Implementing a circular economy in Mexico through PET recycling

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is an indispensable plastic for our modern society, commonly used for beverage and food packaging. Due to its characteristics like strength, resistance, lightweight, and clarity, the use of PET has increased exponentially since 1990. Nowadays, more than 30.5 million metric tons of PET are produced per year all around the world. In Mexico, PetStar has revolutionized the plastics industry by designing an innovative circular process around PET and the beverage sector.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has found overwhelming data about the final disposal of plastics. Even with today’s modern recycling technology, 72% of plastic packaging is not recovered at all; 40% goes to landfills, and 32% leaks out from the collection systems. This leakage is commonly dumped or mismanaged, losing its value and polluting soil and water bodies [1]. Significant actions are required to end this problem; otherwise, we could encounter ourselves with the fatal forecast from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation which says that, by 2050, the ocean may contain more plastic than fish (by weight) [2].

Focusing on specific development countries, we can encounter problems like inadequate technologies or the lack of a legal framework, and even unawareness or apathy when thinking about the population’s recycling culture, making it more challenging to overcome the plastic pollution problem. Nevertheless, for example in countries like Mexico, the legal framework has improved to promote greater stakeholder accountability and has acknowledged the advantages of recycling according to the General Law for the Prevention and Management of Waste [4].

Talking specifically of the beverage sector, Mexico produces 425,000 tons of Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles per year. It has a collection rate of only 53%, which is unexpectedly similar to the average collection rate of European countries [5]. PET has a higher recycling rate than any other type of plastic; more than half of the PET bottles worldwide are collected, recycled, and incorporated as food-grade resin to produce new bottles.

Considering these facts, there is an exemplary company in Mexico, called PetStar, which has been in operation for more than 27 years to address the problem of plastic waste, specifically PET bottles. In Mexico, according to the non-profit organization ECOCE  (Ecology and Industry Commitment  - in Spanish "Ecología y Compromiso Empresarial”), there are only 4 manufacturing plants recycling PET from bottle-to-bottle*, even when the recycling industry has increased more than 200% in the last 20 years [5].

PetStar is a company that has fully developed a circular business model for the production of PET plastic bottles. They are pursuing one of the circular economy goals, which, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, is to "Promote the development of business models and resource management systems that keep products and materials in the economy at their highest possible value” [6].

The Company

The company was founded in 1995 as a post-consumer plastic collection company. In 2006, they were officially established as "PetStar” and dedicated themselves to being a handling company for only PET bottles. They have 8 collection plants (geographically distributed in Mexico), one bottle-to-bottle* recycling plant, and one museum (Figure 1).

*Bottle-to-bottle companies convert all the bottles they receive into resin for new plastic bottles. 

Figure 1. PetStar recycling plant and Museum

In 2009, they began building the first phase of a recycling plant, and in 2011, Arca Continental, a bottler from the Coca-Cola Company, became a shareholder of PetStar.

In Toluca, Mexico, the recycling plant is considered the biggest food-grade PET recycling plant, endorsed by PET Packaging Resin & Recycling Limited. It can recycle more than 3,400 million PET bottles, which means that more than 86,000 tons of PET are received per year. The plant produces more than 50,000 tons of food-grade recycled PET resin. To achieve this accumulated volume, more than 25,000 waste collectors deliver the bottles in one of the 1,451 collection points around the country. These centers can receive plastic bottles from direct consumers, garbage collectors, urban scavengers, and landfill scavengers. 
Their Business Model

Through its model, "PetStar Sustainable Business Model (PSBM),” they are decoupling the linear model of raw materials in the beverage sector in Mexico and they are creating a sustainable process. PetStar seeks to inspire companies to think sustainably, based on the generation of social, environmental, and economic value.

  • Social Value

Petstar has more than 1,300 collaborators working at the manufacturing plants, and indirectly benefits more than 25,000 waste collectors, including those in the informal sector. In this process, the informal sector has a crucial role. However, the company is implementing an inclusive collection policy, where it promotes the participation of the informal sector, paying fair prices for the material, and at the same time, banning child labor. Furthermore, PetStar has two Community Development Centers in alliance with different NGOs in Mexico, where more than 900 children of PET collectors from the informal sector are cared for.

Through these actions, PetStar contributes to the access of scavengers to the formal recycling market and improves their socio-economic possibilities. By creating a platform for multi-sector strategic alliances, the company contributes to the transition of the informal waste sector in Latin America, which is a recurring issue in developing countries.

For the general audience, PetStar opened a museum to raise awareness of plastic recycling processes. Before 2020, the museum was receiving more than 15,000 annual visitors. Nowadays, the museum can be visited virtually; last year, they received 10,000 virtual visitors and 2,000 in person. The museum can be visited here 

Additionally, they also offer recycling courses and a carbon footprint calculator in their online platform to promote environmental awareness.   

  • Environmental Value

PetStar directly contributes to reducing the amount of plastic waste that otherwise ends up in landfills and oceans, which respectively pollute land and water. Their contribution is not only for PET plastic but also for caps and labels, which are part of the bottle and are made of different types of plastic.

