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PET – from yarn to the recycling leader

The ever-growing amount of plastic contributes to its ever-worsening opinion.
Most of our world contains polymer elements and most of the eco-media coverage presents it in a negative light.
We, on the other hand, try to write not only about its phenomenon and versatility,  but also the fact that if we take proper actions, we can prevent it from flooding the world.
One of the most popular and most often used plastics is the polyethylene terephthalate, commonly known as PET. It’s a thermoplastic polymer from the polyester family. It’s been calculated that all EU citizens use three water or non-alcohol beverage bottles per week.
There are 450 million residents in the European Union. Multiply it by three and 52 weeks in a year, and we get around 70 billion PET bottles a year. For an average person such amount is really difficult to imagine.
Fortunately, PET is the most commonly recycled plastic.

Although now we mainly associate it with the above mentioned bottles, it was originally invented for other purposes. Moreover, it is not the only article of daily use which is made from terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol.

The history of PET officially started in 1941.
That year PET was patented in Great Britain by Calico Printers’ Association. It was produced by the company’s employees, John Rex Whinfield and James Tennant Dickson. They wanted to create a durable yarn that would be used in the textile industry. The first material from polyethylene terephthalate was manufactured in August 1946.
A year later, in 1947, another British company, ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries), acquired rights to PET (except for USA where the patent was purchased by DuPont). A year later the material was introduced to the mass market and it was used in the production of lace curtains.

The situation in the US was a little different. Over there PET was transformed into Mylar plastic film. Up until today this DuPont trademark is known for high quality polyester films. Since 1950s they have been constantly used in the electric and electrotechnical industries as insulator and wire braid, or in the woodworking industry in carpentry press. The film may be transparent (the thicker it is, the less transparent it becomes), as well as in coloured or mirror finish, which is used in gardening since it improves lighting by reflecting sunlight.

In the 1960s polyethylene terephthalate invaded new industries, including photography and phonography. Photographic films, video and audio tapes are mass-produced from PET!
If until then there was a person who hadn’t had contact with PET, by 1960 polyester reached almost everyone in Europe and North America – and it was only the first 20 years of its existence!

Another breakthrough year in PET’s history was 1973 when Nathaniel Wyeth, DuPont’s engineering fellow, patented a bottle made with injection blow moulding method. This process is still used in the production of bottles. It was obviously a true revolution and a hit product! Compared to a glass bottle, it was light, practical and unbreakable. PET bottles made it to Poland in the 1980s.
Later on Goodyear developed granulate which was easier to transport and process.
Today PET is used in almost every branch: food, cosmetic, automotive, gardening, sports and even space industry.

PET recycling
The era of the intersectoral fame of our polyethylene terephthalate is also the time of the world post-war crisis which involved respecting all products and war propaganda regarding material recovery. Governments of all World War II countries felt the losses not only in people and equipment, but also in materials. People were mobilised to collect glass, metal and scrap paper, as well as re-use purchased goods.
Post-war zero waste was well developed and sometimes even surprising. One could mention Adam Slodowy and his “Do it yourself”, and for example his bed made from skis. Since modern up-cycling is regarded as innovative, we should go back and have a look at our creative predecessors’ ideas.

PET was first recovered in 1977. Since then the process is being constantly developed, whereas the amount of recycled polyethylene terephthalate is growing.
Today we know that recycling is not only about protecting primary raw materials, but also about limiting the amount of waste and reducing carbon and water footprints generated during the production of new plastic.
We also know that products made from recovered PET in the first six recycling cycles preserve their quality. Here we covered the subject of material recovery from the technical point of view.The only defects that may arise during the recycling process are those of aesthetic nature. Lack of perfect transparency or microdefects should symbolise our ecological consciousness and become a sign of our times. Unfortunately, “imperfect” packaging does not appeal to most customers as they think it is dirty.
However, we are certain that the higher awareness of the necessity to recover materials, the recycling process and its effects, the better understanding and tolerance towards imperfections in packaging made from re-granulate.

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