Where did the plastic bottles you throw away go?

Where did the plastic bottles you throw away go?
It could be a carpet or a garment, and it will stop its cycle journey; but it is also possible that it will become a bottle and it will start again.


For garbage, we think very little. Not to mention recycling and recycling, at most, the bottles and cans are cleaned, or the carton boxes are crushed and recycled; we may put them in the designated sorting bins or garbage bags. However, once these recyclables have left our sights, the entire recycling project becomes abstract. The process of recycling will make us feel good, but what will it go through after throwing the plastic bottle into the trash?

In fact, the discarded water bottle enters a complex global system that is sold, shipped, melted, resold, and re-shipped as plastic. Finally, it can become a carpet or a garment, and it ends. The journey of the cycle; but it is also possible that it will become a bottle again and again.

The reason for this indefinite cycle is related to the properties of plastic stubborn matter - it cannot be broken down. Plastics have a lifespan of 500 years. It is not impossible to say that the plastic bottle in your hand has existed in a different form on the other side of the planet.

In New York, there is a convenient collection point for domestic waste on the street, and the Department of Environmental Health (DSNY) collects it regularly every week. The recovered garbage is dumped into a diesel vehicle and then transported to Sims Metal Management for use in a material recovery facility (MRF).

Although people often refer to these devices as recycling plants, in fact, not everything can be recycled again. Instead, these devices classify, recycle, or discard the garbage. That is to say, the material recovery equipment will filter out items that can be recycled and reused, and these items can be resold to the commodity market after consumption (recycling industry terminology, that is, items discarded by consumers). In such cases, the material recovery equipment will label glass, metal, and plastic products (ie, small numbers in the bottom triangle of the various products) with code #1 or #2. Other items will be discarded. Finally, at least 50% of the trash entering the New York Circulatory System will be sent to landfills to end their cycle.

In the material recovery system, reclaimed materials enter the garbage kingdom from the city – most of the recovered waste enters private waste management companies. Although recycling is the task of the states and cities, they authorize the recycling of items to use the green mark, and also set up a catchy aphorism "reuse, less pollution, multiple cycles", but paid to overseas pollution treatment companies, let these companies It is not uncommon to see the actual operation of recycling. For example, the City of New York will pay Sims Metals Management Company at a price of $70-75 per ton for them to process recycled items. Sims will give back a certain percentage of sales based on the national monthly interest rate.

In December 2013, Sims unveiled the new and unique Sunset Park, a facility in Brooklyn designed by Seldorf Architects, valued at $110 million, of which New York City The new park is worth $600,000. This site is large enough to accommodate household recycling in all five districts of New York – with an annual flow of more than 250,000 tons.

Sims' new facility at sunset in Brooklyn (Source: Network)
“Here, it’s the starting point for recycling items,” Eadaoin Quinn, the education coordinator, said on the way to the factory. “Recycling can be a pretty long process. It’s not that you put it in the trash. Throw it into the trash and it will suddenly become brand new again."
The first stop of the journey, called the "tipping floor," where the trucks of the New York City Department of Health (DSNY) dumped the recyclate into a football-sized room filled with more than a thousand. Tons of recycled materials. In this huge room, the accumulation of rubbish makes the huge cranes look dwarfed. The crane picks up the rubbish and puts it on the conveyor belt.

“A bag of recyclables is put on trucks and barges, and then the conveyor belt is loaded. Then there will be a machine that tears the bags containing the rubbish one by one,” Quinn said. “Unfortunately, these garbage The bags themselves cannot be recycled - they are too dirty, so they can only be sent to the landfill."

This is true of all plastic bottles that are not cleaned – so there are often flyers that call on people to “clean up recyclable waste”. The cleaner a plastic bottle is cleaned, the more likely it is to be recycled.

In the huge floors, items that are expected to be recycled pass through a series of complex automated production lines, including conveyors, steering gears and metal detectors. There are even several manual sorting positions on the production line to classify objects by commodity. . The conveyor system first classifies the glass, which takes about 2 minutes. Then, the magnet picks up metal objects such as tin and aluminum. Heavy and irregular plastic bottles (code: #2), such as high-density polyethylene (HDPE) used to make liquid detergent bottles, are usually compacted and tied with rope. Finally, the plastic beverage bottle (code: #1) will be combined.

On the conveyor belt of Sims, the entire plastic bottle is packaged in less than 30 minutes from start to finish. The bottle that was discarded yesterday may appear on the conveyor belt today, and within a day, it may travel through the entire recycling system.

The most popular material recovery system is a disposable plastic bottle made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) because they are the easiest to resell. The basically cleaned bottles (some green caps with the caps and labels removed) are compressed into a 1000-pound bundle of plastic. The only criterion for judging the value of these rubbish is their molecular structure. According to the monthly national interest rate, these treated rubbish will be sold as commodities and then put on trucks, barges and trains to start their next journey – going to the cycle. facility.

