What Makes Up New Plastic Bottles? Not Old Ones, It Seems

Only small percentage of plastic from recyclable bottles is used in new ones
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 24, 2017 8:43 AM CDT
What Makes Up New Plastic Bottles? Not Old Ones, It Seems
In this photo taken July 5, 2016, plastic bottles brought in for recycling are seen at a recycling center in Sacramento, Calif.   (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

That Coke bottle you were proud to throw in the recycling bin so it could be repurposed into another Coke bottle may actually be … part of a carpet sample in Mumbai. It turns out that a very small percentage of the world's plastic beverage bottles are made out of recycled plastic, with an IBISWorld analyst breaking it down into stark numbers for BuzzFeed: Less than a third of the world's plastic bottles (around 6 billion pounds per year) are recycled, and of that sample, only about 20% is transformed into new plastic bottles. Instead, most of the bottles are sent off to plastics factories in emerging markets, where they're used in textiles such as clothing, bags, and carpeting, and the reason appears to come down to cost. Because new plastic is often crafted out of petroleum, the current low price of oil makes it cheaper to just start from scratch than use recycled materials.

A recent Greenpeace report points the finger at the world's top six soft-drink companies (not counting Coca-Cola, which wouldn't give up its numbers) for using a combined average of just 6.6% recycled PET in their bottles. (A Greenpeace blog post takes the soft drink industry to task for saying consumers don't recycle enough.) Retailers are trying to capitalize on the bottles-to-attire trend: Target, for example, has started carrying clothing lines from companies that make their attire out of recycled plastic, WCCO reports. But textiles aren't usually recycled themselves, often because they're blended with non-recyclable materials. "Fifty years from now … people will be digging landfills and thinking we were crazy ... how could we create landfills rather than recycle?" Leon Farahnik, founder of the CarbonLite recycling company, tells BuzzFeed. (More plastic-devouring bacteria may be needed.)

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