PET Industry

The history of PTI is intertwined with the history of PET rigid packaging. Research and development relating to the use of PET (polyester) for commercial plastic bottle applications began in the late 1960’s and intensified during the period 1971-1975. This R&D was carried out principally at several major plastic, glass, and can manufacturing companies in the US and in Europe who viewed the potential for PET bottles to replace both glass and cans as both a threat to existing businesses and as an opportunity for new businesses. The two companies in the US which led this R&D effort included Continental Can Co. (CCC), a leading package producer with a significant interest in protecting its aluminum can business, and Owens-Illinois, Inc. (O-I), also a leading package producer with a significant interest in protecting its glass bottle business.

Both CCC and O-I established substantial R&D efforts aimed at developing PET bottle technology and both companies led the commercialization of this technology for carbonated soft drink applications in the period from 1975-1982.

With the potential for high volume sales of PET plastic bottles to the soft drink industry (at that time combined sales of glass bottles and aluminum cans was approximately 50 billion containers), other companies became interested in manufacturing PET bottles as well. While these companies, including Hoover Universal (next Johnson Controls, Inc., Schmalbach Lubecca, and now AMCOR.), Sewell Plastics (now Constar), and Amoco Chemicals (now Silgan), all established successful commercial businesses, none of these manufacturing companies attempted to develop the technology bases to the extent that both CCC and O-I did during this period.

However, once the PET bottle business became commercial and successful, the new entrants into the manufacturing business quickly created an oversupply of containers, and prices dropped dramatically. As prices fell and as supplies increased, it became increasingly apparent to the technical leaders, including CCC and O-I, that they would not only have difficulty in recouping their respective R&D investments, but also that their respective can and glass bottle businesses were under severe attack from PET. Thus, both CCC and O-I eventually opted to sell their respective PET bottle businesses and to concentrate their commercial efforts on their more established and capital intensive can and glass bottle businesses.

Also, during the period from 1982-1985, the Coca-Cola bottlers, both in the Southwest and in the Southeast became interested in manufacturing their own PET bottles rather than purchasing them from the established merchant suppliers, including all the companies named above, primarily for the purpose of gaining huge savings in their packaging costs. In particular, regional bottlers established four separate regional bottle making cooperatives, including Western Container Corp. (WCC) in the Southwest, Southeastern Container, Inc. (SEC) in the Southeast, Apple Container Corp. (ACC) in the Northeast and Florpak in Florida. The inspiration behind WCC, SEC, and ACC was a man named John Dunagan who himself was a Coca-Cola bottler from Monahans, Texas, and a person who immediately saw the potential for all Coca-Cola bottlers to save millions of dollars by banding together and investing jointly in the self-manufacture of PET soft drink bottles.

These regional PET self-manufacturing cooperatives became immensely successful within a matter of several years which put extreme pressure on the merchant manufacturers who had previously depended upon Coca-Cola and other soft drink manufacturers to purchase their PET bottles. This stimulated the merchant suppliers like CCC and O-I to abandon the PET business completely, but other suppliers continued to focus on PET bottles by developing applications other than soft drink bottles in the food, personal care, water, and other product industries to replace the Coca-Cola self-manufacture business lost to these regional cooperatives.

The PET industry, including bottle manufacturing, machine manufacturing, and resin production has flourished since the early 1980’s, and while Coca-Cola has continued to nurture self-manufacture on a global basis, other soft drink manufacturers have continued to purchase from merchant suppliers, and the “custom” PET bottle business for food, personal care, household chemical and other product applications has also grown dramatically.

At the same time, the PET fiber, film, and engineered products applications have also continued to enjoy steady growth and today, the PET resin, machine and product manufacturing industries have become a substantial factor in world commerce. PET has continued to replace other packaging materials as the material of choice for hot filled isotonic beverages (1985), juices (1990), water (2000), and has made entries in to packaging for wine, beer, baby food, and a host of other traditional metal and glass packages.

PET today is one of two dominant plastics used for plastic bottles, and PET has caused the demise of glass for many product applications, including carbonated soft drinks (CSD), other beverages, food, household chemical and personal care products. The worldwide PET production capacity has grown to more than 50 billion Lb annually and PET for plastic packaging is now at 16 billion Lb/yr. and is projected to grow to 20 billion Lb/yr. by the year 2010. Virtually all of the CSD packaging has converted from glass to plastic, and many personal care and household chemical applications are also rapidly converting, primarily due to factors such as lower cost, safety, and environmental acceptability (recyclability).

While the PET resin and chemical industries service a wide spectrum of product applications, the PET bottle business has remained apart from other polyester manufacturing businesses since the technology for processing PET into bottles remains uniquely different from the technology for processing every other commodity plastic into a container shape. Thus, the numbers of people experienced in PET technology remains low worldwide and the implementation and use of PET technology for bottle packaging applications remains a specialized field. Furthermore, since large companies have reduced their technical staffs substantially over the past twenty years, there has been limited opportunity for the development and training of experienced PET technologists, and the fact that the PET packaging industry continues to grow at such a rapid rate makes PET packaging technology development, implementation and training a still valuable asset for companies engaged in the manufacture, sale, and use of PET containers.