NC State Extension Publications


This publication shows how to build a simple, economical bale press and gives instructions on baling plastic bottles and jugs. The baler is ideal for small recycling programs with limited resources. Using the bale press, plastic bottles and jugs can be compressed into bales approximately 3 feet long, 2 feet wide, and 1 foot deep. Each bale holds at least 200 plastic milk jugs and weighs 35 to 40 pounds. This baling method requires no fork-lift or electricity.

The baler described here is well suited for staffed recycling and solid waste convenience centers. Two balers can be placed at each site, with a collection container for milk jugs (HDPE) next to one baler and a bag or barrel for plastic soft drink bottles (PETE) next to the other. When the containers are almost full, a worker can transfer the contents into the respective balers and make bales.

This bale press is based on a design originally developed to bale burley tobacco. Reinforcing the baler at strategic points with angle iron makes it capable of withstanding the pressures needed to bale plastic containers. In addition, a high-lift-capacity presshead can be substituted for the automobile jack used in the original, providing greater compression force.

Depending on what materials are used, the bale press may cost between $50 and $150. Using scrap or used goods will obviously lower the expense, but be sure to use materials of the specified sizes. A high-lift­ capacity presshead costs more than an automobile jack but it is more effective for making plastic bales.

A 36-inch by 24-inch by 12-inch bale

Plastic bottles and jugs can be compressed into bales similar to Burley bales.

Illustration of a one-box bale press

A one-box bale press can be used to make a bale press but may be more costly than other options.

Illustration of an automobile jack

An automobile jack may be an economical option for making a bale press.


Skip to Materials

The materials needed to build the baler are shown in the box below.

Materials Needed to Construct a One-Box Bale Press


12-in. A-C Ext.

1 4-ft by 8-ft sheet
1 piece 12 in. by 3534 in. (If the baler is stored outside, use treated plywood.)


2 in. by 4 in. (dressed)

4 pieces each 8 ft long. Note: One 2-by-4 is ripped lengthwise to form two 8-foot 2-by-2s.

2 in. by 6 in. (dressed)

1 piece 4338 in. long


No. 8 by 158 in.

2 lbs


12 in. by 5 in.

2 (for Jack anchor frame)

Miscellaneous sizes

To attach jack frame to presshead.

Angle iron

316 in. by 2 in. by 2 in.

Various lengths to reinforce box and presshead.


6-in. heavy-duty safety hasp with 12-in. or 58-in. No. 10 flat-head screws

2 (OR make latches from angle iron)


12-in. dia. by 4-in. long

1 (Needed only if an automobile jack is used.)


high-lift-capacity OR automobile bumper type



Skip to Construction

Follow these steps to construct the baler.

Diagram showing bale press pieces to cut from plywood

Cut plywood for the back ends, door, bottom, and press head boards of the bale press.

Diagram showing bale press pieces to cut from 2-by-4 and 2-by-6

Cut 2-by-4 and 2-by-6 wood pieces for the back-end corner pieces, door reinforcement, front and rear base, ends, jack anchor frame, press head, and top jack anchor bar.

Diagram showing box assembly

With the box upright, place the bottom in the box.

Diagram showing how to install the door support and door to box

After building the box and installing the sills, install the door support and door.

Diagram showing how to build the press head.

Build the press head with ½-inch plywood and 2-by-4-by-32-inch lumber.

Diagram showing how to bolt the jack base to the press head

Weld post to base for rigid support and use four ¼-inch by 2 ½-inch carriage bolts to secure the jack base to the press head.

Diagram showing how to build the jack anchor frame

Build the jack anchor frame. A metal strap may be added across the top for extra strength.

Diagram showing how to mount the jack anchor frame on the box

To mount the jack anchor frame on the box, position the frame to keep jack plumb and install #8 screws into each 2-by-4.

Making Bales

Skip to Making Bales
  1. Set the bale press box next to the plastic bottle or jug collection bag or container. If you are working outdoors, set the baler firmly on concrete blocks, wood, or other material to keep it off the ground so its base is protected from moisture.
  2. Cut a supply of 85- to 90-inch-long twine. (Use the cotton type approved for tobacco baling use; hay­baling twine will break too easily.)
  3. Remove the door and put three pieces of twine along the back and bottom of the box. Also run a piece from one side across the bottom and up the other side.
  4. Replace and latch the door.
  5. Set a piece of appropriately sized cardboard on the bottom of the baler.
  6. Fill each box with plastic bottles or jugs.
  7. Use the jack to compress the plastic containers.
  8. Refill the box with plastic containers as needed to get the right amount for a firm bale.
  9. Before final pressing of the bale, place a piece of cardboard across the top of the plastic containers. Pull the ends of the twine from the back toward the front across the cardboard.
  10. Press the bale to a firm height of 21 to 24 inches. Remove the front door. Pull each piece of twine snug and tie it with a bow knot.
  11. Retract the bale presshead and tie the side pieces of twine across the top of the bale. Remove the bale and take it to a storage area. To help maintain the integrity of the bale and increase ease of handling, you can place the bale into a clear plastic bag.

CAUTION: ANY EQUIPMENT INVOLVING COMPRESSION CAN CAUSE INJURY THROUGH THE SUDDEN AND UNEXPECTED RELEASE OF PRESSURE if operator error or structural failure occurs. Do not use excessive force in compressing bales. Examine the baler before each operating period for damaged or loose components and correct any problems before using the unit. Use the baler only for its intended purpose. Caution persons other than the operator to stay a safe distance away when the baler is in use.

Place three pieces of twine along the back and bottom of the box

Place three pieces of twine along the back and bottom of the box and place one piece from one side to the other.

A diagram of the baler being filled with plastic containers

After replacing the door and setting a piece of cardboard on the bottom of the baler, fill each box with plastic containers.

Diagram of a pressed bale tied with twine

Once the bale is pressed to 21 to 24 inches, remove the door and tie the twine with a bow knot.


Skip to Acknowledgments

The material in this publication was adapted from Preparing Burley in Bales, published by the University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service.


Extension Solid Waste Specialist
Horticultural Science

Find more information at the following NC State Extension websites:

Publication date: Feb. 1, 1994
Revised: July 23, 2019

There is an alternate Spanish language version of this document here: Empacadora Económica para Reciclar Botellas y Garrafas de Plástico

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