In the United States, there are few facilities for recycling used plastic bottles. A few years ago, almost all plastic bottles were shipped to China for free. In 2011, only 2 million tons of waste plastics were sold to China and the United States, worth billions of dollars. Today, these plastic bottles are being shipped to CarbonLite, Riverside, California. Jane Carbon is one of the largest recycling facilities in the country, and they want to create a closed bottle-to-bottle system in the United States that recycles more than 200 million plastic bottles a year in 220,000 square feet of space. The company was founded in 2012, and California Governor Jerry Brown attended the company's ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Carbon Corporation is located in Riverside, California. (Source: Network)
“Plastic is almost everywhere—in every car, at home, every part of your life is inseparable from plastic,” said Leon Farahnik, chief executive of Jane Carbon. “Globally, Every year, people consume 100 billion pounds of PET, 70 billion pounds for blankets and clothing, and 30 billion pounds for packaging." This is not a small number. The good news is that PET plastics can be reused, which means that if PET can be recycled, the raw materials used to make PET plastics (mainly crude oil and natural gas) need only be recycled once. However, while recycled PET bottles consume less water and consume less energy, they tend to be more expensive than first-time bottles, especially when oil prices are very low.

“At the moment, our materials are overpriced,” said Leon. However, more and more companies are trying to apply these recycled materials to their products. Take Wal-Mart as an example. In 2014, the company set a goal for itself. It is hoped that by 2020, the number of post-consumer plastic products purchased by the company will increase by 3 billion pounds. When asked why companies that currently use recycled plastics think the material is more expensive, Leon explains: “They are facing a lot of environmental pressures, and the pressure is huge. You can hear mostly about the ocean, People always blame this.” Every year, more than 8 million tons of plastic waste will flow into the ocean, forming a number of plastic waste circulation around the world, causing enormous damage to marine life.

Leon believes that the success of waste recycling is closely related to the availability of policies for depositing bottles for bottles – sometimes referred to as empty bottle recycling. Large beverage companies have played the biggest negative role in the establishment of the bill, and these companies have always strongly opposed the US legislation in this area.

"If there is no federal law to make mandatory regulations, each state is required to set up an empty bottle recycling system, and the recycling of empty bottles will not go completely," said Leon. In the US states with financial incentives - 10 states in the United States have established fiscal incentives, including California, Maine and New York, but the states have different bills - consumers want to A recyclable glass or plastic bottle pays an extra fee, and these recyclable bottles can only be recycled if they are returned to the designated recycling bin. The bottles that are discarded as ordinary garbage will be recycled by the "scavenger" and the "scavenger" (the person who picks up the bottle and exchanges cash in the trash can). The role of empty bottles to recover mortgages began to appear. California has established a statutory payment system with a recycling rate of 65%-70%. In Texas, where there is no empty bottle recovery deposit policy, the recycling rate is less than 5%.

Leon’s son, Jason, is 22 years old. He is now working on the project economy at Jane Carbon. He led us through the entire recycling site. Outside the recycling yard, the forklift unloads the bundled bottles from the truck, crushes them and places them on a conveyor belt. These bottles will be packed with other garbage and debris. The laser sorting machine then detects the transparent plastic and high-quality green plastic and transports the bottles to the system of the corresponding color. In order to remove the labels and caps on the bottles, hot water of a certain temperature is usually used, and some soapy sticky items are added to the inside.

Just made a plastic sheet. (Source: Network)
“These bottles are then ground to the size of the cornflakes, washed and dried again, and then heated again to remove other possible contaminants,” Jason said.

Recycled plastic bottle flakes (PET) are shipped to factories in the US, China, and other regions where they are used to make carpet or polyester fabrics – even as fillers, filled in with Teddy Bear.

However, if you use these materials to make a new bottle, the process will be more complicated. First, plastic sheets must be sterilized and tested to meet food-grade standards. This means that the plastic sheet will be melted, pressed into a strip of liquid plastic, and then shaped into smooth particles of rice size. These small particles are sold to the manufacturer as raw materials for making packaged lunch boxes and plastic bottles.

Plastic pellets made by Jane Carbon. (Source: Network)
The plastic pellets are transported from Jane Carbon to the beverage company, where they are melted again and injected into specific molds; they are stretched and dried to become plastic beverage bottles and then infused into beverages. These plastic bottles filled with drinks will be shipped to various stores, waiting for someone to buy them, and go back and forth.

There are only a handful of beverage companies that use recycled plastics. Nestlé is one of Jane Carbon's customers. This year, Nestlé's resource brand of natural mineral water bottles will be made from 100% recycled plastic bottle sheets. In addition, Naked Juice, a subsidiary of PepsiCo Cola, also uses recycled plastic.

