The truth about recycling plastic bottles (2023)

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

Why we all need clear information about what plastic does to ourenvironment

There is so much information out there about water quality,with thousands of articles claiming to be busting the myths about water onceand 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 besecure in the knowledge that we’re making the decision that most aligns withwhat we value. But before our purchasing habits can become a natural extensionof 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’sestimated that 90% of those bottles aren’t recycled and end up in landfill, ordumped throughout the environment, taking up to 1,000 years to degrade.

Some more not-so fantastic plastic facts:

450 Years isthe average time for a plastic bottle to decompose, though many can take up to1,000 years

60million plastic bottles end up in landfill every day with roughly1,500 plastic bottles thrown away every second

8 million isa conservative estimate of the number of plastic bottles in the ocean

(Video) The Truth About Plastic Recycling ... It’s Complicated

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

13billion plastic bottles are used each year in the UK

The truth about recycling plastic bottles (1)

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

The surprising disadvantagesof recycling plastic

It’s more than just the bottle

It takes about 5.3 litres of water to produce a typical500ml single-use water bottle. That’s ten times the amount of water it willultimately hold.

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

The economics of recycling plastic don’t add up

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

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

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

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

(Video) What really happens to the plastic you throw away - Emma Bryce

The truth about recycling plastic bottles (2)

But this symbol means it can be recycled, right?

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

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

The truth about recycling plastic bottles (3)

  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 globallyrecognised symbol for recycling. When used to help separate waste plastics, thesuggestion is that all different types will be recycled - from polyethyleneterephthalate, to polystyrene, to ‘other’. But only numbers one and two in thechart above are recycled in any significant amount.

The truth about recycling plastic bottles (4)

Plastic bottles are not sustainable considering the current recyclingefforts

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

  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 tocharacterise modern times. Due to the explosion of the bottled water industryin recent years, water has found itself in the middle of an ethical storm.

Why should our consumption of the highest quality water meanthat we have no choice but to contribute to an industry suffering fromecological apathy?

We don’t believe that this is a choice we should be forcedto make. Here at Virgin Pure, we believe in giving people complete access tothe purest water without having to contribute to bottled water’s vastecological 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 byreducing the number of plastic bottles and other single-use plastics that webuy.

(Video) The recycling myth: What actually happens to our plastic

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

●replacing plastic bottles and coffee cups withreusable cups and bottles

●moving away from disposable products withplastic in them (cotton buds, toothbrush, razors, cutlery, etc) to thoseproduced from sustainable materials such as bamboo

●replacing plastic toothpaste tubes with tablets

●using reusable nappies instead of disposableones

●avoid using plastic shopping bags

●buying food and household items from refillshops where possible

●using waterfilters to improve the quality of our tap water to stop usbuying bottled water

If we begin to rely less on recycling and place moreemphasis on cutting single-use plastic out of our lives, the less demand therewould 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 consciousconsumer. On the one hand, the heightened awareness concerning the quality ofour bodily nourishment makes us wary of drinking chemically treatedwater. That would rule out the tap.

(Video) The great recycling LIE (what really happens to plastic)

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

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

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

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

If you are less concerned with your nutrition, but caredeeply about making decisions that align with your ethical values, then youwill likely purchase water based on whichever you perceive to be the mostenvironmentally friendly.

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

At Virgin Pure we believe not only in helping people todrink more water, but in empowering conscious consumers to make a no-compromisedecision. Our role is to explore the multi-dimensional word of water, and touncover how we can all drink better water, more often, for less money, and withminimal environmental cost.Next, check out how much water we should be drinking everyday.

Are you reaching your daily intake target?

The truth about recycling plastic bottles (5)

Sources

(Video) How Plastic Recycling Actually Works

jerseyislandholidays.com/plastic-bottle-pollution-statistics/rts.com/blog/the-life-cycle-of-a-plastic-water-bottle/cracked.com/article_27277_hey-recycling-system-totally-broken.htmlmotherjones.com/environment/2020/05/plastic-recycling-is-broken-so-why-does-big-plastic-want-1-billion-to-fix-it/npr.org/2020/09/11/897692090/how-big-oil-misled-the-public-into-believing-plastic-would-be-recycledearth911.com/business-policy/how-many-times-recycled/oceana.org/blog/recycling-myth-month-those-numbered-symbols-single-use-plastics-do-not-mean-you-can-recycle-meen.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resin_identification_code theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/17/plastic-recycling-myth-what-really-happens-your-rubbish

FAQs

How much recycled plastic is actually recycled? ›

However, less than 10% of plastic waste generated globally has been recycled so far. A somewhat larger portion (12%) has been incinerated and the rest has simply ended up in landfills and our oceans.

