How to import used PET Bottle scraps in India for recycling?

India was once reckoned as the largest importer of PET bottle scrap after China. Import of used PET bottle scrap in India was majorly from the United Kingdom (UK), China, Europe and Saudi Arabia. Though there is already a high production of PET bottle scrap in the country, India still counts on imports. So, considering the plastic waste generated, the government banned the import of PET bottle scrap in India. But eventually, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) allowed the import of PET bottles as plastic waste in the country for processing as companies suffered financial losses. So, despite all this, here are the details addressing all that happened and how you can quickly obtain a PET bottle scrap import license.

What’s the debate related to the PET bottle scrap import in India?

Earlier, the Government of India (GoI) banned plastic imports. But this came with a twist. At that time, the GoI permitted the companies in Special Economic Zones (SEZ) to continue importing plastic. This served as a significant loophole that was exploited entirely. Plastic waste recycling companies in India started complaining that they had significantly less scrap left to recycle. Thus, after three years, the GoI partially lifted the ban on the import of plastic waste in India. So, in 2022, the government allowed some companies to import PET bottle scraps in India for recycling.

A tight-knit relationship between import and PET bottle scrap recycling in India

The booming plastic recycling industry heavily relied on PET imports in India. The dependence was so much so that around 70-80% of the scrap recycling demand in the country was fulfilled by imports. However, the PET bottle scrap import was only allowed for recycling to be used as polyester staple fibre and yarn. Also, despite many plastic scrap recycling plants in India and a capacity to recycle more than 12 lakh tonnes from just 40 units, there is a massive gap in demand and supply. Moreover, this has given rise to the plastic waste produced locally being left unaddressed. Thus, reducing plastic footprints in an environmentally sound manner must be implemented. Before obtaining your PET bottle scrap import license, here's a quick fact check for you.

What is plastic?

Plastic is a synthetic organic material generated by polymerisation. There are two main types of plastics -

1. Thermoplastics those which repeatedly melt and soften so that they can be recycled into new plastics products. For example - Poly-ethyleneterephthalate (PET), polyethylene, polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride.

2. Thermoset polymers - those which are melted and take shape only once. Repeated heat treatments can not recycle these. For example - Polyurethane foam, Polyester, Bakelite, Melamine, Urea-formaldehyde, and Epoxy.

What is Poly-ethyleneterephthalate (PET)?

PET or Poly-ethylene-terephthalate is a thermoplastic derived from terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol. One can witness a rapid increase in the use of PET bottles worldwide nowadays.

Uses of PET Bottles

Virgin PET bottles are widely used for packing -

  • mineral water
  • carbonated beverages
  • shampoos

Benefits of PET Bottles

PET Bottles are highly preferred because of the following properties -

  • High sustainability
  • 100 per cent recyclable
  • Non-reactive
  • Strong
  • Economical
  • Shatterproof
  • Can be recovered again and again
  • Can be recycled into carpet and clothing fibres, containers for personal care products or automotive parts etc
  • Safe for medical applications, pharmaceutical, food and beverages

How are recycled PET flakes used?

Recycled PET flakes are the raw material for various products that would otherwise be produced from virgin material. These include -

  • polyester sheets
  • polyester fibres (a base material for making pillows, clothing, carpets, etc.)
  • into PET bottles and
  • trapping

Technologies are also available to generate food-grade plastic from the import of used PET bottles in India by hydrolysing down to monomers, which are purified and then re-polymerised to make new PET.

Scope of PET

Recycled PET flakes go into uncountable manufacturing units all over India as raw materials. Hence there is a huge demand and a bright scope for recycled PET flakes import in India.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for Import of PET Bottle Scrap in India

Permission for PET bottle scrap import or used PET bottle flakes is given to actual users having other mandatory licenses and adequate facilities for recycling. The import is only allowed for the recycling of PET bottle scrap in India to produce PET fibres or flakes to make pillows, staple fibre, carpets, strapping, polyester sheets, etc. or non-food grade PET bottles.

Requirements for obtaining PET bottle scrap import license

Any person who intends to import used PET bottles scrap for recycling in India must have the following:

  • 1. Valid consent to operate (CTO) from concerned Pollution Control Committees/State Pollution Control Boards (PCCs/SPCBs);
  • 2. Registration according to the norms under Rule-9 (b) of Plastic (Management and Handling) (PWM) Rules, 2011 from the concerned SPCB;
  • 3. Fire safety certificate from the concerned authority/department;
  • 4. NOC (No Objection Certificate) from the MoEF&CC
  • 5. Authorisation from the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT)
  • 6. Import Export Code (IEC)
  • 7. Consent to Establish (CTE)

Difference between plastic waste and PET bottles

There is a fundamental difference between PET bottle scrap and other plastic waste.

1. PET bottles are easily distinguishable, hence easy to collect, sort, store, etc. However, other plastic waste is small and can't be sorted quickly.

2. The weight per bottle (empty) is reasonably high for the waste collectors to invest their resources to collect them. On the other hand, other plastic wastes like chocolate wrappers are significantly less in weight.