Although PepsiCo has acquired nearly half of the recycled plastics in the United States, the packaging of several classic beverages, including Aquafina, uses less than 10% recycled plastic. Interestingly, Pepsi never encourages the addition of anything about the use of post-consumer products on its brand label. One reason may be that they are not sure how much recycled plastic is used in each batch of beverage bottles; another reason is the indifference of consumers.

“Consumers don’t seem to care so much,” said Tim Carey, senior director of sustainability at PepsiCo. “The use of recycled plastics may never affect their purchasing decisions.”

Despite this, PepsiCo still wants to increase the amount of recycled plastic used in every beverage bottle, but this plan is limited because the supply of recycled plastic is not guaranteed.

“There is not enough recycled plastic. If the market can provide more recycled plastic, we will use more recycled plastic,” Tim said.

Tim also said: "There is no doubt that compared to the state that has not established an empty bottle recycling bill, the beverage companies in each state have set up an empty bottle bill. The use of recycled plastics is higher."

For PepsiCo, due to the large population of the United States, the current empty bottle bill is to be implemented throughout the United States. It is not economically viable.

In addition to the United States, there are still some countries that go further. In some countries, manufacturers of disposable goods are subject to an extended production liability tax, which allows these companies to assume their due responsibilities. The best example is the Der Grüne Punkt, a law that requires packaging companies to pay for their environmental costs. Outside of Germany, this law has been implemented in 50 countries around the world.

More than 240 billion beverage bottles are produced each year in the United States, of which 110 million are made of PET materials, but large beverage companies in the United States do not favor recycled plastics. Only 31% of these plastic beverage bottles can be recycled, and other beverage bottles are either sent to landfills or littered on the side of the road or floating into the ocean.

Considering that plastics can exist steadily for more than five centuries, future humans are likely to come to the conclusion that our civilization is so passionate about this versatile material that we carry them with us, and plastics are used inside and outside the house. Made into items. People in the future may also be shocked by the fact that we have buried so much plastic in the garbage.

“In the eyes of the future, our landfill may be a gold mine,” Jason said. “They may be sighing at the richness of the landfill and wondering what we are thinking.”

European PET plastic recycling rate increased by 7.4%, huge potential

1. Recycling ability not fully demonstrated
In the 3.174 million tons of PET plastic bottles and containers put into the European market in 2016, the recovery rate reached 59.8% (about 8.1819 million tons), of which the mechanical recycling capacity was 1,773,200 tons. The Petcore Europe trade group commissioned PCI Wood Mackenzie to conduct this 2016 Western European PET recycling survey.
The results showed that the recovery rate increased by 7.4%, and the cycle utilization rate also increased by about 7.3%. Compared with 2014, the amount of recycling in 2016 increased by 129,400 tons, and the amount of recycled PET also increased by about 120,000 tons. Paola Arlotti, president of Petcore Europe, said: "Although the collection and recycling of PET has been greatly improved, it is worth mentioning that its recycling capacity has not been fully demonstrated. These data strongly illustrate PET In the circular economy, and in terms of these data, it has reached the EU's plastic recycling target."
2. The top five in the PET recycling list
According to the survey, only France, Germany and Italy accounted for 47.9% of the total recycling in the region, but it showed a downward trend compared with previous years (48.5% in 2014 and 53.3% in 2011). Today, in terms of recycling volume, two more countries have sprung up, ranking the top five with the top three countries, Spain and the United Kingdom, which account for a large proportion of the total regional recycling. Therefore, it is not surprising that plastic recycling in these five countries can account for 70.9% of the total EU recycling.
The survey results show that the number of mineral water bottles has increased compared with previous years. Mineral water bottles accounted for approximately 17.3% of total recycling, and the data also showed that its share increased by 2.1% in 2014, which is the first increase in five years. Christian Crepet, executive director of Petcore Europe, said: “This is an encouraging sign for recyclers, and we hope that this growth will continue. However, 26.4% of these recycled bottles are transparent. / Light blue bottle, 25.5% green/brown mixed color bottle, and 30.8% mixed color plastic bottle, which is still a big challenge for PET recycling. Therefore, we believe that for those It is necessary to analyze the flow of waste that has not been specified, which will be part of the 2018 survey conducted by Petcore Europe."

3. PET bottle recycling and recycling capacity
Compared with 2014, the recycling volume of PET bottles increased by nearly 2.5%, and the actual processing volume increased by nearly 7.2%. The actual production of PET totaled 1.773 million tons, but the nominal input was 2.147 million tons. The average industry operating rate in 2016 was close to 83%, compared with 79% in 2014. “Christian Crepet said: This is a positive result, especially considering all the challenges that the r-PET industry is facing: lower resin raw material prices, r-PET pricing, margin pressure, reduced packaging quality and increased process losses. ""
In 2016, the main market for r-PET is still sheet, with a 38% share, followed by 26% blow molding and 24% fiber. The survey concluded that only about 11% of the remaining is for packaging and other applications.
The full survey results will be presented at the annual Petcore Europe conference in Brussels from February 7th to 8th, 2018.