, particularly in supermarkets. All that was needed was to add collection bins for this new PET bottle. Nothing too complicated...

 

Your bottle is made from 30% recycled PET. What difficulties did you encounter in designing it? Are its characteristics different from those of virgin PET bottles?

We have already gained a lot of experience with single-use bottles containing recycled PET (rPET), as we have been offering them to our customers for several years now. As a result, we did not encounter any particular difficulties in developing this returnable bottle. That being said, the characteristics of the bottle have been tweaked a little so as to allow the use of slightly higher concentrations of rPET. I cannot say any more about this because it involves know-how that we are protecting. I can, however, mention the thickness of the wall of the reusable bottle, which is 0.3 mm compared with 0.2 mm for a single-use bottle made from virgin PET. This difference, however minimal, is a prerequisite if we are to be able to introduce a significant proportion of rPET, and it makes the bottle more resistant. This is important because we know that it will be processed over and over again before each refill.

 

Where does rPET come from?

It is made by PET to PET, an Austrian company specialising in recycling PET, which has a wealth of experience and is recognised worldwide. The company recycles over a billion bottles a year, and its shareholders include brands such as Coca-Cola and Vöslauer. rPET comes from used bottles, which is why it is so important for consumers to put them in the right bins.

© PET to PET

The bottles are then shredded, and the shavings are treated by a process called SSP (solid-state polycondensation). The resulting crystallisation makes this polymer highly resistant to heat.
It allows highly effective decontamination from volatile substances at high temperatures, ensuring consistent suitability for food contact.
Here at Alpla, we have the technology to design single-use bottles made from anywhere between 25% and 100% recycled PET. Their safety is guaranteed by stringent migration tests.

Naturally, our products meet the strict criteria of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). This is all the more important as, by next year, a European directive will require every single-use plastic bottle to contain a minimum of 25% recycled polymers.

How are the filling cycles controlled to guarantee consumer safety?

Each bottle is branded at the time of manufacture. The bottling plant is fitted with a laser reading system capable of indicating the number of cycles already completed.

© Banque d’images

 This complements the many quality controls that are required during the filling process. After a dozen cycles, the bottle is removed from the circuit and will be recycled again to close the loop once more.

In a few words, could you briefly introduce us to Alpla?

ALPLA is one of the world’s leading manufacturers and recyclers of plastic packaging. Around 23,300 employees worldwide produce packaging systems, bottles, caps and custom moulded parts at 190 sites across 46 countries. High-quality packaging is used in many areas, such as food and beverages, cosmetics and personal care products, household products, detergents and cleaning products, pharmaceuticals, motor oils and lubricants. ALPLA operates PET and HDPE recycling plants in Austria, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Romania, Spain and Thailand.

 

*See for example for the French market:
https://eaumineralenaturelle.fr

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