No, it’s not dirty, but there is some question as to whether the process used to clean milk jugs in plastic recycling is itself environmentally unsound. Milk jugs are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET). In the typical recycling process, when the bottles are sorted and plastic caps and labels removed, they are cleaned with high pressure jets of water, often containing some sort of solvent chemical. Questions have been raised about this process because it means that the typical recycling plant generates up to 100,000 gallons of wastewater daily. However, some new processes have been developed that use biosolvents to clean bottles, which is touted as being more eco-friendly, especially when coupled with technology that traps carbon vapors generated in the recycling process. The main impetus for this change is economic: it’s getting harder to obtain permits to generate such vast amounts of wastewater, which makes siting a PET recycling plant a tricky proposition.
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