Are recycled plastic bottles safe? ›

Recycled plastic bottles are likely to contain chemicals more harmful than those made from virgin plastic, new research finds. A study conducted by Brunel University London identified 150 chemicals in plastic bottles that leached into the bottles' content.

Is recycling plastic a good idea? ›

Recycling plastic conserves the fossil fuel — natural gas or oil — used to manufacture it. But plastics are usually “downcycled” into lower-quality and lower-value products, such as carpet fiber or car parts.

Why is recycling plastic Not enough? ›

The end product of the recycled packaging waste turns out to be downcycled into lower value or non-recyclable products thus just delaying the inevitable journey of the single-use plastics to the landfills.

Do recyclables actually get recycled? ›

THE ANSWER. No, 79% of your recycling does not end up in a landfill. This highest estimate for how much recycling ends up in the trash was a third.

What happens to plastic that is not recycled? ›

One of four things happens to plastic after you're done with it. If it's not recycled—and it's usually not—it is landfilled, incinerated, or littered.

Should you squish bottles for recycling? ›

The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers says to crush plastic bottles before sending them to the recycling facility. Crushing the bottles can prevent bottle caps from shooting off at high speeds when the bottles are crushed.

Why should you not crush plastic bottles for recycling? ›

The reason is because when you crush your plastic bottle into a flat thing, those bottles might end up in paper stream. On the other hand, if your community use multi stream recycling method, then you should crush your plastic bottle as small as possible.

Do bottles actually get recycled? ›

Metals, such as aluminum cans, and glass, such as bottles, also have much higher rates of recycling than plastics, she said. Americans were lured into thinking their plastics were getting recycled because they were getting shipped to China for so many years, she said.

What actually happens to recycling? ›

From a recycling bin, plastics are sent by rail or truck to waste-sorting facilities, also called materials recovery facilities (MRFs). Here, plastics are commonly sorted by like types (think films and bags, bottles, foams) and baled (squashed together into easily transportable space-saving cubes).

What country recycles the most? ›

Germany has the highest recycling rate in the world. The nation recycles an impressive 66.1% of its waste.

Is plastic waste really a problem? ›

Most plastic is not recyclable and the vast majority does not biodegrade. Further, plastic products often break down into very small fragments called microplastics that can pollute ecosystems and harm organisms.

Is the plastic problem solvable? ›

With roughly 11 million metric tons of plastic flowing into our ocean each year—a figure that could nearly triple by 2040 without urgent action—many people might view marine plastic pollution as an insurmountable problem.

Why are most recyclables not being recycled? ›

Why recycling isn't working in the U.S. Many recyclables become contaminated when items are placed in the wrong bin, or when a dirty food container gets into the recycling bin. Contamination can prevent large batches of material from being recycled. Other materials can't be processed in certain facilities.

Why don't more people recycle? ›

A lack of programmes and services is the top barrier to greater recycling uptake, a global sustainability survey shows. Globally, 64% of people feel personally responsible for acting on climate change. But many said recycling was either inconvenient, or they lacked trust in recycling programmes.

Why is everything not recycled? ›

In order for materials to be recycled, markets must exist and there must be a demand for the end products. If stable markets do not exist, materials are often stock-piled and could ultimately end up at the landfill. We want to ensure there is a stable market for a item before we add it to our collection.

Which item is the least recyclable? ›

Non-recyclable items
  • Garbage.
  • Food waste.
  • Food-tainted items (such as: used paper plates or boxes, paper towels, or paper napkins)
  • Ceramics and kitchenware.
  • Windows and mirrors.
  • Plastic wrap.
  • Packing peanuts and bubble wrap.
  • Wax boxes.

Can 100% recycled plastic be recycled again? ›

But all polymers are, technologically, 100% recyclable. Some of them have the perfect cradle-to-cradle lifecycle: they can be used again and again to produce the same goods. Some plastics can be reused just as they are by shredding an object into flakes, melting it, and reusing.

Which plastics are actually recycled? ›

Generally, most recyclers accept plastics #1 and #2. Plastics #3 to #6 are more difficult to recycle and some recycling centers do not process them. Plastic #7 is even more difficult to recycle and almost always excluded.

Do you leave caps on plastic bottles when recycling? ›

According to the Association of Plastic Recyclers, “You do not need to remove the caps from your plastic water bottle before recycling them.” They continue, “While some people think removing the caps helps with sorting at the recycling facility, the opposite is in fact true.”

What is the best disposal method for plastic bottles? ›

In these waste management strategies, several are scientifically based, such as recycling, incineration, bioremediation, and landfills. These methods are established to have a clean environment and good plastic waste disposal [46,47].

What are the cons of recycling bottles? ›

The process of melting down and recycling plastic produces VOC, or volatile organic compounds, fumes that can harm plant and animal life near the industrial site. The heat needed to melt plastic also generates carbon emissions, which contribute to global warming.

