PET Peeves

The weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

Polyethylene terephthalate otherwise known as PET, is used in packaging worldwide and is readily recycled. PET provides the raw material for bottles and containers and for all sorts of food packaging, and can even be used for paper making. But in India there is a bizarre recommendation that the government should ban the stuff.

Bottles made from PET are widely recycled and are easily identified with the universal recycling triangle. PET is used for drinks, soaps and cosmetics as well as edible oils and medicines, making it just about the most commonly used consumer plastic on the planet. Recycling supply chains are well established and proven and in some countries, such as Sweden there is even a container deposit scheme to encourage container recycling, including PET containers. The Swedes were just one national cohort contributing to the 7.5 million tonnes of PET collected worldwide for reuse in 2011.

But the Indian government doesn’t seem very interested in the success and proven safety of the use of PET in the market. The test base for PET is its successful use over many years as a packaging material in all sorts of markets. There is a paucity of evidence that PET is in some way dangerous. Yet when it comes to packaging pharmaceutical syrups and liquid medicines, the government of India wants to ban its use, based on the suggestion of the government appointed Drug Technical Advisory Body (DTAB). 

The board members want an immediate ban because of potential health risks possibly arising from PET’s possible instability under extreme temperatures. Their request for a ban is based on supposition rather than on proven facts, on fears of possibly leachability of PET’s chemical components under extreme temperatures. Reasonable enough a fear, except that PET is noted for its high heat resistance and chemical stability. It is resistant to acids, oils and fats, and even some solvents. PET is also used in baking bags.

There is no scientific evidence that PET packaging poses any risk to health. On the contrary there is plenty of evidence worldwide that PET does not, even in countries where temperature extremes are the norm. In Saudi Arabia Savola packaging does a thriving trade providing PET packaging to the Middle Eastern market.

If this ban goes ahead it will inevitably add to the cost of medicines in India, and may encourage the use of packaging materials that cannot so readily be recycled. India does not need regulations based on specious fears but instead should be encouraging the use of cost-effective materials for which there are proven recycling supply chains.

– Laurel Brunner

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