The Life Cycle of a Plastic Water Bottle

The Life Cycle of a Plastic Water Bottle

Millions of bottles of water are purchased every year in the United States. Together with other plastic products, they play a ubiquitous role in the lives of several consumers. But what happens to the bottles once they have no use?

With the increasing awareness of the environmental issues surrounding the use of plastics, most consumers have become interested in understanding the life cycle of plastics from raw material extraction to eventual disposal in a landfill or recycling facility. Students from Montgomery County Public Schools made a detailed graphic of this cycle.

Raw Material Extraction

Plastic_bottle

The birth of a plastic bottle begins when crude oil and natural gas are extracted from the environment. After extraction, the crude oil is transported to a processing facility or a refinery where it’s fractionally distilled to separate the different hydrocarbons including gas, fuel oil, plastics and many more.

However, due to environmental concerns, some manufacturing companies use bio-plastics. These plastic are made from plant materials processed from polymers, and they are thought to be environmentally friendly since they do not require extraction. Additionally they are biodegradable and have a short life expectancy making them unfit for long-term storage.

Polymerization

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is made from petroleum hydrocarbon which is the main ingredient used in the manufacture of most plastic bottles. PET is made by mixing hydrocarbons with chemical catalysts, triggering polymerization.

Tests are then carried out to confirm whether PET is glossy, thick, or is permeable to carbon dioxide. The PET mixture is heated and placed in molds via a process called injection molding. Usually, the type of the mixture is dependent on the kind of the plastic to be made. Some plastic are harder while others are softer.

Molding

Although there are a number of ways in which plastic can be molded, injection molding is the most common method. Plastic granules or pellets are forced into a heating hopper, which liquefies them down pushing the liquefied plastic into a press that molds the bottle.

Blow molding is similar to direct injection only that its uses an air jet to blow the liquefied plastic film into the mold. It is usually used to create hollow shapes. Occasionally, water-bottling companies will order either performs and mold them or order ready to use bottles.

Packaging

The bottles are disinfected, filled, capped, branded, and packed, ready for transportation. The whole process is done by specialized machines, which clasps the bottles from the top and conveys them to the filling machine for fill up with the prescribed amount of water.

At this stage, the bottles are grouped, packed, and shipped and could end up in any number of places including supermarket shelves or in your refrigerator.

Collection

The bottles of water, sold through vendors are then consumed. After being drained, the vast majority of these plastic

bottles become trash and end up in dumpsters, landfills or end up in the ocean wreaking havoc on ocean ecosystems and sea animals.

With many stores having redemption machines and most cities collecting recyclables along with the trash, it becomes easier to collect the bottles for recycling.

Recycling

Ideally, all used plastic bottles should end up in a recycler. During recycling, the bottles are shredded, washed, sterilized, and then resold to the water bottling companies. The recycled plastics can be used either for more bottles, plastic bags, artificial lumber or even fleece blankets.

With that in mind, it is easy to forget that plastics will be around for a longer time than it takes to buy, drink, and throw them. Although recycling is an excellent way to reduce environmental pollution, use of bio-plastics can help save our environment.


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