Is 1 in a triangle recyclable? 

Plastics each have a resin identification number, this number ranges from 1-7 and each corresponds to a specific plastic that is recyclable. Number 1 of these resins is Polyethylene terephthalate (PET). It is a thermoplastic polymer. This polymer is extremely versatile, lightweight, durable, and bio-safe, resulting in its mass use across multiple industries, from garments to food packaging, to the automotive industry.

PET or number 1 plastic is widely used to make beverage and water bottles as well as polyester, the textile form of PET. 

This article will focus on the recyclability of PET, how much is recycled, what areas of PET recycling need improvement and the impacts of waste PET on our environment. 

Is number 1 plastic recyclable? 

The answer is, yes. PET is 100% recyclable. Some factors do limit the number of PET that is recycled, however. 

Due to improper waste management and recycling systems, tons of recyclable PET end up in landfills and even worse, our oceans. 

PET is primarily used to make polyester (an extremely popular textile fabric among producers), and drinking bottles. 

PET is food-safe, that is why it’s used to make all types of food containers. 

Every city with a recycling program accepts PET for recycling. It is the most widely recycled plastic. However, keep in mind that most textile PET or polyester is not recycled by most cities. 

There are special programs by some fashion brands where they accept old Polyester clothing, and some cities have drop-off sites. Please make sure your city recycles polyester before you throw it in the bin. 

There is a term called wishcycling, essentially it means good-intentioned people throwing un-recyclable material into curbside recycling wishing it’d be recycled. 

This does more damage than good, since the entire batch of products may be thrown out to avoid contamination. 

All curbside recycling programs across the world accept PET bottles and containers. Make sure the containers are clean and the bottle caps are screwed shut to the bottle. 

As for polyester, you can always donate them or repurpose them to ensure minimal waste. If you donate, make sure the clothes you are donating are wearable. 

In recent years, charities around the world have faced the problem of people dumping their unusable clothing items onto them. Tons of clothes donated to charity end up in landfills because of this. Please donate responsibly. 

You can also sell your clothes in second-hand clothing shops. There’s currently a movement across the globe of selling second-hand clothes instead of letting them sit in your wardrobe and collect dust. 

If no other option is available, you will have to throw out your garments in the trash. 

Recycling PET: 

PET recycling process is similar to most other plastics. Most PET is recycled by a mechanical process but there are chemical recycling processes that are being developed as well. 

In the mechanical process, the plastic bottles and containers are collected in a materials recovery facility (MRF). Here the plastic is baled and transported to processing plants. 

In the processing plant, the bales are broken up and the materials are pre-washed. It is important to note that PET bottles often can be mixed with Polypropylene (PP) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). 

After the bales are broken the materials usually undergo a washing step where hot water is run through the material. This turns the PVC bottles brown making it easy to separate them from the rest during sorting. 

After the washing step, materials are either sorted manually or by equipment. Near-Infrared (NIR) Scanners are commonly used to sort plastic based on type, size, color, and shape. 

After sorting the plastic is shredded to form “flakes” which undergo an additional sorting step where the plastic is sorted according to density by a sink-float method. The lighter plastic floats and can be separated from the rest. 

The material is also cleaned with detergent for absolute purity in the next step.

Following cleaning, the PET is heated until it melts, this molten plastic is then turned into threads, cooled, and pelleted for transport to a manufacturing plant. 

Besides this mechanical process, several chemical processes have emerged for PET recycling. Pyrolysis is one such process that is currently used by multiple companies in the US and Europe.

Pyrolysis can convert PET back into fuel or into its original chemicals which can be used to remake almost virgin quality plastic. 

Another process is hydrolysis, which converts the PET polymer back to its monomers, this process is aided by enzymes discovered from unique microbial species. 

The future of PET recycling: 

PET recycling is a success story in the making in the world of plastic. In Europe, 52% of PET bottles are recycled and in the US it’s 31%. 

These numbers are expected to steadily rise as both companies and governments realize the importance of plastic recycling and how waste plastic is not harmful to our environment but a wasted resource.

With the advent of sophisticated chemical recycling systems where PET can be broken down into its base molecules and can be remade from them, there is hope that one day it will be integrated into a closed-loop-recycling system.  

With that reality, we can hope to see a significant decrease in the consumption of fossil fuels and carbon emissions. 

Currently, the main challenge is the cost of recycling. Recycled plastic costs more due to the expensive process by which they are recycled. 

In contrast, making PET containers out of virgin plastic costs far less, if we want to go forward with recycling PET we need to find a way to reduce the costs of recycling and make sure companies do not irresponsibly use petrochemicals for their convenience and their profit margins. 

Currently, there is no streamlined recycling system for PET in clothing. This will hopefully change in the future as fashion companies are held responsible for their contribution to carbon emissions and pollution. Textile waste takes up extensive amounts of space in landfills. 

