Polyethylene Terephthalate

Exports became the largest market for PET in 2007.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is a plastic resin used to make bottles for soft drinks and other household and consumer products. PET is a relatively new packaging resin. The PET bottle was patented in 1973. Four years later, the first PET bottle was recycled.

Soft drink bottlers remain the biggest user of PET resin. "Custom" bottles are used for other products, such as salad dressing, peanut butter and jellies. Custom bottles accounted for more than half of PET containers by weight in 2007. PET is also used for film, oven trays, sheeting for cups and food trays, oven trays, and other uses. This profile is limited to PET containers.

Half of all polyester carpet made in the United States is made from recycled PET bottles. Exports, however, became the largest market for PET recyclers in 2007. The rise in use of custom bottles and the increased consumption of water and soft drinks away from home have created challenges for increasing the PET recycling rate.

PET use has reduced the size of the waste stream because PET has replaced heavier steel and glass containers.

Chaz Miller is state programs director for the National Solid Wastes Management Association, Washington. E-mail him at: [email protected].


Data is from 2007 EPA estimates, except where noted.


  • 2.74 million tons, or 1.07% by weight.

  • 18.83 pounds of PET bottles per person per year.

  • 1.01 million tons of soft drink bottles.

  • 1.73 million tons of custom bottles.

  • 18 20-oz. soft drink bottles weigh one pound.


  • 640,000 tons, or a 23.4% recycling rate.

  • 698,000 tons, or a 24.6% recycling rate in 2007, according to industry data.

  • Container deposit laws facilitate soda bottle recycling.

Recycled Content:

  • Approved by FDA, use in bottles is increasing.


  • PET does not compost.

Incinerated or Landfilled:

  • 2.1 million tons, or 1.24% of discarded MSW by weight.

  • Highly combustible, with a per-pound Btu value of 10,933, twice that of MSW.

Landfill Volume:

  • In 1997, 2.76 million cubic yards or 0.7% of landfilled MSW were soft drink bottles.


  • Landfilled bottles weigh 355 pounds per cubic yard (lbs/cu.yd.).

  • Whole bottles have a density of 30-40 lbs/cu.yd.

  • Baled bottles have a density of 400-500 lbs/cu.yd.

  • Granulated bottles have a density of 700-750 lbs/cu.yd.

Source Reduction:

  • The 2-liter soft drink bottle weighs 48 grams, 20 grams or 29% lighter than 20 years ago.

Recycling Markets:

  • Exports and the U.S. fiber market, which uses recycled PET bottles for carpet, clothing and other products are primary market.

End Market Specifications:

  • ISRI Scrap Specifications Circular 2008: Plastic Standard P-100.

  • Contamination limited to 2%. Do not store outside for more than six months unless covered with UV-resistant materials.

  • PVC is a major contaminant as its specific gravity almost equals PET's.

Related Stories


"Measurement Standards and Reporting Guidelines," National Recycling Coalition, www.nrc-recycle.org

"Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2007 Facts and Figures," U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste, 2008, www.epa.gov/osw

National Association for PET Container Resources, www.napcor.com

Scrap Specifications Circular 2008, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington, D.C., www.isri.org