Approximately 31% of plastic bottles produced in the United States are made from a material called polyethylene terephthalate, "PET" or "PETE." Usually clear or green, the plastic is mostly used for consumer goods, such as soda bottles and food jars. According to the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), in 2005 United States manufacturers produced 5.075 billion pounds of PET products. Such a high production rate makes finding uses for post-consumer plastics imperative. If the current rate of manufacturing and consumer recycling remains, 40 billion pounds of PET waste will be added to our landfills within only a decade. While recycling is not the end-all, be-all solution for ridding the world of the plastic bag beast, it's a sustainable path for plastic products.
In the late 1970s, only a few years after PET entered the United States marketplace, forward-thinking companies found the means to transform recycled PET into many useful products—the most common being packaging (such as new bottles) and fiber (carpet and other textile) applications. Other companies followed suit, and by the late 1990s many companies were finding uses for over 1/2 billion pounds of recycled PET per year. Products made of recycled PET include blankets, belts, shoes, insulation, and even car parts.
PET is recycled after consumption. After consumer recyclables have been collected and sorted by type at recycling centers, PET products are crushed, pressed into bales, shredded, and refined into PET flakes. These flakes are transformed into the raw materials that innovative companies transform into new products. The difference between virgin PET and Recycled PET is indistinguishable. A study by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) determined that consumers could not tell the difference between products made of recycled material, and the environmental benefits of Recycled PET are phenomenal. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 2/3 less energy is required to manufacture products made out of recyclable plastic. Other studies show that the production of recycled plastic requires 2/3 less of sulphur dioxide, 50% less of nitrous oxide, and almost 90% less water usage. More here.
Most Recycled PET has been used for non-food and non-beverage related products, but some companies are pushing for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to more readily approve the use of post-consumer PET for food packaging. WRAP has received support from prominent companies such as Coca-Cola, Marks & Spencer, and Boots (a UK cosmetics company), to research more uses for Recycled PET. The study met with positive results, with the material meeting safety standards for use in beverage and cosmetic packaging. These companies have promised to incorporate Recycled PET into future manufacturing. Consumers are impressed - according to Marks & Spencer, 85% of its surveyed customers claimed that the company's initiatives made them happier to shop at the store. Even if other manufacturers aren't socially and environmentally motivated to reduce their own impact on the environment, consumer sentiment may sway them in the right direction. As demand increases, and as new applications for Recycled PET are discovered, the marketplace will foster more incentives for consumers to recycle PET. As of 2005, 23.1% of the 5.075 billion tons of PET produced in the U.S. were collected for recycling. This percentage will likely grow as consumers become more educated and more countries adopt legislation to use the SPI's easily recognizable "chasing arrows" symbol for PET bottles so that consumers find it easier to know how to recycle them. Some U.S. states have already implemented financial incentives for consumers to bring in plastic bottles for recycling, and others have encouraged "curbside" collection to make recycling easier for the average citizen. In addition, progressive consumers and companies will encourage efforts for the plastics industry to design products in ways that make them more efficient and cheaper to recycle. The European Union has been more aggressive in PET recycling legislation. In 2001, all EU countries were required to meet a 15% plastic packaging recycling target, and in 2008 it will increase to 22.5%.
Part of our ongoing mission is to incorporate truly sustainable fabrics into our innovative line of reusable shopping bags. From Next Generation PET to Recycled Cotton, stay tuned for exciting new products made from the most eco-friendly fabrics on the market.
Click here to see our growing line of products made from recycled content, including recycled PET.