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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:
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.
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.
What can we do?
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:
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.