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Have you ever popped a plastic bottle into a recycling bin and thought, “where’s this actually going to end up?” Of course you have – everyone has. And luckily for you, this month, the Brown Recycling team are going to be detailing the journey of a plastic bottle, from the moment it falls into the recycling bin, right up to where it’s put back to use.
Most plastic bottles, whether they are water bottles, sports drinks or something else, are made from polyethelene. Bottle caps, however, are often made from polypropylene. This material can also be recycled, but needs to be separated before that can happen, but don’t worry, we’ll get to that.
Firstly, after you’ve popped your plastic bottle into the bin, it’s collected by a waste disposal vehicle and brought to a recycling centre to be sorted. Most recycling bins are emptied weekly, so there’s a good chance that your bottle will spend some time in the bin before it makes its way to the recycling centre.
Once the bottles have been collected and taken to the recycling centre, they are compressed into large bales to economise on space in the shipping process. Each bale can contain over 7,200 plastic bottles and can weigh over half a tonne!
Once the baling process has been completed, they are sent to a facility where the bales are torn apart by a large machine. During this process, a magnet is used to extract any renegade pieces of metal that have come along for the ride uninvited.
Once the bales have been separated once more, they are then sent through a gigantic industrial washing machine, not a million miles away from the one you use at home. This process ensures that any dirt, debris and stubborn labels are removed from the plastic.
Here’s a quick tip while we’re on the subject: making sure that you empty your plastic bottles completely when you’re at home or in the office. This makes this cleaning process much more efficient.
Once the bottles have been cleaned, the different types of plastic that constitute them need to be separated (usually, just the cap and the bottle). Since no man or machine could possibly go about unscrewing each individual bottle cap, a more efficient method is used: the bottles are shredded into tiny flakes and dropped into a huge tank of water. Since polyethylene and polypropylene have different densities, one sinks while the other floats. Clever stuff.
Once all of the flakes have been gathered up, they are then heated, melded together and drawn out into long tubular strands. These strands are then cooled until they harden, before they’re chopped into pellets and sent out to manufacturing companies to be repurposed into new plastic products!
Think these plastic pellets will just become new plastic bottles? Think again! They could become: composite garden decking, home carpeting, playground equipment, chopping boards – the list is endless.
So there you have it, the complete journey of a recycled plastic bottle. It’s a long, complex process, but if it diverts plastic away from landfill, it’s certainly worth it.
Brown Recycling is a leading waste management company based in Stoke-on-Trent. We carry out all kinds of different work, ranging from local skip hire to commercial waste management and trade waste collections. Interested in our services? All you have to do is give us a call.