No, it isn’t a bad joke from a Christmas cracker with an unwitty pun as an answer. Over the last decade the UK has well and truly got on the recycling wagon, and every week millions of us put out boxes containing our paper, card, glass and plastic bottles for recycling. Few of us think about what happens to all the plastic bottles we recycle, but there are many different uses for the raw material and bottles come back under a variety of guises.
In the UK we use a variety of different plastics to make our bottles, but the main two types of plastic used are PET and HDPE. When the bottles arrive at the recycling centre from our homes, they are first sorted into the different plastics by workers in the plant. Symbols on the bottom of the bottles tell the workers which sort of plastics they are dealing with. Not all plastics can be recycled, such as the types used to make yoghurt pots.
Once the plastic has been sorted, it is then processed to make it easier to use again. The bottles are first washed to remove any labels and product residue and then shredded into tiny pellets. These pellets are then melted to make the new material. Sometimes the plastic will just be melted and remoulded immediately, skipping the shredding stage.
The most obvious use for the plastic from a recycled plastic bottle is to turn it into another plastic bottle and many companies do exactly that. Sometimes the plastic is not suitable for using as bottles, but it can be turned into a whole variety of products such as rubbish sacks, bin bags, garden furniture, cups for vending machines or insulation for the building trade. Making an active decision to choose recycled plastic products where possible will ensure that the amount of plastic recycled in the UK continues to grow.
It’s hard to believe that a plastic bottle can be transformed into fabric, but this is exactly what happens. Recycled plastic can be made into fleece, and this sort of fleece is used to make products as diverse as Hunter welly socks and Marks & Spencer school skirts. Fleece is soft, warm and easy to care for, meaning that it will keep your feet warm and dry in the Hunter welly socks and your child’s school uniform will stand up to repeated washing and wearing.
Doing Your Bit
It goes without saying that we should all be making the effort to recycle out plastic. Most Councils are making it easy to do this by supplying bins or boxes to sort recycling into. The other side of the coin is to always choose the recycled option where possible, and think about the environmental impact of the products we buy. Nearly every product will state clearly if it is made from recycled materials, making it easy to select items which are wholly or part recycled.