One of PET's most outstanding qualities is its exceptional recyclability. Approximately 1.5 billion pounds of used PET bottles and containers are recovered in the U.S. each year for recycling, making it the most recycled plastic in America.
Virtually every municipal recycling program in North America and Europe accepts PET bottles and containers, which can be identified by the number "1" in the small triangular symbol that is molded into the bottom or side of the container.
PET can be recovered and recycled again and again by thorough washing and remelting for use in new PET products, or by chemically breaking down the PET into its constituent raw materials, which are then purified and converted into new PET. Any PET that is unsuitable for recycling because it is too dirty or contaminated to be properly cleaned can be safely and efficiently burned as an energy source. This is called "thermal recycling."
On average, a U.S. household uses 45 pounds of PET plastic bottles and jars in a year. If all of them were recycled, it would yield enough recycled PET fiber to make 12 dozen men’s T-shirts or enough carpet for a 12-by-15 foot room.
The PET bottle or jar that you place in a recycling bin today can be collected and recycled into a wealth of products for tomorrow. PET can be recycled into new PET containers, carpet, clothing, protective packaging, industrial strapping, automotive parts, construction materials, even the felt for tennis balls, and tennis ball canisters.
Because of PET's full recyclability and wide variety of uses, the market for recycled PET is limited only by the amount of material that is collected from consumers and recycling facilities.
The development of new facilities that can recycle used PET bottles into new food-grade PET bottles and containers (closed-loop recycling) is expanding the resource efficiencies and sustainability of PET even further.
To make the most of PET's environmental benefits and sustainability, consumers and businesses need to actively participate in recycling. Even though PET is the most recycled plastic in the U.S., with a recycling rate of approximately 29%, we need to improve. The PET recycling rate in the European Union, for example, is 51%
Unfortunately, too many Americans carelessly toss their used PET bottles into the trash rather than the recycle bin, which means they end up in landfills instead of being recycled for new uses.
Because PET is inert and resistant to attack by micro-organisms, PET bottles and containers that find their way to the landfill pose no risk of leaching or contaminating groundwater, and take up relatively little landfill space since they are easily crushed. The EPA estimates that only 1% of municipal solid waste in the U.S. is attributed to PET containers.
Nevertheless, the one-time use and disposal of PET containers is a disconcerting waste of a highly valued material that can be easily recovered and re-used again and again. PETRA strongly supports the reduction of waste, recycling and re-use of materials whenever possible. Recycling PET bottles and containers is a simple and environmentally responsible way to a more sustainable future.