Why we should stop using plastic water bottles? ›

Single-use plastics (such as plastic water bottles) add to our landfills, pollute our oceans, and cause untold devastation to wildlife and the environment as a whole. What's more, plastic water bottle production contributes to climate change.

What percentage of bottles are actually recycled? ›

Similarly, the National Association for PET Container Resources, an industry trade group, found in 2017 that only 21 percent of the plastic bottles collected for recycling were turned into new things. The low reprocessing rates are at odds with plans from the oil and gas industry.

What happens to water bottles that are not recycled? ›

Many bottles aren't recycled at all, and those that do get recycled usually aren't turned into other bottles or recycled again after that. Instead, they end up in the world's landfills — or worse, in the ocean.

Does the US send recycling to China? ›

For years, America sold millions of tons of used yogurt cups, juice containers, shampoo bottles and other kinds of plastic trash to China to be recycled into new products. And it wasn't just the U.S. Some 70 percent of the world's plastic waste went to China – about 7 million tons a year.

What percentage of recycled garbage is actually recycled? ›

That's only about 35 percent of the total amount, and when you take into account that only 8 percent of discarded plastics were recycled that year, things start to look more unsettling. The sad reality is that not every piece of recycling that gets thrown into the bin gets recycled.

Is 100% recycled plastic possible? ›

The proportion of plastics that are recycled is minimal. The UK, for example, uses five million tons of plastic each year, and only 370,000 tons are recycled each year: that's just 7%. But all polymers are, technologically, 100% recyclable.

What percentage of plastic is currently recycled? ›

Top recycling statistics of 2022

1. Of the 40 million tons of plastic waste generated in the U.S. in 2021, only 5% to 6% — or about two million tons — was recycled. 2.

How often is plastic actually recycled? ›

Only 9 percent of the plastics made since they were first mass-produced in the mid-1900s have been recycled. The recycling rate in the US, the world's biggest plastic-waste producer, is presently a mere five to six percent.

Does glass actually get recycled? ›

Glass can be recycled endlessly by crushing, blending, and melting it together with sand and other starting materials. Doing so benefits manufacturers, the environment, and consumers. Yet each year only one-third of the roughly 10 million metric tons of glass that Americans throw away is recycled.

Does the United States actually recycle plastic? ›

While 52% of recycling facilities in the U.S. accept that kind of plastic, the report found less than 5% of it is actually repurposed — and the rest is put into a landfill.

Does Coca Cola use recycled plastic? ›

90% of our packaging is recyclable globally

We're constantly evolving our packaging to reduce its environmental impact by increasing the use of recycled plastic (rPET), which has a smaller carbon footprint than PET and single-use plastic.

How long will Earth's plastic last? ›

Plastic waste is one of many types of wastes that take too long to decompose. Normally, plastic items take up to 1000 years to decompose in landfills. But plastic bags we use in our everyday life take 10-20 years to decompose, while plastic bottles take 450 years.

Are Coke bottles recycled? ›

Every Bottle Back

Coca‑Cola pledges to collect and recycle a bottle or can for every one sold by 2030 and to make all packaging fully recyclable by 2025.

What country has the least plastic pollution? ›

Norway is the world leader in recycling plastic bottles, due to its refundable deposit program. Through this system, 97% of all plastic bottles in this Scandinavian country are recycled, making Norway the highest recycling country for plastic.

Which countries produce the most plastic? ›

China is currently the world's largest producer of plastics, with around 31% of the overall production of plastics worldwide (Figure 1). China is also the biggest exporter of plastics.

Why do people not recycle? ›

It often comes down to confusion and inconvenience. People don't know how to recycle, what can be recycled or what to do with it. The top reason Americans say they don't recycle regularly is a lack of convenient access. Then there's the fact that items put in recycling aren't always recycled.

Does recycling actually help the environment? ›

By reducing air and water pollution and saving energy, recycling offers an important environmental benefit: it reduces emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and chlorofluorocarbons, that contribute to global climate change.

Which plastic is not recyclable? ›

Examples of non-recyclable plastics include bioplastics, composite plastic, plastic-coated wrapping paper and polycarbonate. Well known non-recyclable plastics include cling film and blister packaging.

Videos

1. Plastic Recycling is an Actual Scam | Climate Town
(Climate Town)
2. Why are recycled plastic bottles harmful?
(WION)
3. Your recycling is not always being recycled—here’s why
(PBS NewsHour)
4. Plastics Industry Insiders Reveal the Truth About Recycling | "Plastic Wars" | FRONTLINE + NPR
(FRONTLINE PBS | Official)
5. If Recycling Were Honest | Honest Ads
(Cracked)
6. CarbonLite: Inside the World's Largest Plastic Bottle Recycling Plant | SoCal Connected | KCET
(KCETSoCalConnected)
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