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The different types of plastic used for plastic cups

By Steffen Andersen · 11. March 2020

Due to plastic being one of the most discussed packaging material because of the environmental effect it has on nature and the ocean. Many manufacturers are therefore spending a lot of time on developing more environmentally friendly plastic cups. We will in this post be covering the different types of materials that plastic cups can be made of, and the pros and cons of their environmental impacts.

PET

PET plastic is the most used plastic material both for packaging and other plastic products. PET stands for polyethylenterephthalat, which is made from Naphta that is an extract from oil, and it is therefore made of a natural resource. It is therefore not recycled plastic but 100% new plastic, and it is therefore used as the normal material for plastic cups and other food packaging. Because it can be really difficult for manufacturers to be allowed to use recycled plastic for food packaging because of European regulations.

Plastic made of PET can be recycled, but if it used to make food packaging such as plastic cups or lids, then it can sometimes be difficult for recycling facilities to organize it. Because plastic from food packaging cannot be mixed with normal plastic in the recycling process since the process for recycling food packaging is different.

PET plastic is not able to degrade in nature, and in compostable facilities, they are not able to degrade them either. Which is why it either gets recycled or burned to make energy.

rPET

rPET plastic is not a widely spread plastic material and is mostly used in the projects in construction. rPET plastic stands for recycled polyethylenterephthalat, so it is actually just plastic made of recycled PET. This still ensures the same quality of the plastic. rPET plastic is not normally used to make food packaging, because of food and health safety rules from the EU. Some manufacturers with large production facilities are testing rPET for plastic cups. The manufacturers we work with are able to make 50% rPET certified so the cups are made of 50% recycled plastic.

Plastic made of rPET can be recycled, on the same notes as with PET plastic before but rPET can only be recycled a maximum amount of times before it becomes less stable. In terms of degrading rPET plastic, it is the same as with normal PET plastic.

PLA

PLA plastic is not a very used plastic material yet, but it is primarily used in food packaging to try and offer a more sustainable plastic material. PLA plastic stands for polylactic acid plastic that means the plastic is actually made of plant-based materials and normally made from corn. Many manufacturers are able to use PLA plastic in their production, but due to a worldwide shortage of PLA plastic, most manufacturers are not able to deliver PLA plastic materials.

PLA plastic is technically able to be recycled but due to the nature of PLA plastic, since it is not a very strong material. The end product of recycled PLA plastic would not be to any use, and there is no market for recycled PLA plastic due to the quality of it. PLA plastic is therefore mostly burned to use for energy, and if the right facilities are there it can be degraded.

PLA plastic is degradable in special industrial facilities, and it will take some time for the PLA plastic to degrade but the main problem with not many countries have the necessary facilities to degrade PLA plastic.  

Conclusion

The primary problem with recycling and degrading plastic no matter if it is PLA, PET or rPET plastic, is that it should be distributed to the correct facilities so they can choose how it should be handled in the process.

Content and Marketing Manager at Limepack

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