Bottles to Flake: Plastic’s Journey Continues
They traveled hundreds of kilometers before today. Now begins the next leg of a journey that spans the entire globe. Welcome to one of the United States’ largest plastic recycling plants.
“On an average week we receive anywhere from 1 to 1.5 million lbs [454,000 to 680,000 kg] of bottles in to the plant,” said Jay Chilton, who manages Clear Path Recycling’s monster facility in Fayetteville, North Carolina. “We receive about 8-10 trucks a day coming into the plant, and a truckload is usually about 40,000 pounds.”
That’s more than 18,000 kilograms of plastic every single day. The goods come in bales.
“These bales on average are about 900lbs [400 kg]; and they can range anywhere from 600lbs [270 kg] to 1500lbs [680 kg] in this configuration. This is accumulation of nearly 10-15 weeks of delivery,” Chilton said.
Nearly three football fields of plastic piled high sit just a short ride from the processing plant, where a bottle’s life is forever changed.
“This is where the whole bottles enter the whole bottle wash… it’s just like your front-end loading washing machine at your house. It’s just a lot longer, and a lot bigger,” Chilton said.
Hot water washes the labels off of drink bottles and shakes out loose debris.
“It’s kinda like your flour sifter at home where you’re sifting-out the big chunks of flour,” Chilton said.
Except these are big chunks of shredded plastic. Hundreds of thousands of kilograms of them. Industry insiders call them “P-E-T flake,” and it’s this product that another facility will buy, melt and mold into something else. The flake fills bags, trucks and is sometimes stored in skyscraping silos.
“These silos hold roughly 300 metric tons of PET flake, and the one we’re standing on now, we have about 150 metric tons of flake, and there’s three of these,” Chilton said.
That means that at any one moment, nearly one kiloton of plastic flake waits here for its next evolution.