Plastic bottles make for green Bottle Box

San Diego, CA - SAN DIEGO, CA - Factory worker Nadim Bahou sorts through old plastic bottles. He says this is just one step of a remarkable transformation.

"We take all the bottles that come back from the grocery stores - soft drink bottles, water bottles - we take it in, we grind it, we wash it, we make the actual sheet out of it, and then we package it," he said of the creation of the Bottle Box.

It starts with 1,000-pound bales of PET or No. 1 plastic, 70 percent of which is divided by machine. The rest is done by hand. Lids, caps and labels are rejected, leaving only the clear or green bottles to go to the next stop where it is ground into plastic flakes.

San Diego-based Rubio's Restaurant is following the path of these old bottles to create its own 100 percent recycled salad bowl. It's more expensive to make than styrofoam, but restaurant manager Laura Copic says it's the right thing to do.

Bahou agrees: "Instead of sending it directly to the trash and it never gets disposed of, we can take it and use it and save the energy and start all over again, over and over and over."

The chips are heated to 500 degrees, spread out and cooled to make clear plastic sheets. The sheets can then be formed into a variety of products. Some are shaped into one piece containers that will eventually hold produce in a supermarket. The Rubios project more sophisticated and difficult.

"Well for the bottom it takes two bottles," Copic said. "And for the top it takes two bottles and we're going to be using it for both dine in and take out."

By looking at it, you'd never know it's recycled and while it's getting a new life, it's still not over.

"If it comes back to me," Bahou said, "I will definitely make sure it gets recycled but you have to do your part, you have to send it to me."

Copyright 2010 WMBF News. All rights reserved.