Scientific analysis and media coverage of rampant plastic pollution has taken a toll on the material’s reputation in recent years, fueling talk of a “plastic crisis.” Brand owners have made ambitious pledges to overcome this crisis—but can voluntary commitments turn the tide? In this paper, we analyze the current flow of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) from production to recycling in the European Union (EU). We show that the pledged volume for recycled PET to be used in the EU in 2025 amounts to 2.066m tons, requiring the annual recycling growth rate to double in the next years compared to 2014–2018. Our results indicate that even widespread adoption of deposit return systems for bottles will not suffice, especially when increasing demand from other industries drives the price above the packaging producers’ willingness to pay. To realize the pledges, substantial investments and a regulatory framework for the targeted and sensible use of PET recyclate are necessary.