When plastic bottles are recycled, the bottled water industry can reuse them to make new containers from the old ones.
BY JILL CULORA
If you’ve had a beverage, including bottled water, from a plastic bottle, then you most likely have had it from a 16.9 oz container made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic. This plastic packaging option, identified by its #1 recycling code, makes up 70 percent of the bottled water market. PET plastic is both the most recognized as recyclable and the most widely recycled plastic in the world.
It is also a valuable resource. That’s because PET can be efficiently recycled and used over and over again. But that is not true for all plastics. Many common types of plastic (e.g., kitchen plastic wrap; grocery bags; snack food bags; plastic cups, straws, and utensils; and most takeout containers) simply cannot be as easily recycled because recycling facilities lack the appropriate equipment, and, therefore, those products have a much greater negative impact on the environment. Of course, there’s also a group of high value plastics that we can’t live without. These plastics are used for lifesaving medical equipment, devices, and food packaging, including bottled water.
Used PET plastic bottles are collected through curbside collection systems, drop-off recycling programs, and bottle redemption centers, just like used cardboard or aluminum cans. The bottled water industry can use recycled PET (rPET) to make new beverage bottles, and the production process is the same as when using virgin PET, except rPET has a lower environmental footprint. According to one study, making new bottles from recycled plastic uses up to 56 percent less energy than using virgin plastic (bit.ly/rPETenergysavings); other studies have projected even bigger energy savings.
You might not be aware that, for years, the bottled water industry has been hard at work reducing waste tied to the production of the No.1 bottled beverage in America. Continual light-weighting of PET bottled water packaging has seen the weight of the average bottle drop to 9.25 grams per 16.9 ounce individual-size container. That is almost one-third less than the amount of PET it takes to make soda and other drink containers, which need to be thicker due to carbonation and manufacturing processes and weigh, on average, 23.9 grams. According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, between 2000 and 2014, the average weight of a 16.9-ounce (half-liter) PET plastic bottled water container declined 51 percent. That effort resulted in a savings of 6.2 billion pounds of PET resin during that time period.
More recently, companies are setting goals to use more rPET in their bottled water bottles. This is a win-win for everyone because that means manufacturers are using less virgin plastic, which greatly reduces the amount of new plastic being introduced to the marketplace, and consumers can feel good that their recycling efforts have a real return on investment. Their used containers are being put to good use as rPET packaging for beverage and food containers or made into other consumer items (e.g., polyester clothing, car interiors, shoes) without introducing new plastic into the system. It also keeps the bottles from ending up in the landfill or as litter.
The concept of reduce, reuse, and recycle is part of a circular economy, which minimizes waste and makes the most of existing resources. In other words, it keeps valuable materials, such as recycled PET plastic, in use so that they can be used over and over again.
If you’re looking for more information on the value of recycling, visit the social media pages of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA). For years, the association has included recycling education materials on its Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest pages. More than a million people have viewed IBWA’s YouTube videos. That archive includes a few recycling edu-tainment videos, most notably the “Recycle Kitty” (bit.ly/RecycleKitty) and “Recycling Empty Plastic Bottles” (bit.ly/ RecyclingBottles) videos. Recently, IBWA added a five-part series called “Recycling Rex” (bit.ly/RecyclingRex). You can also find pro-recycling information on IBWA’s “Put It In The Bin” website (www.putitinthebin.org). This initiative works with partner organizations to educate consumers about the importance of always putting recyclables in the bin.
What consumers need to know is this: plastic beverage bottles, including bottled water, are 100 percent recyclable and should always be placed in a recycle bin—with caps on. When these valuable plastic bottles are recycled, the bottled water industry can reuse them to make new containers from old ones, which means that less virgin plastic is needed in the marketplace. Here are a few ways you can help reduce the impact of plastic on the environment:
- Shop wisely. Buy products that are packaged in 100 percent recyclable containers and packaging.
- Purchase items that include recycled materials.
- Make a pledge to always recycle all of your recyclable plastic food and beverage containers.
- Tell your friends about your pledge and encourage them to join you.
- Spread the word using these social media hashtags: #EndPlasticPollution #BuyRecyclablePackaging #AlwaysRecycle. BWR