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How are plastic bottles recycled?  


Plastic waste is a massive issue around the world, especially here in the UK as each household generates 13.65 kg of plastic bottle waste each year. Plastic is a very polluting material as it takes thousands of years to biodegrade.  In fact, just 39% of the plastic waste that is generated in the country is recycled. With regards to plastic bottles, the UK uses over 14 billion plastic bottles each year and only 8.3 billion of those plastic bottles were sent for recycling.  For this reason, 1,500 plastic bottles are thrown away every second of every day.  (Statista)  

Therefore, recycling plastic bottles is a great circular and innovative solution to the plastic waste issue. Recycling has major positive impacts on the environment such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as the amount of pollution in the air and water sources, which is harmful to both human and animal life. 

But how are plastic bottles recycled? We will explain all the steps in next following paragraphs.  

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch:

The recycling plastic bottles journey 

  1. Collection and Separation  

In order for a plastic bottle to be collected, it needs to be empty and then taken to the recycling facility for sorting. This is achieved, with the help of machines, based on the multitude of properties that are dependent on the recycling facility. The plastic bottles are then loaded into a ‘trommel’ a large perforated spinning drum.  

  1. Washing and Sorting  

In this step, the bottles are cleaned, which helps eliminate all the impurities mixed with the plastics such as labels, adhesives, etc. After this, the bottles are sorted according to the type and colour using infrared beams. The main goal of this process is to divide the non-plastic waste that cannot be recycled. Furthermore, the precision jets of airs then separate the different types of bottles.  

  1. Shredding and melting  

After sorting the bottles, the next step is to process them through shredding or granulating. This process helps to break the plastics into smaller granules. Then, the plastic bottles are washed again to remove any impurities, including any remaining plastic or paper labels. Following this process, the shredded material is decontaminated further using a chemical solution. After this, the shreds of plastic are dried and melted down.  

  1. Flaking and Compounding  

The final step of the recycling plastic bottle process is called flaking. In this process, the plastics are smashed and melted together to form plastic pellets which are then used to produce other plastic products. These pellets can be melted down again and used to make new products. For example, the melted plastic can be reshaped into new plastic bottles or in the case of Redivivus into a RPET tote bag.

Products made from recycled plastic  

Recycled plastic bottles can be turned into all sorts of useful things, not just new plastic bottles. For example, the flakes made from melting plastic can be used to create polyester fibre, which is used to make clothing, carpets and duvet filling.  

The durability of recycled plastic also makes it ideal for use in drainage pipes, scaffolding boards and fences and it’s also a cheap material for making street furniture, stationery, skateboards, sunglasses,  signs and even bins. 

There are endless opportunities to make use of recycled plastic bottles to save our environment!  

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