How to Recycle Plastic Bottles: An Eco-Friendly Guide

How to Recycle Plastic Bottles: An Eco-Friendly Guide

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

It’s simple enough to remember, but when it comes to actually putting this alliteration into practice, many find it easier said than done. 

Anyone working to live to a more sustainable lifestyle can attest that recycling capabilities and local resources have changed over the years and are ever-evolving! The rules surrounding proper recycling, particularly for plastic bottles, have changed greatly, and every state implements its own unique recycling guidelines, leaving us to wonder: What’s the correct way to recycle my plastic bottles?

Luckily, we can help clear the air (both metaphorically and literally). Read on to learn everything you need to know about how to recycle plastic bottles, properly.

To Wash or Not to Wash?

If you struggle over whether to add another R to your recycling motto—rinse—you’re not alone. While some sources claim rinsing your recyclables is required for a proper recycling process, others argue that this practice only results in wasted water.

The truth is, you should rinse out your plastic recyclables (unless they were just filled with water) before tossing them into your recycling bin. The reasons behind this are twofold:

  • Cross contamination – If you throw away a bottle of juice before you finish the last few sips, it can leak onto the other items in your recycling bin or at the recycling facility. This type of contamination is especially detrimental for mixed recycling facilities, which collect plastic, metal and paper in a single bin.

Consider this: If your leftover juice spills onto a piece of cardboard, that once recyclable item is now wet and sticky and can no longer be repurposed. In some cases, the contamination of other recyclables can lead facilities to send entire loads of otherwise perfectly acceptable recyclables to the landfill.

  • Odors and pests – If you toss a bottle that was once filled with something sweet before rinsing it out, it can attract insects and pests. Additionally, when unwashed plastics (or washed plastics that contain leftover liquids) sit in recycling bins for days or even weeks at a time, they can produce odors and mold, ruling them out as potential recyclables.
A quick rinse under your faucet to remove any residue should be enough to do the trick. 

Caps On or Caps Off?

Many recycling facilities can now process plastic water bottle caps and recommend leaving them on your bottles when you recycle to prevent them from getting lost during transportation.

However, every municipality has different preferences regarding plastic bottle caps, so it’s best to check with your local recycling center or use a source like Earth911 to find more information about your area’s recycling requirements before putting a cap on this subject.

Lose the Label?

Leaving the labels on your plastic water bottles won’t prevent them from being recycled. At ZenWTR, we go a step further and use special washable inks for our labels that allow for their recycled material to be reused for a wider range of products. Typically, a label’s inks do not wash away and leave a discoloration that limits the plastic’s end-uses.

Plastic Bins or Plastic Bags?

When it comes to collecting your plastics, skip the plastic bag and choose an empty recycling bin instead. Not only will this encourage you to keep those plastics clean and dry, but it also helps prevent issues down the line at your recycling facility. Plastic bags can become tangled in your facility’s sorting process and cause costly and time-consuming equipment jams.

To find out the best way to recycle your plastic bags, contact your local recycling center. You can also check out your local grocery store, as many offer plastic bag recycling options.

Understanding Recycling Labels

We’ve all become familiar with the standard recycling symbol—three arrows that form the iconic recycling triangle encouraging us to close the loop. But have you ever noticed a number stamped in the middle of this triangle? That’s your plastic’s resin identification code, used by recycling plants to help sort and process materials based on their plastic classification. By understanding what each code represents, you can learn which plastics can be collected and recycled through your local curbside program, and which plastics may require additional recycling steps. 

Recycling by the Numbers

Plastic recyclables are categorized into seven different categories. These include: 

  1. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE)
  2. High-density polyethylene (HDPE)
  3. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
  4. Low-density polyethylene (LDPE)
  5. Polypropylene (PP)
  6. Polystyrene (PS)
  7. Miscellaneous plastics

Atop the list, PET plastic is the most widely recycled plastic in the world. Durable, yet lightweight, it’s used for everything from soda bottles and microwave meal trays, to jars of peanut butter and take-out containers.

Fun fact: PET plastic is also used to create ZenWTR bottles. That means they’re 100% recyclable. In fact, as the most recycled plastic worldwide, over 1.5 billions pounds of PET plastic are collected every year for recycling in the U.S.[1] 

When PET plastics, including ZenWTR bottles, are processed, they’re broken down into flakes which are then washed, rinsed, and dried, before being melted into new PET resin—in other words, new plastic.

This new plastic is then repurposed to create materials such as fiber for clothes and shoes, insulation for comforters and sleeping bags, and even totes and backpacks.

If you’re wondering, Where can I recycle plastic bottles and contribute to this repurposing? You’re in luck. PET plastic bottles can be conveniently collected through your local curbside pick-up program.

To learn more about what items the remaining six plastic categories are used for, as well as how to recycle them properly, dive into our full Recycling By the Numbers blog.

Where to Recycle Plastic Bottles

Since nearly all plastic bottles are made from either #1 PET or #2 HDPE plastics, recycling them through your local curbside pick-up program is a convenient and affordable way to help protect our planet. However, if you choose to take your bottles directly to a recycling center, you can help keep plastics out of the ocean while adding paper to your wallet by receiving payment for your contributions.

Direct recycling refunds vary from state to state, but generally, recycling facilities will pay five cents for plastics containers under 24 ounces and ten cents for containers over 24 ounces.[2]

Reuse Plastic Bottles at Home

Recycling your plastic bottles can mean more than taking them to a recycling center. With a few arts and crafts supplies, you can repurpose your plastic bottles at home by creating:

  • Planters – Go green in more ways than one by using your plastic bottles as planters for succulents, flowers, and herbs. Simply cut your plastic bottle in half and fill the bottom with soil. You can even paint the outside for a unique decorative touch. Be sure to recycle the top half and any other unused parts of the bottle.
  • Bird feeders – Our aquatic friends aren’t the only animals who can benefit from recycling. Hang your plastic bottles outside and fill them with bird seed to create plastic bottle bird feeders. That way, even our feathered friends can benefit from your recycling efforts.
  • Storage containers – If you’re searching for extra storage, skip the store and use plastic bottles to design your own storage containers. By cutting off the top third of your bottle to create a wider opening, you can create a tube to hold art supplies, makeup brushes, or snacks! Check out this great tutorial for the right way to do this! Just remember to recycle the remaining third of the bottle you’re not using to ensure it doesn’t end up in a landfill or on our coasts.

ZenWTR: 100% Recycled Bottles, 100% Recyclable

When we work together to understand and implement proper recycling practices, our individual efforts add up to a major impact. Not only can recycling help keep plastics out of our oceans and landfills, ensuring the longevity of over 267 marine species,[3] but it can also lead to the conservation of natural resources, reduced greenhouse gas emissions used to create new plastic and decreased pollution.

That’s why at ZenWTR, we’ve made it our mission to take the guesswork out of recycling by creating bottles, bottle caps, and even labels that are 100% recyclable.

Plus, we commit every 1% of ZenWTR sales to funding organizations dedicated to ocean conservation and recycling education and advocacy.

Take a more refreshing approach to sustainability by choosing ZenWTR.

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Recycling Center Near Me

PETRA. An Introduction to PET.  

Chemical Safety Facts. Polystyrene.  

Cal Recycle. Frequently Asked Questions. 

Clean Water Action. The Problem of Marine Plastic Pollution. 

Lifehack. 30 Mind-Blowing Ways to Upcycle Plastic Bottles At Home And The Office. 


[1] PETRA. An Introduction to PET. 

[2] Cal Recycle. Frequently Asked Questions.

[3] Clean Water Action. The Problem of Marine Plastic Pollution.