A completely normal water bottle on the supermarket shelf. Bought. Emptied. Discarded. And then where possible incinerated, polluting the environment? That's how things used to be. But even if these bottles are referred to as “disposable PET bottles”, they still have a long life of multiple uses ahead of them. Nowadays they are recycled over and over again – or even reincarnated as comfortable items of clothing such as t-shirts.
Over 10 billion PET bottles are purchased in one year alone in Germany. As consumers we have very little idea of the vast complexity of processes involved in the disposal of a small 0.5 litre disposable bottle: bought at the station in Hamburg and then thrown into the bottle deposit machines at the supermarket in Munich. Who pays the deposit? And to whom? Who processes the billions of data records for the many varied types of container, sizes and varieties?
This is where deposit clearing specialists, such as CCR Clearing, a company of the RLG Group, step in: in the supermarket return deposit machines, a scanner reads the information on the water bottle: which material, what type and which manufacturer. This information is sent to the clearing house and stored in a central IT system. This guarantees that later calculations between the manufacturer and the retailer will be settled fairly to the exact decimal point. There's still one more item left to “crunch”: the water bottle is flattened to save space.
Now our crushed water bottle is sent to a recycling centre balled up together with many other disposable deposit bottles, where it is turned into regranulate. Walter Reins, chief project manager, explains how this works: “First we crush the bottles. Then what's left over, the so-called flakes, are washed in hot water. Using infrared technology, these flakes are then sorted by pieces of the same type. Then they are melted down”.
As secondary raw materials, the granulate is now ready to be made into new products. Thus in subsequent processes, new plastic bottles, film or even comfortable items of clothing such as t-shirts can be manufactured from this granulate.
The recycling of PET bottles gives something back to everyone: the environment is protected by the elimination of toxic incineration gases, fewer new bottles are produced and as a result, fewer natural resources are utilised. And with this return to value, manufacturers save a lot of money.