It is kind of ironic to note that discarded PET bottles are often featured in pictures designed to depict what some believe is a global plastic crisis. It’s ironic because PET is the most recycled plastic in the world. So much so that many of us have recycled PET items in our own homes while we are none the wiser.
Recycled PET can go back into making new bottles or other food packages. But it can also be put into making carpets, clothing, sunglasses, and an endless list of other plastic products.
That’s right. The fibers in your carpet might be recycled PET. The fabric that makes up your waterproof rain suit might be woven from PET fibers. Manufacturers can do a lot with recycled PET material. It is because PET is so easily recycled through mechanical processes.
It Starts with Collection
Seraphim Plastics, a Tennessee company that specializes in commercial plastic recycling, says that getting the most out of used PET starts with collection. Seraphim Plastics will take PET bottles – but only if they are sorted, cleaned, and baled. Requiring customers to prepare bales of bottles prior to pick up helps the company contain its costs.
From the consumer’s standpoint, collection boils down to throwing used PET bottles into designated containers. In many states, the bottles can be returned to point-of-sale or taken to a local retail outlet that offers recycling machines. Regardless of the chosen method, PET is easily recycled when it is collected in such a way as to keep it separate from any other type of plastic.
It Is Ground or Shredded
After collection, a company like Seraphim Plastics will reduce PET bottles to either a pellet or flake material. Pellets are essentially a regrind material that is melted down and combined with virgin plastic to create new products. PET regrind becomes new plastic bottles and food packages.
PET waste can also be shredded into flakes. The flakes are sometimes melted down and added to virgin plastic for manufacturing. But manufacturers looking to make carpets, clothing, etc. transform the flakes into small fibers that are spun together much like natural fibers. PET fibers then become threads and woven fabrics.
There Are Many Manufacturing Processes
One of the best things about recycling PET is the fact that there are so many manufacturing processes capable of utilizing the resulting material. Injection mold manufacturing is at the top of the list.
Manufacturing plastic products through injection molding involves melting down plastic pellets to create a semi-liquid material. That material is then forced into molds at high pressure. It is then rapidly cooled. Within seconds, the injection mold machine spits out perfectly formed parts that only need to be trimmed of excess plastic material.
Another popular manufacturing method is extrusion. It involves forcing liquefied plastic through some sort of die to create the desired shape. As it is expressed from the die, it is divided into smaller pieces before undergoing further processing. Extrusion is ideal for creating plastic tubes and pipes.
An Abundant and Flexible Material
When all is said and done, PET plastic is an abundant and flexible material suitable for an endless list of applications. It is most recognized in the form of water and juice bottles. But PET is suitable for manufacturing all sorts of plastic products.
The world would be a different place without PET. Most of us take it for granted, not realizing just how much we depend on it. Thankfully, recycling keeps used PET products out of landfills and incinerators. Recycling returns the material to the manufacturing stream where it can be used again.