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Giving New Life to a Plastic Bottle

August 2010

yellow Planet Aid clothing box
Earth sculpture made of plastic bottles by students for Earth Day 2010

We’ve probably all heard that refillable water bottles are the way to go to save money and the environment.  But while you’re phasing plastic water bottles out of your life, make sure you recycle them—you’ll be giving them new life.

Plastic bottles are almost all PETE plastic–better known as number 1 plastic–and are fully recyclable. If you recycle your bottle on the River Campus or at the Medical Center the bottle (along with glass and aluminum) is taken to a sorting plant, relocated to a processing plant where it is reformed to give it a new life. Our waste management company delivers the recycled materials to a sorting plant. The plastic bottle is separated from aluminum and glass by density and put on its own track. 

yellow Planet Aid clothing box
PETE bottles coming out of a baler machine after being sorted at the county sorting center

It is then transferred to a processing plant. This stage begins the breakdown of the bottle where it is shredded into uniform pieces. The chips are then washed, though you should still rinse items before recycling them. Finally the chips are melted and mixed with what is known as ‘prime’ or new plastic to maintain its structural properties. 

This polymer sludge is practically indistinguishable from new plastic. It will likely be drawn into a thin filament and used to make polyester clothing or carpeting. Another possible outcome for the nascent plastic is what’s known as a preform. Preforms are miniature plastic bottles that are shipped to manufacturers where they are inflated and filled with product. This greatly reduces the number of trucks required to ship bottles, and thus saves time and gasoline. 

Once the manufacturer has expanded and filled the preform, it is labeled and shipped to a retail location where you, yes you, can once again purchase it. From drink to drink, about 3 months passed. Think of it as the life-cycle of a plastic bottle. So keep it alive: recycle.

But don’t forget: reducing waste is even better than recycling, so if you can, look into a high-quality refillable water bottle.  You won’t be sad you did!