Do Your Part to Create a Circular Economy
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle — the three “R’s” we all see stamped on every recycling bin and collection truck. While we all know recycling is a good thing to do, many may not know what happens after they drop the bottle in their bin. Some people may be skeptical and question if they are really making that much of a difference, while others might scoff and say that the recycling trucks just go to the landfills anyway.
Those people are wrong — recycling works! There are several key factors that make recycling effective, and one of them is YOU, the consumer! So, how does recycling work and how can you make a difference with your actions?
The Recycling Process
It all starts after you place your plastic bottle in your recycling bin and the bin is picked up by a collection truck, often called a hauler. The hauler will then take all the items to a facility, usually referred to as a material recovery facility or MRF.
After the material has been separated by resin type at the MRF, the recycled materials are then sold to recycling centers. The recycling process can then be taken one step further and plastics can be separated out by color. Once separated by resin type and color, it becomes much easier to prepare the recyclable materials to be reintroduced to the plastic blowing process. But first these materials are processed where any contaminants are removed, washed, melted down and extruded. The extruded plastic is then cut back into pellets. These plastic pellets are then shipped back to manufacturers as post-consumer resin, or PCR.
At Graham, we have our own recycling center, known as the Graham Recycling Company, which has processed HDPE material that we eventually incorporate back into our bottles for more than 30 years. In addition to HDPE, Graham Packaging has advanced technologies that allow us to make both HDPE and PET bottles with various percentages of recycled content, even up to 100% PCR! Our long-term goal is to increase our use of PCR, including ocean-bound plastic, by incorporating an average of 20% PCR across all bottles by 2025.
Looking at the bottom of a bottle, you may have seen the recycle symbol surrounding a number. What you may not have known, however, is that this symbol marks the specific type of resin that was used to produce the bottle. This allows for the plastic to be separated into different categories based on resin type at the MRF. At Graham, the majority of our bottles are made with PET or HDPE. These are numbered 1 and 2 on the bottom of bottles and are typically recyclable.
Additionally, Graham also uses polypropylene, which is a number 5 resin. Polypropylene (PP) containers account for roughly 7% of the products we produce. Used in a variety of food and nonfood packaging, this material may be collected by curbside recycling programs, depending on local regulations. However, despite being successfully collected and sorted in some communities, very little of this material is actually recycled because very few recycling facilities can process it. Graham is continuing to work on ways to improve the recyclability of polypropylene. Be sure to check with your local municipality to determine if PP is recyclable in your community.
As a consumer, you can help perpetuate a circular economy for plastics by selecting packaging that is made from recycled materials. If you can’t find packaging that is made from recycled material, purchase items that are in recyclable packaging. Most importantly RECYCLE IT! Due to the push for sustainability in the packaging industry, more and more plastic packaging is becoming recyclable. This is great news, however, it can only be recycled if it is placed in the recycling. Remember, there isn’t a bottle in the world that threw itself in the trash.
In one study, the United States Environmental Protection Agency estimated American households generated 94 million pounds of composted or recycled material per year. It was determined that on average a single person produced about 1.6 pounds of recyclables per day! Based on these findings, a household of three people in the U.S. produces about 4.8 pounds per day. If everyone in that family recycles they could generate an estimated 1,752 pounds of recycled material per year (EPA.gov)!
If everyone does their part, the industry can continue to reduce the use of virgin resin in production, minimizing the impact of introducing new plastics into the cycle. With everyone’s determination, we can build a world that keeps taking steps forward toward a circular economy—a world where sustainability is reality.
United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2021, April). National Overview: Facts and Figures on Materials, Wastes and Recycling. Retrieved from EPA.gov: https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/national-overview-facts-and-figures-materials#main-content