To be more concrete, while recycling more than 3,400 million bottles, PetStar could fill 2.4 times the Azteca Soccer Stadium in Mexico, which is the largest stadium in Latin America, with a capacity to seat 87,000 people [4].

Recycling PET has the most sustainable process compared to other plastics, PET recycling consumes less energy and water. The company avoids 93% of the emissions that would have been generated if the bottles were produced with 100% of virgin resin, resulting in more than 100,000 tons of CO2e avoided. PetStar manufacturing plants are also treating 100% of their water and have a neutral carbon footprint. They also promote renewable energy, as 66% of their consumption comes from green energy.  

  • Economical Value

The company was acquired by different shareholders from the Mexican beverage sector. The shareholders are also the customers of PetStar, and one of the goals of these shareholders is to have at least 35% of recycled plastic contained in their bottles. As it is known, with the current and upcoming international regulations in the market, it will be mandatory in the near future to have a minimum percentage of recycled plastic in most of the products we consume on a daily basis.

The recycled resin produced by PetStar is used in 7 bottling companies in the Mexican industry, and the byproducts are being sold to more than 20 national and international clients. The clients blend the virgin resin with the recycled one to obtain bottles with 25-50% of recycled content, and in the greenest bottles, this percentage can be up to 100%.

PetStar guarantees its economic capability by maintaining a competitive price of its PET recycled resin versus raw material resin [4].


The Process

PetStar is implementing mechanical recycling, which is the most value-preserving process, by having a closed-loop process from bottle-to-bottle [1]. It consists of a virtuous circle through a 4-step model for the final consumers (Empty, Flatten, Recap, and Dispose) (Figure 2).


Figure 2. PetStar Model for final consumers [2]

Once the bottles are disposed of by the final consumers, the following process is being held:   

1. Collectors: The collectors can gather bottles from a formal collection route, or they can be scavengers who find bottles in urban waste or in landfills. They take them to the collection points (Figure 3).


Figure 3. Collection points


2. Collection Points: PetStar buys PET bottles in bulk directly from one of the 1,451collection points. The PET bottles are segregated by type and color (Figure 4), then compacted in bales of 500 kg for easier transportation, and finally carried out to the recycling plant in Toluca.


Figure 4. Segregation band

3. Recycling Plant: the bottles are washed and crushed to obtain PET flakes (figure 5 and 6). These are melted at 270 Celsius degrees and later molded and compressed into pellets, which are finally decontaminated to be considered as food-grade resin.


Figure 5. Recycling processes


Figure 6. Recycling processes

4. Clients: The food-grade recycled resin (figure 7) is shipped in trucks to clients to manufacture new bottles. Their production lines blend different percentages of recycled resin with virgin resin. First, a plastic preform in the shape of a small tube is used, which is converted into a bottle by blowing hot air. After that, the product is labeled and filled with the final product.


Figure 7. Recycled Pellets

Challenges to tackle

PetStar seeks to contribute to a circular economy to have 100% circular PET bottles in Mexico, which means bottles that can be recycled as many times as required. Waste handling systems for PET are a great opportunity to recover, reuse, and transform the large volume of plastic losses, especially in single-use products. The challenge is how to make it a profitable and sustainable industry that can be sustained in the future [4].

The model of PetStar is promoting a zero-waste management system that can be replicated in other developing countries with waste management problems. The model is inclusive and creates wealth for the community, while at the same time it is clean and viable to address environmental issues.

There are some challenges for successful waste management systems in developing countries, society needs to embrace a sustainable lifestyle and public policies need to improve. On another hand, even though PetStar understands the interconnection of the informal and formal collection channels, they need to figure out how to recover more bottles and increase the infrastructure of the manufacturing plant to expand their operations. They also seek to increase their collection capacity by 30,000 tons with the installation of new collection centers throughout Mexico [7].

The case of PetStar is a clear example that demonstrates that waste management companies are able to close the loop and innovate by optimizing resources and simultaneously opening channels to connect informal collectors to the formal sector, making it a win-win process. Through models such as PetStar's, social, environmental, and economic benefits are maximized, making it a viable and sustainable model in the long term.



1.      PetStar, 2020. Sustainability Report. Recovered from:

2.      Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2021. The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics & catalysing action. Recovered from:


4.       Cámara-Creixell and Carlos Scheel-Mayenberger, 2018. PetStar PET bottle-to-bottle recycling system, a zero-waste circular economy business model. Franco-Garcia, Carpio-Aguilar, and Bressers. Towards Zero Waste: Circular Economy Boost, Waste to Resources. Pp. 191-213. Germany: Springer International Publishing.            

5.       ECOCE, 2020. El Reciclaje en México es la mejor solución para el cuidado del medio ambiente y generación de empleos.Obtained from:

6.      Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2020. Universal circular economy policy goals. Recovered from:,in%20food%20safety%20and%20security.&text=Moving%20to%20a%20circular%20economy,on%20responsible%20consumption%20and%20production.

7.      Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2021. Global Commitment 2021 Signatory Report. Recovered from: