Every year, Americans throw away 35 billion plastic bottles. Out of those, only 25% are recycled. Still, those that are recycled serve many useful purposes.
For industries using recycled materials from these bottles, there can be economic, corporate social responsibility (CSR), and environmental benefits.
Effective uses of recycled bottles include fibers for items such as sweaters and t-shirts, insulation for jackets, and even swimwear and surfboard fins. Here are some of the best uses of recycled plastic bottles.
1. Fabric for clothing such as sweaters and t-shirts
It’s quite a simple process to melt bottles down into pellets and then work them into fibers that be used in fabric. This can make for eco-friendly fashion, which is preferable to plastics from raw materials such as petroleum.
Repreve is one brand that does this. They use high-quality fibers from recycled polyester, which comes from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles (the usual type used for commercial drinks). This is then used to make sweaters and t-shirts.
Repreve reports it’s transformed more than 20 billion recycled plastic bottles into recycled fibers.
Popular outdoor brand The North Face introduced a Bottle Source line of t-shirts, which are made of recycled plastic bottles.
The company reportedly has collected 160,000 pounds of plastic bottles used toward making these shirts. The company’s sustainability director reports that all its t-shirts contain 40% recycled polyester fibers.
2. Fleece jackets
Fleece is a very common fabric for soft, warming garments like pullovers and jackets. It’s also widely used in bedding, carpets, and other cold-weather items. One reason is that it can be cheaply made. However, unless it’s made from recyclables, it can have some harmful effects on the environment.
Patagonia claims that back in 1993 it became the first outdoor clothing manufacturer to turn trash into fleece, using recycled soda bottles. It takes an estimated 25 post-consumer plastic bottles to make a fleece jacket.
Fleece also derives from PET, the main component in many plastic bottles.
3. Insulation for jackets
Roughly 14 bottles can produce the fibers for insulation in a jacket.
The North Face designed the ThermoBall Eco jacket, capitalizing on recyclables. The outer part of the jacket is made from recycled polyester, while the insulation is from 5 recycled plastic water bottles.
4. Sleeping bags
Sleeping bags are essential for camping, and they can also be used for bedding.
A single sleeping bag can be made from 60 recycled plastic water bottles. The bottles are crushed and re-spun into polyester fibers to then produce the necessary fabric. For thicker insulation, over 100 bottles may be used for warmer bags.
5. Carpets, mats, and rugs
PET bottles can also be the raw materials for making carpets, mats, and rugs, that are highly durable, sustainable, eco-friendly, and stain-resistant.
About 30 to 40 2-liter plastic bottles yield enough polyester to make 1 square yard of carpeting.
6. Bottles and caps
Recycled plastic bottles can in fact be used to make more bottles and caps for bottles. This reduces the cost of manufacturing new ones, as well as the raw materials.
According to S&P Global Platte, half of all recycled post-consumer bottles are recycled back into bottles and caps. That may not be an ideal outcome if it means more plastic bottles are being used, but it’s still less of a burden on the environment than using raw materials.
7. Dog collars and leashes
Fibers from recycled plastic bottles can also be used to make eco-friendly dog collars and leashes.
One startup company used recycled water bottles for this purpose.
This means pet lovers can also be eco-friendly.
8. Reusable shopping bags
Reusable shopping bags are increasingly in need these days, as supermarkets and stores charge for plastic bags or eliminate them completely. This makes reusable shopping bags a sort of happy completion of the chain. Plastic is saved, while reusable plastic is used in its place.
9. Environmentally friendly backpacks and bags
Spanish brand Lefrik uses plastic bottles from landfills to make “sustainable backpacks.” This is on the same principle as other items in this list, and it shows how a company can brand itself as environmentally friendly in this way.
Also, to make backpacks, Plastic Bank started a blockchain solution to reward people for providing plastics that can then be repurposed. They then sell these plastic bottles to eco-friendly backpack makers.
10. Sneakers and shoes
11. Yarn and rope
To make yarn, plastic bottles are heated and forcefully passed through tiny holes to make plastic fibers. The fibers are further crushed to make short pieces and fine threads. These can then be used for yarn for weaving, knitting, and making apparel products. Rope is another possible by-product.
Batoko recycled 300,000 ocean water bottles to manufacture plastic swimwear. To make plastic swimwear, polyester and nylon are required, both of which are can be made from the fibers of plastic bottles.
13. Surfboard fins
Australian brand Five Oceans uses plastic bottle caps to make surfboard fins.
The fins increase the speed of a surfboard when pressure is applied. So in this case, instead of bottle caps polluting the ocean and wildlife, they’re repurposed to enjoy riding atop the waves. Pretty cool.
Hopefully, the trend will continue, and fashion and form won’t be the only motivators for recycling plastic bottles. According to S&P Global Platte, the US 25% percent recycling share will rise to 60% by the end of 2030. We certainly hope this happens. Even better would be 100%.