thought-leadership Thought Leadership

March 18, 2023 / 4 minute read

What Exactly Happens to Your Recycled Laundry Detergent Bottles?

Written by Kristen Rinehart, Vice President and General Manager of Recycling 

At ADS, we are incredibly excited to celebrate Global Recycling Day today. Because for us, plastic recycling isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s absolutely critical to our business success. Roughly 50% of the plastic we purchase is recycled. It’s often more affordable than virgin plastic and has the added bonus of being much more kind to our environment, communities, lakes, streams and oceans. We recycled some 600 million pounds of plastic last year, transforming it into the stormwater pipes and chambers we produce to manage our most precious resource: water.

Ultimately, our goal is to utilize more than 1 billion pounds of recycled plastic annually by 2032. It won’t be easy to get there. But thanks to partnerships with Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) across the country, including Rumpke, Waste Management, FCC Environmental Services and many others, we have a proven process that keeps getting more efficient at converting plastics from the curbside and collection sites to ADS pipes in the ground. Here, in a nutshell, is how that works:

It starts at the curb: At ADS, we recycle mostly high-density polyethylene (HDPE), so I’ll focus there. When you see a #2 symbol on consumer plastics products, you are looking at HDPE — most commonly used for milk, shampoo, detergent and other nontransparent containers.­­ When residents put plastics into their recycling bins at the curb, our MRF partners pick them up and send them to their sorting facilities. Did you know, about 40% of Americans don’t have access to curbside recycling programs? So, ADS is consistently working with partners such as the Recycling Partnership, to help all of us recycle more. Do you know your municipality’s policies on recycling?

MRF sorting: A combination of human power and machine sorting separates the various types of plastics, cardboard, glass, metals and other waste that make their way to these sorting facilities. Like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory — only more messy — amazing technology shakes, turns and separates these materials. Then, near-infrared sensors trigger hundreds of individual air nozzles that literally shoot the HDPE off to conveyors to where the plastic items are compressed into bales and sent to ADS.

ADS Recycling steps in: When those bales arrive at one of ADS’ recycling facilities, our workers step in to do an initial separation to ensure the HDPE is isolated in our recycling stream. Anything that doesn’t make the cut (glass, aluminum, other plastics) is collected and resold or recycled. At our facilities, we also gather post-industrial plastics such as pallets, containers, automotive parts, trays and films from other partners.

The plastic is then ground to small flakes and sent through high-intensity washers to remove labels and further separate any “heavy” plastics such as PVC and PET, dirt, wood or metals, which sink to the bottom of the washer tanks. Agitators further scrub the HDPE of other pollutants such as paper and glues, and then the plastic flake is placed in massive dryers, which remove moisture from the material.

An elutriator — a fancy word for another dryer ­­— removes any remaining fluff, and, then the clean plastic is mixed with other materials aligned to recipes created and perfected by ADS materials scientists. That specific mix is then melted, further filtered and diced into tiny pellets, which are cooled in a water bath and dried. These pellets are blended with other materials to achieve the material properties required to meet the pipe performance standards. Rigorous material testing ensures we provide the 35+ ADS pipe manufacturing plants with the highest-quality recycled plastic pellets.

ADS manufacturing plants: The plastic pellets are melted and formed into stormwater pipes that are then delivered to infrastructure, residential, industrial, agricultural and environmental stormwater projects all over North America.

And that’s where you’ll find our plastic pipes with the notable green stripe. It’s certainly not a simple process to turn single-use plastics from the curb into high-quality plastic pipes, where they can last underground upward of 100 years. It’s a process that we’re constantly reviewing and improving in order to deliver the best product while keeping as much plastic out of landfills as possible. ADS takes short-term, single-use plastics and converts them to a long-term use solution that protects and serves our communities for decades.

If you’re interested in learning more about ADS Recycling, or how you can partner with us to recycle even more plastic, please reach out to me at


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