How waste PET affects the environment: 

Even though over 30% of global PET containers are recycled each year, PET build-up in landfills is quite common. Sadder still is the PET that’s released into the oceans affecting the wild aquatic lives. 

We’ve all seen the giant garbage patches infesting our oceans. But the problem created by PET is more nuanced than that. With every wash, PET-based fabric releases microplastics into the water. 

This wastewater eventually makes its way into the streams and rivers where they enter the food chain of aquatic life. Eventually, these microplastics make their way into our systems. 

Our food supply is tainted by plastic and most of us are blatantly unaware of this. Scientists do not yet know what the consequences of so much plastic in our system will be.

But we do know this cannot be good. This is why we need to make sure Polyester fabric retires from the garment industry and is replaced by natural fibers. 

Around 52% of the PET made is used to make polyester fibers in the garment industry, out of which 25% of the PET comes from recycled bottles. To build a more sustainable future, we need to reduce the amount of virgin PET we use to make clothing and we need to make sure no PET ends up in landfills. 

PET is non-toxic and non-biodegradable. This means even though it’s not a direct threat to the ecosystem, it still takes up a significant amount of space in landfills when not recycled. 

Most clothing trash isn’t recycled and thus fills up landfills and currently, there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. The best way forward is to devise efficient recycling systems for PET and incorporate PET into a zero-waste recycling system.  

Conclusion: 

PET or number 1 plastic is widely used to make beverage and water bottles as well as polyester, the textile form of PET. 

This article focused on the recyclability of PET, how much is recycled, what areas of PET recycling need improvement, and the impacts of waste PET on our environment. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Is 1 in a triangle recyclable? 

Are our PET products recyclable? 

Yes, 100% recyclable. Just make sure you throw it in the curbside recycling, and if your city has a multi-stream recycling system, make sure you throw it with the other plastic. 

Is plastic 1 and PET the same? 

Yes, Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) has a resin identification code of 1, this is symbolized by the 1 within the cyclical arrows you find on plastic containers. This is why PET is often referred to as #1 plastic. 

What is Polyester? 

Polyester is PET woven into threads. 

Much of the recycled PET is used to make threads for making fabrics and carpets. This thread is generally referred to as Polyester. 

Why is PET used in packaging so extensively?

PET is a clean, versatile, translucent plastic that maintains its quality and translucence even after recycling. This along with its durable, shatter-proof quality makes it an ideal candidate for packaging. 

Is PET food safe? 

Yes, PET is food-grade plastic. It is not recommended to use it to reheat food in a microwave oven, however, it is not linked to any health concern at the moment. 

Is number 1 plastic toxic? 

No, number 1 plastic is non-toxic to humans. 

How can I recycle plastic 1?

Most recycling points around your city will accept PET. Some may ask for it to be dropped off in the curbside bin, some may set up bins specifically for plastic. Make sure to read your city’s guidelines on this. 

Keep in mind in most cities, polyester clothing is not recyclable. Bottles are, just make sure you screw the cap tightly to the bottle before you throw it. Also, make sure the bottles are empty. 

References: 

  1. Plastics #1 and #2 Recycling – Less Is More. (2021). Retrieved 23 December 2021, from https://lessismore.org/materials/11-plastics-1-and-2/
  2. Ferrario, M., & Ferrario, M. (2021). Which Plastic Can Be Recycled? | Plastics For Change. Retrieved 23 December 2021, from https://www.plasticsforchange.org/blog/which-plastic-can-be-recycled
  3. Fact Sheet – An Introduction to PET (polyethylene terephthalate) | PETRA: Information on the Use, Benefits & Safety of PET Plastic. (2021). Retrieved 23 December 2021, from http://www.petresin.org/news_introtoPET.asp
  4. PET Plastic Bottles – Facts Not Myths. (2021). Retrieved 23 December 2021, from https://www.bpf.co.uk/sustainability/pet_plastic_bottles_facts_not_myths.aspx
  5. What Can PET Plastic Be Recycled Into?. (2021). Retrieved 23 December 2021, from https://www.ptpackaging.com/blog/what-can-pet-plastic-be-recycled-into/
  6. PET – Polyethylene Terephthalate – 100% Recyclable Plastic Bottles. (2021). Retrieved 23 December 2021, from https://www.americanbeverage.org/education-resources/blog/post/what-is-pet/
  7. An Introduction to PET Recycling. (2021). Retrieved 23 December 2021, from https://www.thebalancesmb.com/recycling-polyethylene-terephthalate-pet-2877869
  8. PET Recycling – How is PET Recycled?. (2021). Retrieved 23 December 2021, from https://www.plasticexpert.co.uk/pet-recycling/
  9. Thomas, G. (2021). Recycling of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE). Retrieved 23 December 2021, from https://www.azocleantech.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=254
  10. World’s First 100% Enzyme-Recycled PET Plastic Bottles Debut. (2021). Retrieved 23 December 2021, from https://www.plasticstoday.com/packaging/worlds-first-100-enzyme-recycled-pet-plastic-bottles-debut

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