rPET reprocessing challenge – The new Vacurema 1716T line at Zibo Containers in Somerset West is awaiting commissioning and (inset) Zibo CEO André Smit, who has put years of experience into planning of the project

Massive rPET challenge as Zibo begins recycling of PET trays, punnets

Zibo Containers of Cape Town has taken a bold step with the installation of a Vacurema line that will enable it to recycle post-consumer PET material for the production of FDA/EFSA approved food-grade trays and punnets.

Up to now, PET trays – which although highly popular, constitute only about 10% of SA’s estimated 260 000 tpa demand for the material – have not been recycled in South Africa.

Zibo Containers’ MD Andre Smit firmly believes the trays can be recycled:  Zibo has been reprocessing its factory scrap for some time, without problem.

“Many challenges have prevented the recycling of thermoformed PET containers,” said Smit, including excessive labeling of products when packed, incompatible adhesives and laminated containers. Each of these areas of concern is as a consequence being addressed in the venture, which involves a major Capex outlay by Zibo.

A first in South Africa, the project is as a result taking on added interest as a test to ascertain whether the production of food grade rPET from thermoformed scrap material is viable.

The Vacurema 1716T line, built by Erema in Austria and supplied by Dean Toi of Johannesburg, can process 1400kgs/hr which translates to 33 tons per day and, at an estimated 26 days operation a month, about 870 tons per month.

The line is installed at the Zibo site at Saxenburg Park, Kuils River, but commissioning had been delayed (as at early October) as engineers from Austria were, due to Covid, not been able to sign off.

Additional peripheral equipment is also due to be installed.

The intention from the outset is to run rPET flake, which will most likely result in the line achieving nameplate throughput from the start. Flake is being bought in from recyclers and even imported, which in itself is a challenge as some PET recyclers have exited the thermoformed container sector in recent times.