PET is one of the most widely recycled plastics globally, with bottle-to-bottle recycling already an established circular system. However, thermoformed PET packaging, including clamshells, blister packs and food trays, still lacks adequate recycling infrastructure. Recycling these PET thermoforms is essential for transitioning to a truly circular economy, as worldwide obligations for recycled content may cause a shortfall in the supply of bottle recyclates; PET thermoform recycling can ensure a new stream of valuable PET material.
Barriers to recycling PET thermoforms
PET thermoforms are commonly used for consumer goods, electronics and fresh produce packaging. They offer versatility, clarity and superior machine compatibility at a low cost. The problem arises when these packages reach the end of their life; PET thermoformed trays and clamshells do not easily fit into existing PET recycling streams, as they are contaminated with food, labels, inks and adhesives. This has led to lower collection and recycling rates, with most thermoforms ending up in landfills.
Emerging advancements in PET thermoform recycling
However, new efforts are emerging to close this loophole. Advanced sorting facilities can now separate PET thermoforms from single-stream collections. Technologies such as Near-Infrared (NIR), Density Separation, Optical Sorting, and X-ray scanners, and even AI-powered industrial robot sorting allow proper identification of PET thermoforms for recycling. The next step is reintroducing this recycled PET content into manufacturing supply chains.
Opportunities for companies to embrace circularity
Brands across industries are gradually recognising the need to incorporate recycled PET from thermoformed packaging into new packaging. Doing so minimises plastic waste while extending the circularity of PET material beyond PET bottles. Such tray-to-tray recycling was not possible in the past.
Overcoming challenges through collective action
The biggest challenge lies in securing a consistent supply of rPET (tray-to-tray) material at scale. This requires greater adoption of deposit return schemes, partnerships with waste management firms, and consumer awareness regarding the importance of better managing PET tray waste to keep this valuable input resource in the loop. Stakeholders must understand that the long-term environmental benefits outweigh the initial investments.
Realising the circular economy potential
Sourcing rPET from thermoformed packaging distinguishes a company as an environmental steward. It will also future-proof businesses against plastic regulations and taxes more cost-effectively in the long term. By supporting thermoform recycling infrastructure, companies enable the shift towards a circular economy, where plastics retain value instead of spilling into ecosystems.
The technology for thermoform-to-thermoform recycling already exists. What is needed now is a collective effort by brands, manufacturers and consumers to prioritise these processes. Companies now have the opportunity to lead this change for the health of our planet.
To learn more about closing the loop with PET thermoform recycling, contact AVI Global Plast at +91 022-68559300 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We supply rPET punnets to clients across industries, including fresh produce, which get collected after delivery, recycled by our partner recyclers, and supplied back to AVI as rPET flakes for new punnets—enabling a circular economy.