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What is Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)?

By Jessica Hobby
Updated May 17, 2024
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Polyethylene terephthalate is a polyester material that is most often used to make fibers, parts made by injection molding, and containers for food and beverages, pharmaceuticals and make-up. This material may also be recycled to make carpeting or fiber filling. The name is frequently shortened to PET or PETE and was formerly called PETP or PET-P.

Technically speaking, PET is a linear thermoplastic resin that is created by the condensation of terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol. There are several advantages in using this material, especially when it’s being used for packaging. PET does not break easily and edibles stored in it taste good because it is pure. The substance also provides a long shelf life because it acts as a good barrier to elements outside of the container.

Containers made from PET are also very lightweight and clear. Products look clean and pure because of the crystal clear appearance. Because PET is only 10% of the weight of an identical glass container, it allows for less expensive shipping and handling, saving a significant amount of money for companies around the world.

PET continues to be favored by many companies because it offers significant design flexibility and it is recyclable. Companies that choose to use it for packaging have different options in regards to shape, size, neck finish and color. Some of the designs are made thick enough to be refilled, but the majority of containers are granulated into flakes and reshaped into new bottles or other products. PET is made from carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, just like paper, so when it burns, it produces carbon dioxide and water and leaves no toxic residue.

Although PET is very popular for container use, the majority of its production in the world is for synthetic fibers. Because PET is part of the polyester family, synthetic fibers made from it are usually referred to as simply “polyester.” Even recycled PET containers are used to make synthetic fibers such as polar fleece.

Although PET production is an important segment of polymer production throughout the world, it should not be confused with polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PP), which are both produced more throughout the world. PE is widely used throughout the world, especially in the production of the plastic shopping bag. The fatigue resistant and recyclable PP is utilized for a variety of uses that include packaging, textiles, stationary, plastic parts, lab equipment and parts for automobiles.

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Discussion Comments

By anon340303 — On Jul 02, 2013

Is PP superior to PET for biological sample storage?

By anon288584 — On Aug 30, 2012

What do you know about PET being used on medical devices to speed up the growth of scar tissue?

By anon149729 — On Feb 05, 2011

do you know anything about the environmental/health risks and effects with PET? I guess specifically with water bottles?

By anon86245 — On May 24, 2010

this is by far the most fascinating and simply delightful topic i have ever researched. david h.

By anon66082 — On Feb 17, 2010

Valicore PET coring foam is a lightweight material that is strong, durable and resistant to moisture, chemicals and heat. The unique composition of

Valicore PET coring foam allows for lamination using thermal or chemical processes to a wide variety of materials. Valicore PET coring foam can be used in numerous structural applications, including coring for sandwich manufacturers.

By anon50197 — On Oct 26, 2009

this is so interesting.

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