With so many consumers understanding the damage that plastic bottles and other plastic products have on the environment, some are also questioning whether there is money to be made from not just big business but also consumers.
Plastic bottles such as PET that you would see in a soda bottle, are worth around 8-9 cents per pound which fluctuates year-to-year. There are also many recycling centers who will pay per bottle, for example, Michigan was paying 10 cents a bottle in 2021. So yes, you can make money from recycling plastic bottles.
How much is plastic worth?
When it comes to the ‘worth’ of plastic, we can discuss this in several ways, taking into account the damage plastic does to the environment, wildlife and humans. However, for the purpose of this article, we’ll focus on recycling plastic bottles.
PET bottles that you find your soda, juice or even water in, stands for polyethylene terephthalate, a plastic you find many places in everyday life. It’s used for packaging, fabrics, films, molded plastics used in electronics or cars and other.
Being lightweight and impact-resistant makes PET a top choice, as does its name as the most recycled thermoplastic. PET is also used as a tailored plastic to lower costs and meet high-end application demands.
When it comes to recycling plastic bottles, you are likely to make anywhere between five-to-ten cents per bottle in the USA and Australia. The value of PET at the moment is anywhere between eight-to-nine cents per pound or even more in some states.
The price of recycled PET containers has also increased by quite a bit over the last year. Michigan pays 10 cents a bottle whereas most other states pay anywhere from a few pennies to five cents for each bottle.
What Is Traditional Plastic?
Traditional plastic – the type your soft drink bottles, shampoo bottles, plastic bags and takeaway containers are made from – has been around since 1907. However, awareness is rising of the negative contribution of plastic to the environment and landfill so people are wanting to find out more about plastic.
Plastic is made from materials such as crude oil, gas, coal, cellulose and salt which are seen as natural materials or resources. The materials undergo a refining process which essentially is then treated by heat and ‘cracked’ before being combined with other materials to create different plastic types to turn into plastics you can use.
‘Cracking’ means the degradation of the materials by heating without oxygen – this is the main process breaking down the complex carbons into smaller ‘pieces’ creating the new chemicals for end result.
Unfortunately, because crude oil and natural gas are the main ingredients, this makes the plastic in many cases toxic either to people, animals or the environment when breaking down. Manufacturing products from materials such as crude oil is also bad for the environment, releasing carbon dioxide into the air, and oil itself being toxic to animals and the environment on many levels.
What Are Plastic Bottles Made From?
There are seven key types of traditional plastic, with the most popular being PET (polyethylene terephthalate) used for many plastic bottles and packaging. Other popular plastics are high- and low-density polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, polypropylene, polystyrene and other resins. Some of these plastics are recyclable and some are not.
The most common and widely produced plastic in the world is PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) which is mostly used for bottling and packaging and is recyclable. However, it can still leach a toxic metal used during its manufacturing process.
PET is commonly used due to its ability to withstand heat, its strength, resistance to moisture and alcohols and its flexibility. This type of plastic is also lightweight, making it easy to transport and is essentially shatter-resistant. PET is also approved as safe for food and beverages by many health agencies.
Its most common use is for disposable water bottles, soft drink bottles and is also being utilised in the textile industry through polyester fabrics. PET is recycled by being washed and remelted into new products or breaking it down into raw materials for purification – thermal recycling. Even clothing can be made from recycled PET!
How Much Money Can You Earn From Plastic Bottles?
Many people in countries that pay for recyclable bottles and containers are making small to medium amounts of money. Those who take the time to collect bottles and drop them to recycling centers can make a decent amount of money.
The catch is: you need to collect a LOT of these products to make any decent money. When you take your recycling to the center – in this instance PET bottles and containers – your items are either weighed or counted and you are given money based on the weight/number of bottles and current refund cost.
In 2017, the cost of recycling PET was around $485 a ton, with scrap value around $190 a ton which means that the scrap value covers less than half the cost of recycling. This means it’s more valuable to recycle than send to scrap.
If you can earn between five and ten cents per bottle, to make say, $100, you will need around 1000 bottles. This can be very time consuming. It’s also important to know the rules of your local center. For example, some centers want the lids off and even labels, so that’s important to understand.
Collecting a large amount before dropping the bottles off will help you maximize your earnings and your time.
Is Plastic Valuable, Meaning We Can’t Eliminate It Completely?
Unfortunately at this point, banning plastic completely isn’t possible. Until there are alternatives for everything from building supplies and medical implants to water bottles and toys, it’s not possible to ban plastic in its entirety.
Plastic can also be somewhat valuable in terms of recycling and upcycling so there’s that money to be lost. Plastic is also cheaper to manufacture than most alternatives, meaning when making in bulk, traditional plastic is cheaper in terms of money.
However, there are some great alternatives such as biodegradable and compostable on the market to replace items such as carry bags, trash bags and pet poop bags, as well as certain food service items. There are also a great range of metal, bamboo and glass reusable items such as food containers, coffee cups and water bottles.
Plastic bags also come in fabric, recycled plastic and crochet.
What Is The Lifecycle Of Plastic?
It’s important to understand that plastic doesn’t ever completely break down, ending up in small particles after decades to centuries in the soil, water or air. In some ways, the lifecycle of plastics is really never ending as it doesn’t ever completely decompose. It’s also important to understand that different plastics and products breakdown at different rates.
So when we recycle plastic bottles, we are at least saving the environment or landfill for a period of time by giving the product another life. The lifecycle of standard plastic items is as follows:
- Manufacturing process – gathering materials, combining and creating the basic plastic.
- Production process – molding, adding dyes or additives, changing to heat resistant or bacteria resistant.
- Plastic usage – how we use it i.e. toys, water bottles, packaging.
- Some plastics can be recycled or reused – think water bottles that can be recycled, reusable water bottles.
- Non-recycled plastic ends up in landfills or the natural environment – around 90 per cent or more of all plastics end up like this.
- Plastic takes up to centuries to break down into small particles that will never disappear.
Plastic bottles – such as spring water or soft drinks can take up to 450 years. Think about how widely used these are and the potential global impact of these! They can often be recycled, yet many people don’t bother to recycle.
Traditional plastic still surrounds us, even with the rising awareness of their negative contribution to the environment and landfill. They are used in everyday products from medication packaging and food packaging to toys, engineering and building products.
Of course, here we’ve discussed PET or plastic bottles in particular, which is the most common. When it comes to PET, some of these are recyclable – either easily or with sophisticated processes. However, none are completely safe for the environment as they cannot be broken down in a composter or in landfill. They must be recycled to be reused again.
As we’ve discussed, you can earn somewhere between five-and-ten cents per bottle depending on where you live, meaning you are making some pocket change whilst also protecting landfill and the broader environment.
Being more mindful about your product choices will not only positively impact the environment, but also protect your family in the long run. Making ethical, sustainable and environmentally sound choices is becoming easier as time goes on with the introduction of more compostable and biodegradable products.