They say love is better the second time around and while that may be a topic for debate, there is no question that plastic and glass bottles are better the second time around.
Bottle recycling saves energy, reduces the tonnage hauled to landfills each year and provides raw material for a wide array of products including, of course, more bottles. While the volume of bottles recycled each year is growing, there is tremendous opportunity for more bottle recycling.
Nearly 2.5 billion pounds of plastic bottles were recycled in 2009, according to the National Post-Consumer Plastics Bottle Recycling Report issued by the American Chemistry Council and the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers. But while that massive amount of recycled plastic bottles represents an increase of 46 million pounds compared to the year before, the recycling rate for plastic bottles was just 28 percent in 2009.
Recycling plastic bottles, specifically those made from plastics known as PET and HDPE, significantly reduces energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. The amount of energy saved by recycling PET and HDPE plastic (including plastic bottles) in 2008 was the equivalent to the annual energy use of 750,000 homes, according to a life cycle study released in 2010. Plastic recycling also reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2.1 million tons, comparable to taking 360,000 cars off the road.
There is greater demand for the resins made from recycled plastic bottles than there is supply. The primary market for recycled PET bottles continues to be fiber for carpet and textiles, while the primary market for recycled HDPE is bottles, according to the American Chemistry Council. PET is also recycled into clothing, such as fleece jackets. HDPE is recycled into lawn chairs and garden edging.
Glass bottles can be recycled endlessly with no decline in quality and an estimated 80 percent of recovered glass containers are made into new glass bottles.
Beer drinkers, apparently, are conscientious glass bottle recyclers. In 2009, 39 percent of beer and soft drink bottles were recovered for recycling, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, while just 18 percent of wine and liquor bottles were recycled. North Carolina legislators in 2008 passed a law requiring all Alcohol Beverage Permit holders to recycle their beverage containers. Since then, the amount of glass bottles recovered from recycling has jumped from about 45,000 tons per year to more than 75,000 tons a year.
Recycling just one glass bottle saves enough energy to light a 100-watt light bulb for four hours, power a computer for 30 minutes, or a television for 20 minutes, according to the Glass Packaging Institute. Glass container manufacturers have set a goal to achieve 50 percent recycled content for new glass bottles by 2013, the trade group says, adding that reaching that goal would mean enough energy savings to power 21,978 homes for one year and remove 181,550 tons of waste from landfills every month.
Recycling glass bottles could be done more effectively by separating glass from other recyclable material. Many communities have curbside bins in which all recyclable material — paper, glass, aluminum — is tossed. This is called “single stream collection.” Only about 40 percent of glass from single-stream collection gets recycled into new glass containers because of cross-contamination of materials and significant glass breakage, according to a 2009 Container Recycling Institute study.