Have you ever wondered what happens to the plastic bottles you throw in the recycling bin or the plastic bags and wraps you bring back to the grocery store? Though recycled plastics might be out-of-mind once the raw material leaves your hand, they are far from out-of-sight. Chances are, these valuable materials have already made their way back into your home or your car – you might even be wearing them!
Innovative uses of recycled plastics are multiplying. In the not-too-distant future, the plastic water bottle you recycle one day may show up in your next car. One of Hyundai’s latest concept cars is a crossover coupe vehicle called the QarmaQ. A key feature in the QarmaQ is its innovative use of recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles to create a large portion of the vehicle’s skin. According to SABIC Innovative Plastics, the use of plastics, instead of more traditional metal and glass, reduces the weight of the vehicle by 130 pounds. That weight loss translates to 20 gallons in annual fuel savings.
Car seat upholstery also can be made from recycled plastic. And a lot more of the plastics used in today’s cars are being recovered and recycled at the end of the vehicle’s useful life.
Less obvious uses of recycled plastics include the materials that make our homes comfortable and attractive. Mohawk, a leading U.S. carpet manufacturer, recycles nearly three billion plastic bottles each year. Plastic bottles are sorted, ground into fine chips, and then cleaned. These chips are then melted and extruded into fiber and spun into carpet yarn.
If recycled plastic is not on your floor, it may be in your back yard. Composite lumber made from recycled plastic and sawdust is extremely durable and requires very little maintenance. For these reasons and its design capabilities, composite lumber is often a favorite for building decks and fences.
For example, Trex® decking, railing and fencing has all the natural beauty of wood, but doesn’t rot or splinter the way wood can. Trex® composite lumber helps keep about 300,000 tons of plastic and wood scrap out of landfills every year – that results in approximately 600,000,000 pounds annually. And no trees have to be cut to make this innovative decking material. Trex® wood is reclaimed from woodworking operations, used pallets and sawdust to the tune of 300 million pounds a year.
More surprising still, you may be wearing recycled plastic. From high fashion runways to bargain basement stores, “Plastic is the new Black”. Warm fleece jackets, trendy shoes and everyday t-shirts are now being made from fibers spun from recycled plastics. H&M is featuring recycled plastics as part of its line of environmentally friendly fashions. Sears is offering men’s suits made from recycled plastic bottles and faux fur, sequins and sky-high heels made possible by plastics are gracing the runways at fashion events from Los Angeles to New York. (To see more cutting-edge concepts plastics fashions, be sure to check out entries to the Plastics Make it PossibleSM and Gen Art design contest.
Remember that it’s easy to be part recycling movement year round. For tips on how to recycle more of the plastics you use, see Plastics Make it Possible’s How to Guide for Recycling Plastics.