How to Recycle PET (Plastic #1)

An Overview on Recycling Plastic #1

A nice cold bottle of water or sip of bubbly soda on a hot day can be very refreshing. But the PETE #1 plastic that your beverage container is made from comes with an eco-cost you may not have paid for when you purchase the drink. Here you’ll learn all about plastic #1 recycling so that you can minimize your burden on the environment.

Environmental facts about plastic #1

Understanding the environmental impact of something like plastic #1 is the first step in knowing how important it is to reduce your consumption and recycle that which you do bring home. Here are the basic facts about PETE #1 plastic:

  • Aliases: Also knows as polyethylene terephthalate, PET, PETE, Plastic #1, or polyester.
  • Consumption rates: PET plastics in the US make up 96% of the plastic bottle market.[1] Americans consume more than 34 billion one-use plastic beverage bottles every year, 80% of which are not recycled. That represents 877 wasted plastic bottles every second.[2] Canadians recycle only 12% of their water bottles.[3]
  • Pollution: Creating plastics produces air pollution (including carbon dioxide, non-methane hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and sulfur oxides), water pollution (like acids, ammonia, chromium, dissolved and suspended solids, and iron), and solid waste (such as coal ash and other particulates from burning fuel).[4]
  • Energy consumption: Turning petrochemicals into plastic products requires a lot of energy, which results in the emission of greenhouse gases. Recycling plastics requires energy, too, but much less than making products from virgin resources. Recycling one plastic bottle saves enough energy to run a 60-watt light bulb for 6 hours.[5]
  • Water use: 17.6 kilograms of water are required to make 1 kilogram of PET plastic - that’s not a great return on the water investment![6]
  • Decomposition: Plastics can take up to 1,000 years to dissolve in the environment.[7]
  • Postconsumer recycled content use: Though companies some companies are making efforts to use recycled content in their soda bottles, in actual fact Coke is putting only 2.5% recycled content into their product mix, which is well below what they used to use (25%).[8]

Where you’ll find PET (plastic #1) in your home

PETE #1 plastic is a highly versatile plastic that is used in a wide variety of products. It is valued because it has a nice smooth surface and works well in storing food, beverages, and so on. It can also be spun into fibers and yarns to make textiles - you know it as polyester! These are some of the common uses:

  • Beverage containers - soda, water, beer, juice, mouthwash, sports drinks
  • Carpeting
  • Food containers - ketchup, salad dressing, peanut butter, jam, jelly, pickles, other preserves
  • Microwave trays
  • Oven film
  • Strapping
  • Textiles

How to recycle PET plastic

  • Put in your curbside recycling bin
  • Drop off at local recycling centers
  • Drop off at bottle bill depots in the US (CA, CT, IA, OR, ME, MA, MI, NY, VT and DE). You can often identify those that qualify by the “Bottle Bill” code or “Deposit” code on the packaging of a bottle.

And of course, if you don’t yet have a bottle bill or bottle deposit program in your local community, get one passed! Here’s a US Bottle Bill Resource Guide to help you get started.

PET recycling into new products

PETE #1 plastic is one of the most commonly recycled types of plastic, and as such it can be turned into all sorts of new products. Recycle PET plastic and you get things like:

  • Beverage containers
  • Fill for comforters and outer ware
  • Film and sheet plastic
  • Fleece clothing
  • Food containers
  • Recycled fiber carpeting
  • Strapping

Tips for PET recycling

So now that you’re convinced of the value of PET recycling, let’s go over some basic tips on how to get your plastic recycling to the right place and in good condition:

  • Rinse used bottles and containers (use water conservatively, however).
  • Check with your community recycling program regarding bottle caps - if they can be included, leave them on, if not, separate those from your other plastics.
  • Squish down your plastic containers when possible to reduce the amount of space they will require on the pick-up truck.

Leave your PET recycling for curbsite pick-up, or take it into your local drop off recycling center. Alternatively, use our recycling database to find a cash-based recycling system that will reward you for your green efforts with money for your deposit-laden plastics.






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References

1  2008 United State National Post-Consumer Plastics Bottle Recycling Report. (2008). Retrieved July 6, 2010, from Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers: http://www.americanchemistry.com/s_plastics/sec_content.asp?CID=1593&DID=10383

2 Bottled Water. (n.d.). Retrieved July 6, 2010, from Container Recycling Institute: http://www.container-recycling.org/issues/bottledwater.htm

3  (Lesson 8 Operation Water Pollution)

4  Life Cycle Inventory of 100% Postconsumer HDPE and PET Recycled Resin from Postconsumer Containers and Packaging. (2010, April 7). Retrieved July 6, 2010, from The Plastics Division of the American Chemistry Council: http://www.container-recycling.org/assets/pdfs/plastic/LCA-RecycledPlastics2010.pdf

5  Still not convinced to recycle more…?(n.d.). Retrieved July 6, 2010, from University of Maryland - Residential Facilities: http://www.drf.umd.edu/Recycling/documents/3-Stillnotconvinced.pdf

6  Lesson 8 Operation Water Pollution. (n.d.). Retrieved July 6, 2010, from Safe Water: http://www.safewater.org/PDFS/owp/lesson8_links/Bottled%20Water%20Jigsaw%20Information.pdf

7 San Francisco bans traditional plastic grocery bags. (2007, March 28). Retrieved June 27, 2010, from CBC News: http://www.cbc.ca/consumer/story/2007/03/28/sanfrancisco-plastic.html

8  Setting the Record Straight: Plastic (PET) Soda Bottle Recycling. (n.d.). Retrieved July 6, 2010, from Container Recycling Institute: http://www.container-recycling.org/facts/plastic/PETstraight.htm

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