The truth about recycling plastic bottles

By Chris Hann

The truth about recycling plastic bottles

The truth about the disadvantages of recycling plastic bottles
Although recycling plastic seems simple, the actual process is anything but. While recycling might help reduce plastic usage, consumption of raw materials, and air and water pollution, it does have its drawbacks. Keep reading to find out more about the disadvantages of recycling plastic and why reducing the consumption of single-use plastic altogether is the much better option.

Why we all need clear information about what plastic does to our environment

There is so much information out there about water quality, with thousands of articles claiming to be busting the myths about water once and for all. The information is so abundant, and at times so contradictory, that it stops becoming useful and starts becoming internet noise.When push comes to shove, all we want as consumers is to be secure in the knowledge that we’re making the decision that most aligns with what we value. But before our purchasing habits can become a natural extension of our values, we must first be clear about what they are.

And in order to do that, we need to know the facts.

The average person uses 156 plastic bottles per year. It’s estimated that 90% of those bottles aren’t recycled and end up in landfill, or dumped throughout the environment, taking up to 1,000 years to degrade.

Some more not-so fantastic plastic facts:

● 450 Years is the average time for a plastic bottle to decompose, though many can take up to 1,000 years

● 60 million plastic bottles end up in landfill every day with roughly 1,500 plastic bottles thrown away every second

● 8 million is a conservative estimate of the number of plastic bottles in the ocean

● 937 million tons is The World Economic Forum’s prediction of how much plastic will be in the ocean by 2050 (compared to 895 million tons of fish)

● 13 billion plastic bottles are used each year in the UK


So, recycling your plastic bottles seems to be the natural solution. However, there is something even better we can all do: reduce our single-use plastic consumption altogether.

The surprising disadvantages of recycling plastic

It’s more than just the bottle

It takes about 5.3 litres of water to produce a typical 500ml single-use water bottle. That’s ten times the amount of water it will ultimately hold.

Every year, 1.5 million barrels of oil are used to manufacture plastic bottles. More oil is then burned transporting them around the world. So, the environmental impact of a plastic bottle goes well beyond the container itself.

The economics of recycling plastic don’t add up

It costs more to recycle a plastic bottle than to produce a new one and dispose of the old one.

It’s not cheap to recycle plastic. The huge amount of time and tools needed to clean it, take the labels off, separate all the different types of plastic from one another, and then actually recycle it into something else, means that it’s not always a simple or cost-effective process.

So, plastic can be turned into new things - sometimes. But it’s a very technical, expensive process. And plastic degrades each time it is reused, so it can't be recycled more than a few times. Whereas new plastic is cheap to produce.

However, not all recycling is bad. Aluminium, used to make drink cans, is infinitely recyclable, while plastic is not.


But this symbol means it can be recycled, right?

There’s more than just one type of plastic. There are quite a few types. And they can't all be melted down together. The fact that all plastic has to be sorted and separated only adds to the great expense of recycling.

Lots of that plastic being sorted can’t be recycled at all, despite misleading displayed graphics and identification codes that you might see displayed.

  1. signifies that the product is made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) (beverage bottles, cups, other packaging, etc.)
  2. signifies high-density polyethylene (HDPE) (bottles, cups, milk jugs, etc.)
  3. signifies polyvinyl chloride (PVC) (pipes, siding, flooring, etc.)
  4. signifies low-density polyethylene (LDPE) (plastic bags, six-pack rings, tubing, etc.)
  5. signifies polypropylene (PP) (auto parts, industrial fibres, food containers, etc.)
  6. signifies polystyrene (PS) (plastic utensils, Styrofoam, cafeteria trays, etc.)
  7. signifies other plastics,(acrylic, nylon, polycarbonate, and polylactic acid)
  8. The three arrows in a triangular loop is a globally recognised symbol for recycling. When used to help separate waste plastics, the suggestion is that all different types will be recycled - from polyethylene terephthalate, to polystyrene, to ‘other’. But only numbers one and two in the chart above are recycled in any significant amount.


