After the Recycling Bin – What Happens to the Plastic Bottles?

It’s something that I don’t spend much time thinking about…when I put plastic bottles in the recycle bin or drop them off at the recycling center in the past I haven’t considered what happens next.   Without a lot of thought, I simply followed the prevailing wisdom that recycling these items is much better than having them end up in land fill.

So not knowing what I don’t know I came across a recycling center in Kaimuki and noticed bales of flattened, squished and crumpled plastic bottles prepared for the next step of their recycling journey.

The plastic, glistening in the tropical sun, caught my eye and then I started to think of these bales as abstract art, as a sign of our collective consumption and, sadly, began to conjure up images of the masses of garbage floating in our oceans and significantly harming our marine environment before heading back to us.

Recycling in the Abstract

So where do these bales of plastic go next?   Since Hawaii has no facility to process the plastic the bales are shipped to China to be formed into chips or food-grade pellets.  The resulting recycled plastic is used to manufacture things like carpet, polyester fabric and new plastic products including more bottles.  And the cycle continues…

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Aloha and Mahalo!