Game Changer: Ice River Spring

What if you took all the used pop and water bottles made from PET plastic and manufactured new PET bottles out of them? And what if you made sure those recycled bottles went back into the recycling stream to become bottles again? You’d get a re-recycled — and eventually a re-re-recycled — container for your beverage.

Right now, though, the vast majority of PET plastic used for manufacturing pop, water and juice bottles are made with virgin resin — new plastic that has just been derived from non-renewable petroleum. But Ice River Springs, a plastic-bottle manufacturer and bottled water company based in Shelburne, Ont., is turning the making of PET bottles on its cap. 

“At Ice River we collect PET plastic bottles and use those to produce new bottles,” says Crystal Howe, the company’s sustainability manager. “We’re creating a closed loop for this stream of plastic.” 

Currently, only a portion of PET bottles are recycled — usually into T-shirts or fleece sweaters that can’t be recycled after their lifetime. “By creating a closed loop, we’re moving toward a more sustainable bottle and toward zero-plastic waste,” says Howe. She explains that bales of crushed PET bottles arrive at Ice River’s plastics recycling arm, which chops the bottles into flakes. These flakes are then used to create a new food-grade resin with some flex that’s moulded into bottles used to package the company’s own spring water. 

But Ice River is also changing some large food retailers’ plastic habits, too, with grocery stores such as Sobeys, Metro and Loblaws, as well as Walmart, now pouring their private-label beverages into Ice River’s bottles. (While Ice River’s own water comes in green bottles — its brand colour comes from the recycling of green PET plastics — co-packaging with store brands is done in blue bottles.) 

The focus on creating a more sustainable bottle also means reducing the amount of plastic that goes into each bottle made by Ice River. “We’ve gone from a bottle that weighed 20 grams to one that weighs only 8.5 grams,” says Howe. “So, in the end, we’ve shown that it’s possible not only to create a thinner and smaller bottle; we’ve shown the industry that it’s possible to create a safe, durable bottle from 100 per cent recycled and post-consumer content.”  

As if to underscore that point, Howe throws out a question, “Would you bother to mop up the floor if the tap was still running? At Ice River, we turn off the tap.”