What is rPET?

Waiakea bottles stacked between tree trunks


Free water bottles are a thing now. It seems like someone at every conference, fitness class, or speaker series is handing you a bottle the second you walk in. Sure, it’s a nice perk, and you get something to drink while you’re dozing off in your chair. But have you ever considered what on Earth (literally) happens to these bottles once you’re done guzzling that water?

Chances are, those free water bottles are made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a type of polyester fabric. While PET isn’t great for the environment--it’s costly to produce, made from crude oil, and uses up a lot of energy to manufacture--it does have one great quality: it’s highly recyclable. rPET is the recycled version of your average water bottle, and, like a new iOS, it’s incredibly better than its PET predecessor in a multitude of ways.

Way more eco-friendly, rPET is like a second chance for synthetic materials. A second chance toward reducing landfills, lowering PET’s carbon footprint, and making a sustainable choice for the planet. As a leader in sustainability, Waiākea® is passionate about innovative ways to respect and care for the land. In today’s post, we’ll share the skinny on rPET and how it’s changing the world, one bottle at a time.

What is rPET?

@kelsarita drinking a bottle of volcanic rock filtered Waiakea water

As you may have guessed, the “r” of rPET stands for “recycled.” This repurposed, post-consumer material is used for producing a variety of products, including bottles, backpacks, and clothing. Though it’s taken a while for the world to catch onto the benefits of recycling, believe it or not, rPET was first patented back in 1973! The first rPET bottle was recycled in 1977.

Now rPET is one of the world’s most commonly used and trusted materials. More than half the world’s synthetic fiber is made from rPET, and almost all individual-sized and 2-liter bottles of carbonated soft drinks and water sold in the U.S. are made from rPET.

The use of rPET is on the rise as a result of its low carbon footprint (saving raw materials by requiring less energy), recyclability (reducing waste), and strong environmental credentials. As more and more brands continue to adopt the use of rPET, our generation is setting a standard where rPET is routinely used instead of regular PET bottles.

Where is rPET used?

@trendychickadee sitting on a lifeguard station at the beach drinking Waiakea water

rPET takes on many forms once it’s recycled. It’s frequently used in the production of clear beverage bottles. Another surprising use of rPET materials is in the creation of recycled fibers worldwide. The automobile, textile, telecommunications, and home furnishings sector benefit from rPET production since rPET fabric can be used to make pillows, blankets, mattresses, insulation products, and car seats. rPET has even been made into food packaging, shoes, clothing, and reusable shopping bags.

Is Using rPET Better for the Earth?

Person holding a bottle of Waiakea water making peace sign

rPET is incredibly sustainable because it uses 85% less energy to manufacture and 90% less water to produce as compared to PET products. The creation of rPET material also emits 90% lower carbon emissions compared to PET products. Finally, rPET bottles are 100% recyclable, including the bottle, label, and cap, which lessens landfill usage and cuts down on overall pollution of the environment.

The use of rPET products also leads to some indirect yet positive effects on the environment. rPET bottles are lighter than glass bottles, which means they reduce the use of fuel when being transported. As a result, increased usage of rPET leads to fewer CO2 emissions being transmitted to the environment.

Most importantly, the existence of rPET products means we aren’t just throwing PET bottles away but are recycling the material into a new and useful commodity instead. rPET recycling gives us the opportunity to take better care of the environment and make a difference in our carbon footprint before it’s too late.

Advantages of using rPET

@stephaniedujour close-up of Waiakea water bottle and tropical leaf fronds

It goes without saying that rPET definitely lends us a hand toward conserving resources and lessening the strain on our environment. Here are some more benefits of using rPET products:

