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Polyethylene Terephthalate

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

Because PET is an “engineered” resin, it is more expensive to produce than commodity resins, such as high-density polyethylene (HDPE). As a result, PET is one of the more highly valued plastic recyclables.

“Custom” bottles are used for non-soft drink products, such as salad dressing, fruit juices, peanut butter and milk. Custom bottles accounted for 47 percent of all PET containers by weight in 2003. PET also is used as a film, as sheeting for cups and food trays. This profile is limited to PET containers.

Half of all polyester carpet made in the United States is made from recycled PET bottles. The rise in custom bottles and the increased consumption of beverages outside the home has led to a decline in 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, D.C. E-mail the author at: cmiller@envasns.org.

PET Packaging Municipal Solid Waste Facts:


  • 2.01 million tons or 0.85 percent by weight.*

  • 13.8 lbs. of PET bottles per person.*

  • 18 20-oz. soft drink bottles weigh 1 lb.


  • 370,000 tons for an 18.4 percent recycling rate.*

  • The PET recycling rate was 30 percent in 1996.

  • 500,000 tons in 2004 for a 21.6 percent recycling rate, according to industry data.

  • Collection volume increased by 19 percent in 2004.

Recycled Content:

  • Approved by FDA.
  • Use in bottles is increasing.


  • PET does not compost.

Incinerated or Landfilled:

  • 840,000 tons or 0.51 percent of discarded MSW by weight.*

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

Landfill Volume:

  • Soft drink bottles made up 2.76 million cu. yds. (0.7 percent) of landfilled MSW in 1997.


  • Landfilled soft drink bottles weigh 355 lbs./cu.yd.

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

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

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


  • The 2-liter soft drink bottle weighs 48 grams and is 20 grams (29 percent) lighter than 20 years ago.

Recycling Markets:

  • Recycled PET is primarily used by the fiber market, which uses it in carpet, clothing and other products.

  • Other markets include exports, strapping and bottles.

End-Market Specifications:

  • PET bottles fall under ISRI Scrap Specifications Circular 2005: Plastic Standard P-100 series.

  • Contamination is limited to 2%.

  • PET cannot be stored outdoors for more than six months unless covered with UV resistant materials.

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


Jonathan Burgiel, R.W. Beck Co.

“Measurement Standards and Reporting Guidelines,” National Recycling Coalition, Alexandria, VA, www.nrc-recycle.org

“Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2003,” U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste, www.epa.gov/osw

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

“Scrap Specifications Circular 2005,” Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington, D.C., www.isri.org

*2003 EPA estimates