Ice River Springs Water Co. Inc., at one point, simply threw away about half of the green PET bottles the company received through its recycling operations.
But now the bottled water firm is using all the recycled green plastic it can get its hands on and wants even more thanks to a decision to create 15-liter water cooler bottles from the recycled material.
Launched in Western Canada under the company's Arrowhead brand, the new green recycled PET containers aim to take a chunk out of the returnable polycarbonate container business that's now common in the water cooler market.
Green PET bottles represent about 3.5 percent to 4 percent of the weight of bales that come into Blue Mountain Plastics of Shelburne, Ontario, the recycling arm of Ice River Springs. About half of that material, historically, has been sold off to strap makers. But the other half of those Sprite, 7UP and Mountain Dew bottles simply were sent to a landfill.
"Traditionally, green has been a material I would say has been downcycled or not recycled at all," said Ryan L'Abbe, vice president at Blue Mountain Plastics.
"What we're trying to do here is find a way to reuse green flake over and over again," he said. "Instead of downcycling it, we found a way to integrate it into a bottle stream to be used over and over and over again."
Polycarbonate water cooler bottles typically are collected and refilled. But Ice River Springs wants to change consumer behavior with the new green PET water cooler bottle.
Despite its larger size compared to other plastic bottles used by consumers, L'Abbe said his company's new green water cooler bottles can be turned on their sides and crushed by foot so they can fit into residential recycling containers and not take up too much room.
"We want to find the right solution. Our belief is that we want to keep the PET molecule in motion and we want it in applications that can be used over and over again," he said.
Making a new water cooler bottle out of recycled green pop bottles, or even other used water cooler bottles, gives the green PET continued life.
"Few companies need the green plastic that we collect from our recycling operation. We have launched Arrowhead water in green bottles to make use of this plastic and take it out of landfills," CEO Jamie Gott said in a statement.
Ice River Mountain makes most of its money by selling lots of bottled water, often under private labels. More than 100 million cases a year.
About half of the plastic used for those water bottles is recycled, and some retailers use 100-percent recycled content bottles in their products. Others are more comfortable using a blend of recycled and virgin resin.
"The big challenge for us and the same for other PET reprocessors is there's just not enough baled material available out there. Our CEO has been pretty clear in saying there's enough plastic on the planet today for us to use," he said.
"The challenge," L'Abbe said, "is how do we convince customers, when they consume that water bottle, to get it back into a curbside collection system or a collection system of some sort?"
Ice River Springs, in 2011, said it became the first bottled water company in North America to make its own resin using 100-percent recycled plastic. The process used to clean and then purify recycled PET flake into food-grade resin has been approved by Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Green water cooler bottle preforms, weighing 305 grams and made from recycled resin, are made in Shelburne and shipped via rail car to a company bottling plant in Calgary.