Introduced in 1978, the first plastic soft drink bottle was embraced for its simplicity, ease of production, and cost savings in contrast to glass. Today, some thirty years later, this consumer convenience has given rise to environmental angst. Of particular concern is polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the main component in soft drink and water bottles. Discarded bottles crowd landfills and harm the environment. In an effort to reduce waste and protect the planet, several companies are finding creative ways to employ recycled PET and related compounds.
What is PET?
PET is a polyester resin that responds well to being heated and formed into particular shapes. Upon cooling, PET will hold the desired shape, making it ideal for molded containers, such as drink bottles. Bottles made from PET are 100% recyclable, but a 2007 report released by NAPCOR (National Association for PET Container Resources) indicates that only about one-fourth of these bottles make it to recycling centers. The remainder is often tossed in household trash and eventually arrives in landfills where they take up space or produce potentially harmful gasses when incinerated. These gaseous pollutants can compromise both human health and the integrity of the ozone layer.
Plastic Bottle Recycling
PET is a leading recycled material, despite the low percentage of PET containers making it to recycling centers. PET is crushed, melted down, and reformed into fibers that can then be made into carpeting and fabrics. PET can also be re-formed into molded plastic components for automobiles, lawn equipment, and other products.
Over the past few years, several companies have developed innovative ways to reuse PET and similar polyester compounds.
- High-density polyethylene (HDPE), a PET relative, is the main component in toys made by Green Toys, Inc. Trucks, tea sets, and other playthings are crafted using HDPE from recycled milk jugs. The toys are safety tested, lead-free, and marketed in eco-friendly packaging.
- Dakine, a maker of sports equipment, has developed a surfer's knapsack made of 100% recycled PET. Partial proceeds from the sale of each bag go to Project Blue, an initiative aimed at protecting and restoring the world's beaches.
- Sears plans to market men's separates made of 100% recycled PET. Petroleum has also been eliminated from the manufacture process of these items, making them doubly "green."
- WestPaw Inc., an American pet supply company, offers a line of eco-friendly pet beds made from recycled plastic bottles. Each bed is tested for safety and both the cover and inner-pillow contain PET. All beds are machine washable for ease of reuse.
- Reusablebags.com manufactures a line of lunch, shopping, and other bags made from recycled PET. By offering an alternative to plastic bags and reusing PET, this company's green efforts are two-fold.
- The earth-conscious EverStrand line - carpeting made entirely of recycled plastic bottles - is made by Mohawk Industries. Mohawk also utilizes bottle caps and labels, re-forming those materials into cores onto which carpet is rolled.
A number of businesses have found inventive, environmentally sound uses for recycled PET and related compounds. These forward-thinking companies demonstrate a commitment to ecological preservation and assist the further development of planet-friendly manufacturing practices. Support them today (and recycle - or don't use - plastic bottles!) for a greener world!