People involved in PET recycling in India

There are a large number of people involved in the PET recycling business in India. These are

  • Kabadiwallahs
  • waste collectors
  • recyclers
  • small to medium traders
  • manufacturers who use recycled PET for various products

Requisite facilities and SOPs for PET recycling plants in India

1. The raw material, i.e. bales of used PET bottle scrap, must be received and stored only under a shed with impermeable flooring.

2. The PET recycling plant in India must have a mechanised washing line including a crusher, conveyor, wet separation of labels and caps from PET chips/flakes, and alkaline/detergent hot washing followed by rinsing with hot water. There shouldn't be any spillage of water during washing.

3. The plant must have a proper system of collecting crushed caps and labels. After washing, the chips are transferred pneumatically to the dryer, filled in the bags, or transferred directly to the fibre-making section.

4. The labels and crushed caps must be kept in a proper storage area and disposed to the registered plastic waste recycling plant

5. The imported PET scrap bottle recycling unit must have ETP (Effluent Treatment Plant) for effluent produced in the washing line. The treated wastewater must be recycled within the plant to the extent possible. Also, the sludge from ETP must be stored under the covered shed and disposed of according to the norms decided by the SPCB.

6. The facility must have sufficient arrangements for fire-fighting.

7. The PET recycling plant must install sufficient pollution control devices to adhere to the norms as stipulated in Consent to Operate (CTO) and Consent to Establish (CTE).

PET bottle scrap recycling process

PET recycling in India proceeds stepwise. Firstly, the discarded PET bottles are collected, sorted, shredded, cleaned and made into 'washed flakes'. These PET flakes are then used to produce various products like polyester fibre. A very small percentage of recycled PET is also used to manufacture monofilament, PET straps, sheets, etc. The detailed process is given below -

Step 1 - Collection

There are many ways in which used PET bottles reach the waste stream for recycling. Municipal solid waste (MSW) is one primary source, and the import of PET bottle scrap in India is the other. All plastic items are separated from MSW and sold to a kabadiwallah specialising in such waste. Waste collectors also personally visit the sources like airports, railway stations, restaurants, kiosks, and hotels to collect. As long as PET bottles are segregated along with the dry waste and discarded, the odds are high that they will be collected and recycled.

Step 2 - Sorting

After getting mixed plastic waste in India, kabadiwallahs conduct sorting operations. In this step, they sort the waste into PET, polyethylene (PE), milky PP, polypropylene (PP), HDPE, LDPE, etc. This is done mainly by visual inspection, which involves subjecting the plastic item to a series of improvised tests such as bending, touch, snapping, applying solvents etc. The different plastics are segregated and sold to different traders.

Step 3 - Removing non-PET components, sorting, and baling at the traders

Traders receive anywhere between a few hundred kilos and tons of PET bottle scrap daily. Every PET bottle is scrutinised rigorously via manual inspection. All coloured PET bottles (amber and green) are segregated and sold individually. Metal caps and rings (common in PET bottles used for packaging liquor) are eliminated manually. Several kinds of labels are stuck to a PET bottle, such as PVC or PP. PVC labels pose a challenge, as they can severely imperil fibre manufacturing. Hence all PVC tags, as identified by sight, are removed. Furthermore, bottles made from other plastics are removed.

After completing all these steps, the bottles are baled, which means they are crushed to make compact bundles, each weighing 120-140 kg. Baling makes it possible to transfer PET bottles quickly by making it possible to transport 8-9 tons in a full-scale truck.

Step 4 - At the PET recycling plant in India - sorting (once again), cleaning, flaking

Trucks carrying bales of PET bottles reach the recyclers. The bales are opened, and the sorting and cleaning process starts again. The imported PET bottle scrap is put through various semi-automatic, manual and automatic sorting and cleaning processes. All PVC bottles and labels are removed. Any metal component that might have slipped in, such as rings, caps, springs used in spray bottles, etc., are diligently removed. The bottles are shredded, and the components of the plastic (non-PVC plastics such as PP and PE) are separated by flotation. The flakes are subjected to further drying and washing, and the washed flakes are ready to be shipped to the manufacturing units.

Step 5 - At the manufacturing units - turned into polyester fibres

The washed flakes are melted and spun into fibres of several grades and used to make monofilament, PET sheets, straps, etc.

So, there has been a constant increase in the collection or import of PET bottle scrap for recycling in India. However, whether the import of PET bottle scrap is right or wrong still needs to be answered. But, obtaining a PET bottle scrap licence for recycling such waste helps in many ways. Recycling PET bottles helps in the remaking of new bottles. This thereby decreases our dependence on new plastic. Moreover, it ensures that used bottles don't end up in places where they shouldn't be, like rivers, lakes or even landfills.

Diksha Khiatani

A writer by day and a reader at night. Emerging from an Engineering background, Diksha has completed her M. Tech in Computer Science field. Being passionate about writing, she started her career as a Writer. She finds it interesting and always grabs time to research and write about Environmental laws and compliances. With extensive knowledge on content writing, she has been delivering high-quality write-ups. Besides, you will often find her with a novel and a cuppa!

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