Why Choose rPET (Recycled PET Plastic) Cups Over PLA (Plant Based Cups)

When choosing EnviroCup as a sustainable alternative to traditional plastic cups (made from raw plastic material), it is also important to consider why rPET can be also be a sustainable alternative to PLA (Plant Based, compostable/biodegradable) cups.


What is rPET?: PET, polyethylene terephthalate (aka PETE) is a plastic material made from polymer chains used for many food containers. rPET-1, the material used to make EnviroCup, is the most recycled plastic in the world with over 2 billion pounds of used PET containers recovered in Canada and the US yearly. The “r” in front of PET means that the container is produced using recycled PET post-consumer plastic containers/bottles. rPET has many incredible properties that make it a fantastic sustainable solution, helping preserve our environment.

What is PLA?: PLA, polylactic acid, is a biopolymer material typically made from the starch of plants like corn that can be formed into containers with similar properties and transparency to plastic. PLA is marketed as eco-friendly for its unique properties.

  • PLA is made from a renewable source, typically corn, which can be grown over and over without removing valuable resources from the Earth.
  • PLA is compostable meaning the material can be broken down into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass (soil) in composting facilities
  • PLA fully disintegrates and leaves no toxic residue, supporting plant growth in the soil
Topics to Consider rPET PLA
Natural Resources Virgin PET is made from extraction of petroleum reserves, however, rPET is made from post-consumer PET (no natural resources need to be extracted to make rPET because it is re-using old PET)

rPET is 100% recyclable meaning it can be reintroduced into the loop many times, decreasing the need for resource extraction.

Made from renewable plant sources (typically corn). Corn, unlike petroleum, can regrow continuously. Industrial agriculture, however, requires tremendous deforestation, water use, and land use change, all of which have adverse effects on the climate. Also decreases global food supply.

PLA is made from GMO (genetically modified) corn. This corn is also grown using toxic pesticides. GMOs and pesticide chemicals cause adverse impacts on human health and the climate.

Energy Efficiency Using rPET drastically reduces carbon footprint by removing the need to use energy to extract and create new raw plastic material. The process of sorting, washing, and flaking post-consumer PET to make new rPET requires drastically less energy (75% less) than creating raw plastic. Huge industrial agriculture fields require tremendous use of water and energy for a batch of cups. PLA cups cannot be recycled in the same manner as rPET, so there is much more energy going into each cup’s production.

Production uses 65% less energy than “traditional” virgin plastics, however, rPET is not a virgin material and takes much less energy to be produced.

Structural Integrity Can withstand high heat (i.e. hot car) without deforming

Shatter resistant and clear finish

Will melt at much lower heat capacity than rPET and structure will deform more easily

Shatter resistant but with cloudy finish

Culture Encourages reuse and recycling cultural habits and norms into society. Promotes littering culture (PLA takes many months to “biodegrade” without help of composting facility – if left in environment has adverse impacts and can take 6+ months to biodegrade.
Cost Similar cost to produce versus virgin PET with a much lower carbon footprint because end material doesn’t need to be made from raw inputs Much more expensive to produce than raw PET and rPET
Material Barrier PET has very strong chemical properties that prevent micro-organisms and chemicals from leaking through (that is why PET is used for many cosmetic products). PET can therefore be used for long shelf life products. Barrier is not as resistant to micro-organisms/chemicals as typical PET – PLA therefore is typically only used for short shelf life products. Short shelf life products promote consumerism culture.
Reduction of Waste rPET reduces plastic waste that would otherwise end up in landfills, oceans, or our backyards. rPET is taking the material that already exists and giving it a second life, rather than using valuable energy and resources to produce a new raw material that cannot be recycled. PLA cannot be recycled properly. PLA ends up either in land fills or is sent to special composting facilities. PLA takes several months to compost in these special facilities and there are not enough facilities world/nation wide to facilitate large scale PLA production. Large scale PLA production and use would require large scale construction of huge composting facilities, which use valuable energy.
Integration R Planet Earth’s rPET products are vertically integrated, meaning all the procedures are done under one roof. This eliminates the need for CO2- emitting transportation of raw material from facility to facility, and reduces adverse environmental impacts. Many PLA-product producing companies do not run or own the industrial agriculture fields or composting facilities from which their PLA products are derived and composed. This increases the need for heavy transport on trucks of Corn product and waste to and from facilities, increasing CO2 emissions.

PLA Discussion

This comparison is not to claim PLA is a bad material or that PLA is contributing to climate change, but rather to bring light to the concept of reusing resources. The reality is, plastic is an essential material in our current consumer manufacturing culture. There are tremendous quantities of plastic that end up in landfills and in the ocean because of a culture and behavior of not reusing old material. Rather than completely shifting to PLA (a new product that cannot be reused), we should try to reuse the resources that are readily available and we should encourage reuse and recycling culture (post-consumer PET).