Waving the flag for PET innovation and circularity

As Petcore Europe makes final preparations for its Annual Conference taking place in February 2024, PETplanet Insider caught up with President, Antonello Ciotti, to talk about the PET value chain and its core priorities.

PETplanet: Petcore’s Annual Conference has become a firm fixture in the PET calendar. Why do you think this is?
Antonello Ciotti: Our conference is the only event in the year which gathers players from right across the PET value chain – from machine producers and PET recyclers through to brand owners. Petcore is now some 140 members strong and brings together all the different industry players. As such it offers a unique perspective and the conference provides an excellent opportunity to talk business and network with colleagues from across the various facets of the sector.
In addition, the conference takes place right at the start of the year and so serves to set the mood for the 12 months ahead. This became somewhat disrupted by the pandemic but for the last couple of years we have been back on track. The 2024 confe-rence will be held against the backdrop of the final discussions around the EU’s Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), which places many actions on our industry and will have far reaching consequences for the sector. As it takes place in Brussels, at the heart of the EU, we are fortunate to have many delegates and speakers from the EU institutions and it’s important that our sector demonstrates how it is responding to the various regulatory challenges.

PETplanet: I understand that the 2024 event will feature an Innovation Summit for the first time. Please tell me more.
Antonello Ciotti: Yes indeed. The Innovation Summit addresses precisely the point I was making earlier and will showcase new developments and opportunities from across our sector. It will demonstrate to regulators and industry peers that we are on the front foot and innovating to rise to the various challenges we face.
As we represent the whole PET value chain from upstream producers to downstream users, we are providing the different elements of the industry with a stage to talk about what is new and what they have to offer. With the raft of regulation heading our way it is clear that business as usual is no longer an option. The Innovation Summit will be quite technical in nature and dive straight in, to show what the industry is capable of. We will show policymakers the endless possibilities that PET offers in different fields from production through to recycling and explain the new and emerging technologies and breakthroughs that are allowing us to meet the evolving needs of society.

PETplanet: There is certainly a lot of focus on packaging and packaging waste right now – where do your priorities lie?
Antonello Ciotti: In many ways the PET sector has had a head start as we have already been subject to the regulations laid down by the Single Use Plastics Directive (SUP) almost five years ago. As a result, PET packaging, unlike any other packaging materials, already has targets on recyclability and recycled content and is proving that they are achievable.
The challenges come with the definitions covering the implementation and how the different EU member states will introduce and implement the regulations being laid down. How will countries and brands go about calculating their recycling rates for example? There are still a lot of un-answered questions.
In particular, I am concerned as to how the PET industry will be able to defend itself against the greenwashing of producers from third countries looking to place their products on the EU market. How will they be monitored and checked? Surely it’s not enough to just claim that a product contains a certain percentage of recycled content? There should be systems to verify and confirm this. The new regulations are imposing higher costs on EU producers and the EU needs to protect the sector against potential fake declarations of producers from outside the EU.

PETplanet: What are you working on right now and what are your priorities for the year ahead?
Antonello Ciotti: Well, obviously the ongoing regulation is taking up a lot of bandwidth. There is still much that needs to be ironed out and we are looking forward to greater clarification as we move into 2024.
In theory, PPWR could even represent a potential opportunity for our sector as PET is the only packaging product that could easily enter into reuse. We will have to wait and see.
Meanwhile, increasing the circularity of trays is a priority as is demonstrating this to the EU institutions. We are spending a great deal of time in emphasising the circularity of PET trays alongside PET bottles and have held a number of events, including a Thermoforms conference in Bologna last summer. We are also leading a consortium of thermoforming companies and working hard to get recognition for trays.
Advocacy continues to be an important part of our work and we are setting up a new advocacy working group to address this and calling for members to join and take an active role. 2024 will be a changeover year in Brussels with a new European Parliament in early summer and a new Commission by the end of the year. It will be important for us to reach out to the new intake of people and explain our industry and our material. They need to understand the value that the industry brings and also what has been achieved so far in terms of circularity. We stand ready to take up our responsibility but need clear guidelines. Take chemical recycling for example – it presents a huge opportunity but we need reassurance that making financial investments now will not be a waste.
The focus and mission of Petcore remain the same: to show that we are the voice of the PET value chain in Europe and to ensure a growing market for the PET sector by demonstrating the material’s unique characteristics to legislators, brand owners and consumers alike.

PETplanet: Thank you so much, Antonello, see you in Brussels!

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