Recycle plastic bottles, is it really green? Things are not as simple, unfortunately..
That we threw it, or we recycle it, the impact of a plastic bottle will be bad on the environment. Obviously, recycling is preferable, but the best is still to not producing it. In the case of bottle of water, the best alternative, from an environmental point of view, is clearly to prefer tap water or reusable bottles. Want a proof.. Follow me..
Since the 80s, most bottles of water are made of plastic PET (Polyethylene terephthalate). This plastic has the advantage of being extremely moldable, lightweight compared to glass and PVC used previously. In general, that bottles will be produced in bottling plant, or rather blown into their final form from pre-forms. These pre-forms come from plants specialized in plastic production, which produce from ball of plastic (pellets). These plants are often found near the fossil energy sources (natural gas), such as the Middle East or Asia.
The plastic PET is produced from oil and natural gas, both non-renewable fossil fuels. The two basic materials that enter into the composition of this type of plastic are terephthalic acid (PTA) and monoethylene glycol (MEG), two toxic chemicals derived from petroleum, which the extraction itself is polluting. As discussed below, the rate from recycled resin in the manufacture of new bottles is either zero or very low. Each year, we therefore need an incredible amount of new resin for the production of bottles (several tens of billion bottles per year). The Pacific Institute has calculated that to produce plastic for this bottle of water consumed in the United States in 2006, it took 1 million metric tons of PET and 17 million barrels of oil.
In addition, the production and refining of the resin thus require a lot of energy but also generate significant toxic emissions. In fact, to produce a PET bottle 16oz., it generates, 100 times more toxic emissions into the air and water, compared to the production of a bottle of the same size in glass.
Beyond the amount already used for the production of plastic bottles, it’s at the time of recycling, that their impact is even more important, especially when we realize the huge number of these bottles, even if, in reality, only a small percentage of bottles consumed will be recycled. In the United States, an estimated of 86% of plastic bottles are thrown, and therefore buried, incinerated, or found almost everywhere in the environment, on land and in water. On 10 bottles sold, 8-9 end up in landfills. Of the 29 billion bottles sold in 2007, this equates to 22 billion, or 20 million bottles a day!
Therefore, a majority of plastic bottles end up in landfill. The plastic decomposes very slowly, and it’s estimated that it will take up to 1,000 years for a plastic bottle to be deteriorated. Meanwhile, the chemical components that escape pollute groundwater, which are used especially for capturing water bottling. We also found that many of the bottles that are found in the environment eventually reach the sea, and will grow huge pile of plastic waste, such as the Great Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean. Bottles floating in the water photo-degrade into tiny pieces that are eaten by fish and birds and eventually, fill their stomachs, causing their death. The use, therefore of recycled bottles in the industry, unfortunately will also affect the lives of the poor animals that die in atrocious conditions..
Well, well! What happens to plastic bottles that are still recovered and recycled? In fact, they rarely return in the production of new bottles. The main reason is that plastic, unlike glass and metal, are not recycled endlessly. In fact, the plastic is a material which becomes brittle and loses its structure when heated rapidly. The plastic bottles cannot therefore simply not contain a large percentage of recycled resin.
This recovered plastic (as well as paper) is often not recycled in our country, but sent to Asia. Thanks to cheaper labor and enormous needs for packaging, the price per tonne offered by Asia is higher than that obtained here. Local bottlers who want to include recycled resin in their containers will have to look for very far. These transports therefore incur extra energy costs and generate gas emissions greenhouse.
If the rising price of oil and gas has made more attractive the recycled resin compared to the use of virgin resin, the financial and economic crisis has had the effect of greatly undermined the value of recycled materials. This requires that we avoid to think that recycling is the miracle solution. Collection, landfill, sorting, recycling, all these operations require energy and emit greenhouse gas emissions. If recycling is the least ‘bad’ way to reduce the use of our non-renewable resources, the industry continues to focus on growing the single-use bottles, making the plastic bottles occupy an increasing share of more growing volume of waste to be treated.
The only solution is the reduction and multiple re-filling. Everything else can only lead to a dead end..