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Water Bottle Recycling

Page history last edited by Isabel 15 years, 1 month ago

The Water Bottle Recycling Process



We’ve all been encouraged to recycle plastic bottles after finishing the contents, and nowhere is this more stressed than with water bottles. It has been widely discussed that drinking at least eight cups of water a day is healthy for you, but unfortunately, this also means that there are now more plastic bottles out there than ever before. But what exactly happens to a water bottle when it leaves your home and goes to the recycling center? Moreover, can all types of plastic be recycled together?

What are the different types of plastic?

Most water bottles are made from a resin called polyethylene terephthalate, more commonly referred to as PET (sometimes PETE). This type of plastic, labeled with a 1, makes up juice and soft drink bottles as well as water bottles. The plants that process the recycling of these bottles often process them with another type of plastic, high-density polyethylene, or HDPE, which is labeled with the number 2. HDPE makes up containers such as detergent bottles or milk jugs. Along with Types 1 and 2, there are five other types of plastic:

·         #3: PVC (polyvinyl chloride)

Example: plastic pipes, plastic food wrap

·         #4: LDPE (low-density polyethylene)

      Example: grocery bags, squeezable bottles

·         #5: PP (polypropylene)

Example: medicine bottles, yogurt containers

·         #6: PS (polystyrene)

Example: plastic silverware, Styrofoam peanuts

·         #7: Other

Example: Tupperware, reusable water bottles

These following plastics make up everything from food wrap and plastic bags to Styrofoam peanuts and other food containers. Unfortunately, however, there is currently no market for recycling plastic Types 3 through 7.


Recycling water bottles (refer to Figure 1.1)

Once Type 1 or 2 plastic bottles are collected and brought to a recycling center, they are compounded into bales, or thousand pound blocks. Often, other companies, called reclaimers, purchase the blocks, which are then processed in countries such as China, where the bottles are separated by hand. This is among the first steps in water bottle recycling, which includes debaling and pre-washing. Pre-washing ensures that the liquids which are left over in the bottles are removed.


Next, any labels that are on the bottles are scraped off, and the bottles are then moved to a machine which crushes them into small plastic flakes. These flakes are separated from the plastic caps in a process known as gravity separation by water.


Gravity separation works by placing all the ground-up plastic (flakes and caps) into large vats of water. Because the caps are made up of a different type of plastic than the actual bottles themselves, they float, while the plastic bottle flakes sink to the bottom. Any remaining plastic labels also rise to the surface of the water, allowing for easy separation.





What’s next?

After the plastic flakes are separated from the caps, they are then re-washed in a hot solution, which further cleans and sanitizes them. The last step is re-pelletization, where the plastic flakes are heated and formed into—you guessed it—a pellet. In this form, the opportunities are endless. These pellets, called recycled polyethylene terephthalate, or RPET, can be made into many new items. The National Association for PET Container Resources, or NAPCOR, identifies many uses for RPET including, but not limited to:

  • fiber for polyester carpet
  • fabric for T-shirts, long underwear, athletic shoes, luggage, upholstery and sweaters
  • fiberfill for sleeping bags and winter coats
  • industrial strapping, sheet and film
  • automotive parts, such as luggage racks, headliners, fuse boxes, bumpers, grilles and door panels
  • new PET containers for both food and non-food products

We can see that recycled plastics bottles create products that are not only environmentally friendly, but useful as well.

Note: Though the water bottle recycling process is relatively inexpensive, it usually occurs overseas because companies are not paid very much for the RPET pellets. When the demand for products made from recycled plastic goes up, the prices paid to companies for their RPET product should go up as well.

     Some products of the recycling process:



Figure 1.1: The Water Bottle Recycling Flowchart




For more information on PET recycling

NAPCOR – The National Association for PET Container Resources


Designboom.com – Talks about the different kinds of plastic, recycling, and what happens afterward http://www.designboom.com/eng/education/pet/recycling.html

NPR – “For Empty Water Bottles, There's an Afterlife,” An article about the life of a water bottle


High Country Conservation Center – Discusses the different kinds of plastic many companies will and will not accept



Comments (5)

Jenna said

at 9:15 am on Mar 31, 2009

Wow, Isabel. I don't actually have anything to say - your process description was really interesting and I can see a wiki audience understanding what you've written. The only thing I might add is info on what happens to the other kinds of plastics you mentioned, but that might be alot of work/too much extra text. Good job!

Deanna_C said

at 9:53 am on Mar 31, 2009

Your document is really well thought of and contains information that are extremely helpful to those who might still need a little more convincing to jump at the opportunity to recycle water bottles. The only thing I might want to add is how cost-effective the recycling process is and whether the finished products from the recycled fibers are affordable as well. Another would be to perhaps provide current statistics of how many water bottles are actually recycled each year and how many end up in landfills. That might be useful to your audience as well especially if there is a big difference between the two statistics. Overall, great formatting, it is very easy to follow and understand.

Dia said

at 8:57 pm on Apr 13, 2009

This is a really great technical description Isabel! I’m just going to review your document following the order of the project evaluation Dr. S provided us with – I’ll look at the product, process, and production.
Product - Your project definitely covers a process. You include most of the components Dr. S includes in her evaluation guidelines. Nice use of headings and graphics. Your introduction looks good. There isn’t much preliminary information in it about the actual process, but you include most of that in your background information about the different types of plastic. You may want to include the principle phases of the process somewhere in your introduction or background info. The body of your process is nicely done too. You present the process chronologically, and you are able to avoid the step by step trap. I assume your “What’s Next” is your conclusion (I wasn’t for sure it almost seems like an extension of the process description – that’s probably a good thing though). In it you do a good job at showing the results/benefits of recycling, you may want to include more summary on the major process you described though.
Process – It’s clear you put time into researching and writing your document. You provide adequate information and stick with one audience.
Production - this probably doesn’t apply to the wiki as much as the actual project, but your headings, subheadings, and the overall layout of your description was easy to follow and very orderly. Bravo!

Deanna_C said

at 9:40 am on Apr 23, 2009

Product- Your technical description is definitely detailed, helpful and you have also provided some really useful graphics. Your use of subheading to separate sections also worked in assisting your readers in reading the document. Your document flows well from one section to the other as well. The language level you used is appropriate for your target audience and the graphics you used also helped readers understand the process better.

Process- Your document used well-researched information and provided not only an insight to the problem of plastic wastes, but also provided information on how feasible it is to recycle plastic bottles. Your research on products that can be made from the recycled products was also very interesting and can help motivate your readers to act and make a change. Your document is also well-revised and proofread and does not contain spelling errors and other grammatical problems.

Production- You were certainly also able to utilize the wiki well and uploaded your document in a timely manner. Overall, well done!

Dia said

at 9:51 am on Apr 24, 2009

Hi Isabel – Here are few thoughts I had when re-reading your description:
• After listing the 5 other type of plastic you say, “These other types of plastic make up everything…” The use of the word “other” might get confusing since #7 is listed as “other”
•Do your headings need to be capitalized?
• The first sentence under “Recycling water bottles” starts in singular (“Once a Type 1 or 2 plastic bottle..) then switches to plural (they are compounded…)
• You use the words “crushed” and “ground-up” interchangeably to describe the process of bottles becoming plastic flakes, but I think the two have slightly different meanings.
• The following could be made into two sentences: “In this form, the opportunities are endless; these pellets, called recycled polyethylene terephthalate, or RPET, can be made into many new items”
• You’re images are really cool – I didn’t see that Figure 1.1 was referenced anywhere in your writing.

Again, great job overall! I leaned alot reading it :)

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