  • Eco-Friendly. It takes less energy to recycle and produce an rPET bottle than to manufacture a PET bottle. The process of converting rPET uses much less energy than aluminum, glass, and other commonly used materials. It also leads to more conservation of raw materials and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 65%.
  • 100% Recyclable. rPET bottles can be recycled over and over again in their entirety. This makes rPET one of the most sustainable choices a company can make for bottling water.
  • Versatile. As we hinted above, rPET isn’t only used to manufacture eco-friendly bottles, but fiber as well. The production of fiber from rPET is worlds more environmentally friendly than that of natural fibers. Cotton crops need a huge amount of pesticides and fertilizers to grow well. They require even more chemicals to process. Organic cotton uses a high amount of energy and isn’t sustainable for purposes of preserving the Earth’s resources. By measurement, rPET fibers are even more sustainable than organic hemp. rPET can also be used to make filling for jackets and sleeping bags, industrial straps, sheets and film, carpet fibers, and automotive parts.
  • Durable. rPET bottles are shatterproof. No need to worry about dropping an rPET bottle on the floor. It won’t make a mess like glass and will most likely stay intact, thereby reducing the chance of waste.
  • Safe and hygienic. rPET has been approved by the FDA as being safe for packaging food and beverages. rPET has been used for years to make food and beverage packaging and is comparable to PET products.
  • Lightweight. rPET material is as light as regular plastic and up to 85% lighter than glass. It takes 27 pounds of glass versus 2 pounds of plastic to deliver 1,000 ounces of a beverage!
  • Less strain on natural resources and air quality. It actually takes less energy to recycle and create an RPET bottle than to produce a virgin PET product. The lightweight, durable, and compact nature of rPET means more products can be transported with less packaging and less fuel for transport. Not only does this save on paper, plastic, and fuel, but it also means fewer trucks on the road, which leads to less pollution in the air. Using rPEt means we become less dependent on petroleum as a raw material. It also encourages companies and consumers alike to put products back into the stream of recycling rather than dumping them after first use.

Closing the Loop on the Recycling Process

@d.r.e.w.b.y holding a bottle of Waiakea water at the beach

The concept of closed-loop recycling involves a three-step process for handling post-consumer waste. The waste is first collected, then recycled, and finally used to create a new product from recycled material. We as consumers directly contribute to this process by separating recyclable waste from non-recyclable waste so that it can be recycled as well as by continuing to support companies that use rPET products.

The success of a recycling system depends wholly on consumers, recyclers, and manufacturers pitching in together. Getting post-consumer waste through the system, from collection to manufacture and back to the consumer, means our efforts have effectively “closed the loop.” Let’s take a look at each step in closer detail.

  • Collection: The first step in a closed-loop system is the collection process. Consumers do their part by putting recyclable products into curbside recycling bins or taking them to a nearby drop-off center.

Look for the “chasing arrow” symbol on any packaging that you want to discard. If there’s a number 1 inside the symbol, that means you can send your waste to be recycled into rPET material. These collected waste materials are then processed at various recycling facilities and readied for manufacturing.

  • Manufacturing: Turning the recycled rPET material into a new creation is the second step of the system. Manufacturers make many different new products from recycled material and send them to retailers. The retailers then package the new products for re-selling.
  • Purchasing: In what some consider the most important step in the process, consumers purchase products made from recycled materials. By supporting companies that use recycled materials in their production and packaging, consumers hold all the power to close the loop of the recycling system. This is how recycling can make a difference in the state of the Earth’s environment.

How is rPET Changing How We Look At Sustainability?

@carakuulei drinking Waiakea water at the ocean

Views on recycling have changed drastically over the past twenty years. The Beverage Marketing Corporation has found that the average amount of rPET material per container used by beverage companies rose from 3.3% to 18.2% between 2008 and 2017. That’s a 452% increase in rPET usage.

However, there is still much progress to be made. While some companies have changed their bottles to include 50% or 75% rPET material, the most sustainable option would be to use 100% rPET bottles for beverages. Beverage bottles that use 50% aluminum and 50% rPET are still leaving 50% of their materials dependent on harmful environmental practices, such as bauxite mining. The use of fully post-consumer recycled material by all companies is still a long way off.

Making a Statement with rPET

Bottle of Waiakea bottled water and tropical flower against ocean scene

How can you support the race to save our Earth’s natural resources? First of all, do your best to recycle both rpET and PET bottles. You can tell it’s a recyclable container by the #1 code on the bottom. By converting post-consumer PET waste into a valuable resource, you’re giving that container a second run on Earth instead of sending it straight to the landfills. It also gives recycling facilities the resources to operate and improve their processes.

You also make a difference by choosing brands that use rPET in their products. Though it seems like a small step, each time you make an effort to recycle and buy products made of recycled materials, you’re communicating to the global market that recycling works.

When companies choose to include rPET in every product, they also continue to make a case for recycled materials. Using 100% of recycled materials means taking a stand to move the entire industry forward. This is a movement that calls for companies to invest fully in a responsible and sustainable system that will improve the quality of waste recycling for years to come.

Are you ready to take a stand and opt for rPET-only products? Try a bottle of Waiākea®’s naturally filtered volcanic water. Waiākea prides itself on using high-grade, fully recycled material for all of its bottles. Make your statement today and opt for sustainably-sourced water bottled with 100% rPET and the utmost care and respect for mother nature.