How to Recycle Plastic Water Bottles

Plastic water bottles are not an uncommon sight in the average American home refrigerator. They’re also always stashed in vending machines for those who want a healthier beverage choice than sugary soft drinks or juices.

They’re served at some quick-service restaurants straight out of the bottle. If you go to a concert, a sports game, or a live event, water is again sold in plastic bottles and not cups.

It used to be that most people didn’t think much about what happened to their plastic water bottles when they were done drinking them. They threw the empty bottles into the nearest waste bin and that was that.

What they didn’t know was their choices would affect people for hundreds of years. 

Today, we’re an eco-friendlier society, and most people make a strong effort to recycle plastics like water bottles. You too may be interested in working towards a brighter, greener planet by recycling.

How exactly do you recycle plastic water bottles, though?

Throwing them into a recycling bin, if that’s what you’ve been doing, may not be enough. You will more than likely have to take your bottles to a nearby recycling center to ensure they’re truly being recycled and not just thrown away. 

Wait, you mean not all bottles marked for recycling are repurposed or recycled? Yes, it’s sad but true. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about recycling plastic water bottles. 

Why You Should Recycle Plastic

Not all water bottles are made of the same kind of plastic. There’s polyethylene terephthalate or PET plastic bottles, polystyrene-PS (PP) plastic bottles, and high-intensity polyethylene or HDPE bottles. 

The naked eye of the average consumer might not be able to tell PET and HDPE bottles apart. To them, a bottle is a bottle.

When those plastic water bottles end up in the garbage instead of in the recycling bin, they’re transported to a local landfill. There, the difference between plastics becomes especially noticeable. 

Data from Mercer Group International, a material recovery facility, says it can be up to 400 years before plastic water bottles will break down completely.

It may actually be more than that. PET plastic may degrade within 50 years and HDPE plastic within 100, but that’s on the shorter end. PP plastics will fully degrade within 1,000 years! 

While it’s true that sunlight can speed up the process, even still, 50 or 100 years is still a mighty long time. 

What’s the big issue with plastics sitting around in a landfill? The chemicals within plastic bottles do not remain idle over the 10, 50, or 100 (or more!) years it takes for them to degrade.

As the bottles naturally get wet from the rain, the chemicals leak out, absorbing into the ground. From there, the chemicals travel to our natural water supplies. Both people and animals can be affected by this.

You already know the dangers of bisphenol A from reading this blog. Yes, BPAs are not just found in reusable plastic water bottles, but recyclable plastic ones, too.

They’re not the only chemicals you have to worry about. Phthalates, coloring agents, flame retardants, bisphenol F, and bisphenol S are all contained within plastic water bottles. 

A report from Environment Health News found that exposure to BPA and phthalates can lead to premature births.

Human hormones can be negatively impacted by coloring agents and flame retardants in plastic bottles. All bisphenols A through S could potentially be carcinogenic as well. 

There’s a lot more at stake than the environment when it comes to recycling our plastic bottles, then. Our health is at risk, too. 

How to Recycle Plastic Water Bottles 

The dangers of failing to recycle have been on everyone’s radars in recent years. In fact, according to, PET plastic bottles are recycled at a rate of 33.4 percent. That’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing.

There’s always more work that can be done. For each plastic bottle, you properly recycle, you can ensure that it doesn’t end up in a landfill, slowly polluting us and the local wildlife.

The easiest and most convenient way to recycle is to put your plastic bottles in a recycle bin, right? Yes, but this isn’t always as effective as you’d think.

According to a 2015 article in The Atlantic, recycling company TerraCycle’s CEO said that half of the bottles and other recyclable materials aren’t recycled. Instead, they’re “sorted and thrown out.”

Instead of adding to that unsettling statistic, it’s recommended you find a recycling center in your neighborhood. There, you can ensure there’s a higher likelihood of your recyclable materials being recycled instead of thrown away.

You can make it easier for recycling centers to do their job in several ways.

First, you should get rid of the bottle caps. Sometimes recycling centers don’t want the caps, so check with yours first before doing unnecessary work.

Caps that are recycled can be left on the bottles, but those that cannot be recycled should be kept somewhere else for the time being.

Now open the bottle and wash it out. You can use soap for this, but it’s not necessary. Filling the bottle, capping it, and shaking it around should make the bottle sufficiently clean enough for recycling centers. 

Next, take the plastic seal or label off the bottle. Wipe away any glue or residue from the label being stuck around the bottle. Do this for all the bottles you have.

The water bottles don’t have to be in perfect condition. In fact, you can even crush them down to make more space in your trash bag. Again, make sure they don’t have the caps on when you do this.

You can now take your water bottles to the recycling center. Feel free to do this as many times per week or per month as are necessary to get rid of all your plastic bottles. 

Some recycling centers even offer curbside pickup, so be sure to check with your local facility. If they pick up the bottles for you, this makes life a lot easier for you. You don’t have to worry about driving out to drop off your bottles. 

Can You Make Money Recycling Plastic?

Of course, recycling plastic water bottles (and other bottles) isn’t a thankless job. Some states across the country will offer you money if you bring your bottles in to be recycled. 

Now, you’re not going to get rich doing this, since the sum is never significant. It may be as little as five cents and sometimes as much as 10 cents, such as in Michigan.

If you call Michigan home, though, you’d have to bring in 10 bottles to make a single dollar. 

You can’t just bring in any of the bottles, either. You have to categorize them based on HDPE, PP, or PET. Once you organize them, you can bag them up separately based on plastic-type and make a few cents. 

Now, the good news is more than just plastic water bottles are accepted. Almost any bottle type is okay, including glass bottles. You can even bring aluminum soda and beverage cans in to be recycled. 

If you’re a serious recycler, you’ll be able to make a couple of bucks just for helping the environment (and yourself and your fellow citizens). You can use that money to buy a coffee, a snack, or even to contribute to filling up your gas tank. 

While you’ll never be able to quit your day job and pursue recycling as a career, it’s still cool that you’ll get even a little bit of money simply for doing the right thing. If money isn’t an incentive to start recycling, we’re not sure what is. 


Decades ago, we weren’t as attuned to our planet as we are today. Recycling plastic water bottles and other types of bottles wasn’t as high on the priority list back then. We’d just throw our bottles in the trash.

Those bottles are brought to landfills, where they can sit for decades. In some instances, plastic water bottles won’t fully break down for hundreds of years, sometimes up to a thousand years! 

The chemicals in the water bottle plastic can leak into our groundwater supply and slowly poison us, causing hormone imbalances, premature births, and more

. BPAs and other bisphenols can even be cancerous. 

The choices we make today can affect humankind for hundreds of years from now. Throwing your plastic bottles in the recycling bin isn’t always enough. Some bottles marked for recycling end up in the landfill anyway. 

To truly do your part, it’s recommended you bring your organized and cap-free (most of the time) plastic water bottles to a local recycling center. There, you can even make some money, typically a few cents per recycled bottle. Hey, it’s not much, but it’s nice to be rewarded for doing your part for the environment.

Now that you know how to recycle plastic water bottles as well as what happens when you don’t, recycling in the future should be a no-brainer.

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