How to Recycle Plastic Bottles & Jugs
Most bottles and jugs are #1 plastic (PET) or #2 plastic (HDPE), which are both accepted by most curbside recycling programs. The type of plastic is identified with a resin ID code on the bottle.
Occasionally you will find bottles made from #3-#7 plastics, such as those made from plants instead of natural gas. These plastics may not be collected in your curbside program. If not, use our Recycle Locator to find a drop-off location near you.
Plastic Bottle and Jug Recycling Preparation
- Most recycling programs ask that you rinse your bottles and jugs before recycling. The remnants often contain sugar, which will attract insects and generate odors.
- You’ll want to check with your local program whether to keep caps on the bottles, or whether caps are accepted at all. Some programs want the cap on to prevent loose caps from falling out during transportation. Others want the cap off to ensure the bottle is empty and because their recycling machinery may be damaged when trying to crush a capped bottle.
- You should be OK leaving the label on the bottle, but it’s unlikely to be recycled since it’s a low-grade quality of paper or plastic.
Why Recycle Plastic Bottles and Jugs
- Plastic bottles are among the most common sources of marine debris, where they can be mistaken as food by birds and fish
- Plastic bottles don’t biodegrade, meaning it will take hundreds of years for them to decompose in a landfill
- In America, we use 2.5 million plastic bottles each hour, and they are all designed for one use
- Using recycled plastic to make new products saves 66 percent of the energy over using virgin material
Plastic Bottle and Jug Recycling Process
Recycling centers use optical scanners to identify the type of plastic resin, so #1 and #2 plastics are separated from each other and other materials (such as paper and glass). Bottles are then crushed (where caps are removed if you haven’t already done so) and baled to be sent to a plastic recycler.
Recyclers will shred the #1 or #2 plastic into flakes, which are washed, rinsed and dried. Flakes are then melted into pellets, then transported to a manufacturer to make new plastic bottles/jugs or other products, such as lining for sleeping bags, T-shirts, carpet or playground equipment.
Frequent Plastic Jug & Bottle Recycling Questions
If you try to crush a yogurt container or butter tub, it will crack and be difficult to bale. If you don’t crush these containers, you’ll be paying for “air weight” when they are transferred to the plastic recycler.
In the mid-2000s, there was concern over the use of BPA in reusable plastic bottles because BPA health risks increase when the plastics are exposed to high heat, such as in the microwave or dishwasher. If you decide to pursue reusable plastic bottles to limit your plastic waste, you should research the product’s health effects and determine if it’s dishwasher-safe.
However, PLA bottles may look like #1 plastic bottles, but they can’t be recycled using the same process because they aren’t PET resin (PLA is #7 plastic, or the “other” catchall). If you are buying PLA bottles, you want to compost them or throw them in the garbage instead of recycling them, unless your recycling program accepts #7 plastics.
There are also 10 states (and Guam) that have passed container deposit laws (or bottle bills), where consumers pay a fee (5 or 10 cents per bottle) that is refunded if the product is brought to a recycling center. Any unclaimed money is usually used to fund recycling programs, and as a result there are convenient recycling options throughout these states. Only plastic beverage bottles are covered under these laws, so detergent jugs, peanut butter containers and other plastic bottles are not included.
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