How PET Bottles are Recycled: A General Insight

May 15, 2022

Minimizing the use of plastic products has been a trending subject lately. However, it is a challenge until we can find alternatives and replace plastic completely. This seems impossible because this material has enormous uses in different segments, especially packaging. Thus, today's only sustainable option is to recycle plastic waste and make other useful products.

A huge quantity of plastic waste is being dumped every day in landfills. With recycling, PET bottles can be transformed into new bottles, recycled polyester fiber, and many other useful products. Today, plastic products come with labels, and recyclable ones have a small triangle marked on them, allowing the user to know the plastic-type.

The governments are running awareness programs to educate end-users on the right way to discard plastic items. This helps waste-collecting agencies in segregation and ensures that the recyclable products reach the right place rather than dumping yards. As an aware end-consumer, it is important for every person involved in the plastic life cycle to understand the PET bottle recycling process.

What is PET Plastic Bottle?

PET stands for Polyethylene Terephthalate. It is extensively used in making detergent bottles, water bottles, etc. Recycling these bottles is extending their life using technology. Hence, a considerable quantity of recyclable plastic comes in PET bottles. The waste plastic collected from various sources is treated and converted into PET bottle flakes. These flakes are pure and equally good as raw materials for virgin plastic. Further, these flakes are used in different sectors like home furnishing, upholstery, and even apparel.

The Process of Recycling a Discarded PET Bottle

Every country has designed and implemented a process for recycling plastic waste. Organizations operating in the country need to follow the rules strictly. In fact, there is a policy wherein companies that manufacture plastic products or bottles are accountable for acquiring the equivalent quantity of plastic from the environment and then recycling them. This encourages minimizing the use of virgin plastic. Extended producer responsibility in India has been implemented successfully, and the good part is that an increasing number of organizations are coming forward and taking up recycling seriously. Few of them have incorporated the policy as part of their CSR initiative.

The process of plastic waste recycling mainly involves the following steps:

  • Waste collection: The waste collection is the first and most important step in the process. Recycling companies have tie-ups with municipal government bodies since they have the most extensive collection network. The waste collectors associated with the authorities have been trained and educated regarding the right practice of collecting and segregating plastic waste from the rest of the debris. The plastic is separated and channelized to the recycling unit.
  • Sorting: Once the plastic waste reaches the recycling facility, the workers sort out the plastic materials. This is done with a combination of machinery and manpower. Components that cannot be recycled are separated, and then the bottles are sorted based on plastic-type and color. This is crucial since many end-users do not discard bottles in the right dustbins. Indeed, this is a major challenge that municipal authorities face despite creating awareness. Developing the right disposal mechanism might take some more time and effort in countries like India.
  • Shredding: Here, a machine is used to shred the bottles into chip-size pieces.
  • Washing: Since the origin of plastic waste varies, it tends to have dirt particles and residues that need to be washed and removed to have clean products for further processing. Packaging containers tend to have labels, food residues, soil, adhesive, etc. These can affect the structural integrity of the final recycled product. Therefore, the waste is subjected to warm, soapy water to remove all debris.
  • Shredding: After washing, the plastic shredder scraps the bottles into chip-size pieces. These pieces undergo sorting once again to ensure no minute impurities are involved.
  • Washing: Washing at this stage is crucial since all kinds of contaminating elements, like dirt, glue, etc., can be easily eradicated.
  • Granulation in the form of flakes: At this stage, the pieces are further fragmented in the form of flakes. These flakes are either uprightly recycled into bottles or transformed into products like regenerated polyester. Several organizations buy these recycled PET flakes for making their products. This allows them to be part of the EPR policy without setting up an internal recycling unit.
  • Testing: This is the last step in the recycling process. Here the end product is tested to check if it meets the industry standards. Recycling companies follow strict guidelines as per government policies. The recycled flakes are pure and can be easily used in place of virgin flakes.

RPSF: A Product of Recycled Plastic

RPSF stands for recycled polyester staple fiber. This is the output of recycled plastic flakes into a fiber. This fiber is becoming increasingly popular due to its properties. It finds extensive use in home furnishing in the form of carpets, curtains, bedsheets, foot mats, etc. Also, polyester is used as a filling agent in mattresses, pillows, cushions, stuffed toys, and automobile upholstery.

Recently, the demand for regenerated fiber increased manifolds as several apparel brands use this fiber to make clothes. The products made have features like lightweight, quick-drying, and wrinkle-free. Thus, demand for RPSF is supposed to increase in the future.

What about Non-Recyclable Plastic?

Undoubtedly, recycling is a boon, especially in the current scenario where the quantity of plastic waste is increasing at alarming levels. But one major challenge here is that not all plastic types are recyclable. Some of the waste still lies in the dumping yards, posing a threat to the environment. Thus, as consumers, it is our obligation to avoid single-use plastic items. One informed step can make a huge difference.

Organizations that want to venture into waste management and plastic recycling need to apply for government approval. This is mandatory to make sure that the recycling standards are maintained at all times. Some brands rely on recycling units for recycled raw materials. EPR is a commendable move by authorities, and all the contributors in the cycle should act sensibly.