Plastic bottles are not sustainable considering the current recycling efforts

Given the amount of plastic being produced and the way in which it’s being made, there’s no wonder that recycling doesn’t move the needle in reaching our environmental goals. Things you need to know about bottled water:

  1. Britain consumes nearly 3bn litres of bottled water per year.
  2. Typically bottled water retails at up to 500 times more than the price of tap water.
  3. The UK bottled water industry is worth ~£2bn per year.
  4. 162g of oil and seven litres of water are required to manufacture a single one litre disposable PET bottle.
  5. The production of a plastic bottled releases 100g of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.
  6. 50% of bottled water contain added minerals and salts, but this does not mean that it is more ‘healthy’.
  7. Around 5.5 billion plastic bottles are disposed of in landfills every year, which is not sustainable.
  8. The Eastern Garbage Patch is an area 6 times the size of England, it is the world's largest waste dump.

Bottled water is causing an ethical storm

The issue of excessive waste is one that has come to characterise modern times. Due to the explosion of the bottled water industry in recent years, water has found itself in the middle of an ethical storm.

Why should our consumption of the highest quality water mean that we have no choice but to contribute to an industry suffering from ecological apathy?

We don’t believe that this is a choice we should be forced to make. Here at Virgin Pure, we believe in giving people complete access to the purest water without having to contribute to bottled water’s vast ecological and environmental impact.

What can we do to make up for the disadvantages of recycling plastic?

We can each do our own small part to help fix the problem by reducing the number of plastic bottles and other single-use plastics that we buy.

There are plenty of ways to help reduce our own reliance on single-use plastic, such as:

●replacing plastic bottles and coffee cups with reusable cups and bottles

●moving away from disposable products with plastic in them (cotton buds, toothbrush, razors, cutlery, etc) to those produced from sustainable materials such as bamboo

●replacing plastic toothpaste tubes with tablets

●using reusable nappies instead of disposable ones

●avoid using plastic shopping bags

●buying food and household items from refill shops where possible

●using water filters to improve the quality of our tap water to stop us buying bottled water

If we begin to rely less on recycling and place more emphasis on cutting single-use plastic out of our lives, the less demand there would be for new plastic to be manufactured in the first place.

How do water filters help you avoid the disadvantages of recycling?

Here at Virgin Pure we’re all about helping the conscious consumer. On the one hand, the heightened awareness concerning the quality of our bodily nourishment makes us wary of drinking chemically treated water. That would rule out the tap.

But on the other hand, drinking bottled water is easy to object to. The ecological impact of 100 million tonnes of plastic bottles is immense, and enough plastic is thrown away every year to circle the Earth four times over.

“If you eliminate the scourge of bottled water, you’ll be eliminating one of the biggest problems facing our environment”
Capt. Charles Moore

Water presents the ethical and health-conscious consumer with a dilemma. Whichever decision you make, tap or bottle, there is an inevitable compromise. The magnitude of the compromise depends on your level of concern for your nutritional intake and your carbon footprint.

If you’re somebody who cares deeply about what you put into your body, be it food or fluid, but you have relatively little awareness concerning the wider environmental and ecological issues around the bottled water industry, then you’ll choose either tap or bottled water based on whichever you perceive to be healthier for you.

If you are less concerned with your nutrition, but care deeply about making decisions that align with your ethical values, then you will likely purchase water based on whichever you perceive to be the most environmentally friendly.

But if you care just as much about your nutrition as you do about making ethical consumer choices, the tap/bottle trade-off doesn’t work for you.

At Virgin Pure we believe not only in helping people to drink more water, but in empowering conscious consumers to make a no-compromise decision. Our role is to explore the multi-dimensional word of water, and to uncover how we can all drink better water, more often, for less money, and with minimal environmental cost.

Next, check out how much water we should be drinking every day. Are you reaching your daily intake target?