PET Plastic Containers: The #1 Advantage in Food Packaging

Athens Employee Looking at Bales of Clamshells

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PET Plastic Containers: The #1 Advantage in Food Packaging

Recycling plastic clamshell food containers and water bottles is a winning strategy.

The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) estimates that more than 4.5 million tons of plastic are tossed into California landfills annually. According to the 2018 California Waste Characterization, plastic accounts for 12% of the state’s total landfill waste.

BOTTLEBOX all classic hinged containers

A Look at Clamshells and Other #1 PET Plastic Containers

One type of product helping to provide a more recyclable plastic alternative is #1 PET plastic containers. This type of plastic is commonly used for beverage bottles, clamshell to-go packaging, and produce containers. A clamshell is a one-piece container consisting of two halves that can be closed using a hinge.

Advantages of using #1 PET plastic include:

  • Being completely recyclable and recoverable
  • Meeting the global market demand for recycled content products
  • Serving as a more sustainable alternative than foam containers

In June 2020, Athens Services partnered with Direct Pack, a local plastics manufacturer in Sun Valley, California, committed to “full circle recycling” to reclaim and recover #1 PET plastic clamshells and beverage bottles.

Here’s how the process works:

  1. Athens collects acceptable plastic products from curbside containers and businesses
  2. The collected material is taken to Athens’ Sun Valley Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), where they are sorted and bundled into bales based on plastic type
  3. Direct Pack picks up the #1 PET plastic bales and takes them to its recycling facility for reprocessing
  4. Direct Pack washes and breaks down the post-consumer plastic into flakes, which can then be molded to create new recycled PET plastic containers

“It’s been a great partnership. We are recovering materials instead of sending them to the landfill,” said Athens MRF Product Sales Manager Keng Baloco-Wong.

PET Plastic clamshell
Athens employee in front of bale of clamshells

Growing Capacity to Meet Growing Demand

From 2020 to 2021, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for clamshells doubled as people ordered more takeout food. Demand in 2022 is on track to double yet again, and #1 PET plastic has become one of the largest sources of plastic collected and baled at the Sun Valley MRF. Athens also recovers nearly as much #1 PET plastic at the Puente Hills MRF and plans to recover even more at its Irwindale MRF, scheduled to open in late 2023.

Driving Change

Athens is Direct Pack’s largest post-consumer #1 PET provider in California. So much plastic is being recovered that Direct Pack is building a new processing facility in Mexico equipped with advanced technology. On the demand side, Direct Pack is working with commercial customers such as agricultural producers and national restaurant chains to switch to recycled content clamshells.

“The partnership with Athens helps Direct Pack fulfill our ‘Full Circle’ mission of repurposing PET bottles and containers into brand new packaging. Together, we are helping to drive the change with our customers and consumers,” said Direct Pack President Craig Snedden.

How You Can Help

  • When deciding between plastic containers, opt for food packaging that includes the chasing arrows labeled with #1 PET – these have the highest rate of being recovered for recycling
  • Give food containers a quick rinse to remove residue and other potential contaminants
  • Avoid foam containers, where possible
  • Always recycle #1 PET plastic beverage bottles; use CalRecycle’s Container Recycling Center locator tool to help find your closest redemption center

Check out the recyclability of different plastics.

Learn more about Direct Pack’s Full Circle Recycling process by visiting

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