What happens to plastic bottles after they are recycled?
Most disposable water bottles are made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is marked with resin identification code #1. Other common items made from PET include household cleaning products and food packaging. The material produced when PET is recycled is called recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET).
After the bottles are collected from curbside recycling bins or drop-off sites, they are sorted at a material recovery facility (MRF) and sent to a reclaiming facility. The plastic is then washed, ground, and formed into rPET pellets. These pellets are finally sent to manufacturing plants, where they will be made into new plastic products.
While some recycled plastic bottles will indeed be turned into new PET beverage bottles, there are numerous other materials and products composed of rPET. For example, materials commonly found in clothing, such as polyester fabric, fiberfill, and fleece, can all be made from rPET. Other products composed of rPET include packaging, strapping, carpeting, car parts, mattresses and sleeping bags, insulation, furniture, and recycling bins (coming full circle!).
The production of new PET uses up non-renewable raw material (i.e. petroleum), so reducing overall use of PET is the ideal way to help the environment. While we reduce, we can also recycle the bottles that we do produce. Recycling plastic bottles helps conserve natural resources while assisting in the production of diverse, new, and useful products!