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For years, society operated with a cradle-to-grave mentality where products were created, used, and then thrown away. Neville Browne believes it's time to bury the cradle-to-grave way of thinking for plastic bottles, and replace it with a cradle-to-cradle approach.

Heather Caliendo

March 16, 2012

3 Min Read
New California facility recycles 2 billion plastic bottles a year

For years, society operated with a cradle-to-grave mentality where products were created, used, and then thrown away. 

Neville Browne believes it's time to bury the cradle-to-grave way of thinking for plastic bottles, and replace it with a cradle-to-cradle approach.

"Anyone making a plastic bottle today should have a cradle-to-cradle mentality," Browne, president of CarbonLite, told PlasticsToday. "We cannot keep taking virgin resources and just dispose of it. There are better ways."

Browne, and his business partner Leon Farahnik, founded CarbonLite, one of the world's largest post-consumer plastic bottle recycling facilities devoted to producing bottle-grade raw material that can then be used to make new plastic beverage bottles. Located in Riverside, CA, the recently opened 220,000 sq-ft plant will recover more than 2 billion plastic PET bottles annually from California's curbside and redemption value programs.

This process can help conserve virgin resources, reduce landfill waste, and capitalize on the energy already invested in making existing plastic products, the company stated.

Previously, most plastic bottles collected in California were exported to China and downcycled into polyester fiber. CarbonLite seeks to change this cycle, and keep the resources in the U.S.

Products made using PET resin are recyclable and sustainable, as PET can be recycled numerous times, turning bottles back into bottles, the company stated. The PET resin offered by CarbonLite will have been processed using a method that has received an LNO (letter of non-objection) from the FDA, allowing it to be used at levels up to 100% recycled content in the manufacture of PET bottles and containers for direct contact with all food types under cold fill and hot fill conditions.

Recycling 2 billion PET bottles a year will also avoid the need for the 48 million gallons of gas that would be required to make new bottles from virgin plastic, according to CarbonLite. The company plans to double capacity to more than 4 billion bottles a year in mid-2013.

The PET bottles are collected through curbside programs and deposit collection centers where the used bottles arrive at the Riverside facility in bales. It is then segregated by type and color, washed, and chopped into corn flake-like material. The flakes will go through a decontamination process to satisfy FDA requirements, and CarbonLite will produce pellets from these purified flakes. These pellets are in turn used as a direct substitute for virgin material in all PET applications including food-grade packaging.

PepsiCo and Nestlé Waters have already signed on with the CarbonLite system to help achieve sustainability goals.  

"I think brands are very keen on the bottle-to-bottle recycling situation because it gives them the perfect answer to the environmental question," he said. "Everyone wants to see it work out."

CarbonLite has plans to eventually open a bottle-to-bottle recycling facility on the East Coast. Browne said he hopes to see more facilities like this all across the country.

"We believe this is where the future is heading, and that's why we have invested in this business," Browne said. "We can't image being wrong about that."

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