Beyond the Bin: Plastic Bottles

What happens to a plastic bottle after it is tossed into a recycling bin? Often we take for granted the basics of recycling: once it enters the recycling process, it is eventually turned into another product. But how?

Starting at the beginning, the bottle is made at a plastic factory, then travels to a bottling plant where it is filled with any of a variety of liquid products. From there, the bottle is shipped to a store and from there to your home. After consumption, the bottle is sent to the curb along with all the other recyclables from your home and eventually taken to a recycling facility. In Rochester’s case, the recyclables are sent to the Monroe County Recycling Center. From here, the bottles are sorted from other materials by hand and by machine. The bottles are then flattened and then ‘processed’. Sometimes processing is done on site, or bottles are sent to a separate processing facility.

Processing is when the bottles are first washed in hot water in order to remove debris and paper labels. Then they are shredded into PET flakes. PET flakes are just small bits of assorted plastic. This material is what is purchased by another company. The PET flakes can be remelted and reformed into other plastic designs according to that company’s wishes.

For example, the flakes from plastic bottles can be reformed into plastic carry out trays and other consumer ready products. The purchasing company has facilities that can melt and flatten what was once PET flakes and from there mold into their product.

For a more detailed and visual explanation, check out these videos from Voice of America (an international English news organization): The Life Cycle of a Plastic Bottle One, Two, Three.


By Alanna Scheinerman, Class of 2013