What happens when we recycle plastic bottles?

Many of us try to recycle plastic bottles with the goal of helping our environment. Have you ever wondered what actually happens when you recycle them? And how they magically get used for other things. Well here’s how.

So for some background, the bottle is made out polyethylene, regardless if it’s a milk container or a water bottle. It is important to remember to put the cap back on the bottle prior to recycling since they are made from another plastic that is helpful for recyclers.

Once the bottles are collected, they are sorted, separated and then compressed into bales. Each bale weighs about 1,200 pounds and holds over 7, 200 bottles. This is the most economical way to ship them. These bales are delivered to a facility that tears the plastic bottles apart using a bale breaking machine.  There is a magnet that removes metal pieces that possibly made their way in during the process.

Following this, the bottles go through a washing machine, a giant version of yours. The water is filled with soap and it takes off all the dirt and labels from the bottles. By emptying your bottles completely, you will seriously assist in making the recycling process more efficient.

Since bottle caps are usually made from polypropylene plastic, the plastics need to be separated, and thankfully there is an efficient method to do this.  There’s actually a process that chops everything into small flakes and puts it into a tank of water. Due to the different densities of the plastics, the flakes from the bottle sink, while the ones from the caps float.

The next stage of the recycling process is taking the dried plastic flakes and heating them into a gooey liquid and turning them into spaghetti-like strands.  The strands are cooled down and hardened in water, chopped into pea-size balls and then shipped to companies in order to use the recycled plastic.


There are a ton of things that can be done with plastic bottles, such as creating backyard decks, carpets, playground equipment or even new bottles. It can even be used to create super fashionable recycled fabrics.