HDPE Bottles

HIGH-DENSITY POLYETHYLENE (HDPE) resin is produced from the chemical compound ethylene. HDPE bottles are blow-molded. Bottles are used for detergents, shampoos, motor oil, milk and other liquid products, and drugs and cosmetic products. Milk bottles are the single biggest HDPE package. Most milk and water bottles use a natural-colored HDPE resin. Bottles used for detergents, shampoos and other products often have colorants added to the resin.

Injection-molded HDPE containers are used for products such as margarine and yogurt. Bottles have 90 percent of the HDPE “rigid package” market, while containers have the remainder.

HDPE resin also can be used to make bottle and container caps, and flexible packaging such as sacks and trash bags. Bottles and containers are more than half of all HDPE packaging products. HDPE bottles and containers use the No. 2 in the plastic resin code.

HDPE bottles and containers began displacing heavier metal, glass and paper packages in the 1970s. Although the amount of HDPE used in packages has almost tripled since 1980, HDPE's solid waste market share is still less than 1 percent.

This profile only covers HDPE bottles and containers.

Chaz Miller is state programs director for the Environmental Industry Associations, Washington, D.C. E-mail the author at: [email protected]

HDPE Bottles Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Facts:


  • 1.98 million tons or 0.86% by weight.*
  • 0.74 million tons of milk and water bottles.*
  • 1.24 million tons of containers for other products.*
  • 13.9 pounds per person.*


  • 380,000 tons or a 19.2% recycling rate.*
  • 210,000 tons of milk and water bottles, or a 28.4% recycling rate.*
  • 170,000 tons of other bottles or a 13.7% recycling rate.*
  • 400,100 tons or a 24.2% recycling rate in 2002 (industry data).

Recycled Content:

  • Some non-food bottles have small amounts of recycled HDPE.


  • HDPE does not compost.

Incinerated or Landfilled:

  • 1.6 million tons or 1% of discarded MSW by weight.*
  • Highly combustible with 18,690 Btus per pound, more than three times that of MSW.
  • Not biodegradable in landfills.

Landfill Volume:

  • 6.3 million cubic yards in 1997.
  • 1.5% of landfilled MSW in 1997.


  • Landfilled milk jugs weigh 355 pounds per cubic yard (lbs/cy).
  • Loose milk jugs weigh 24 lbs/cy.
  • Flattened milk jugs weigh 65 lbs/cy.
  • Loose, colored HDPE bottles weigh 45 lbs/cy.
  • Bales of HDPE generally weigh 500 to 800 pounds.

Source Reduction:

An empty 1-gallon milk jug weighed 95 grams in 1970. Now, it weighs less than 60 grams.

Recycling Markets:

Packaging, drainage pipe, film, pallets, and plastic lumber and exports.

End-Market Specifications:

ISRI Scrap Specifications Circular 2003: Baled Recycled Plastic Standard P-200 (HDPE Mixed), P-201 (HDPE Natural) or P-202 (HDPE Pigmented) for bottles only. The specs allow for 2% contamination, no free liquids and UV protection.

Injection-molded containers often are incompatible with blow-molded bottles in reprocessing operations.


American Plastics Council, Washington, D.C. Web site: www.plasticsresource.org

“Design for Recycling, A Plastic Bottle Recyclers Perspective,” Society of Plastics Industries, February 1992.

“Measurement Standards and Reporting Guidelines,” National Recycling Coalition, Alexandria, Va. Web site: www.nrcrecycle.org

“Municipal Solid Waste In the United States: 2001 Facts and Figures,” U.S. EPA Office of Solid Waste, 2003. Web site: www.epa.gov/osw

“Scrap Specifications Circular 2003,” Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington, D.C. Web site: www.isri.org.

*2001 EPA estimates.