Is Boxed/Carton/Paper Water Better Than Plastic & Other Bottles?

Is Boxed/Carton/Paper Water Better Than Plastic & Other Bottles?

Boxed water that comes in boxes, cartons and paper packaging has been around for a while now.

But, in this guide, we look at whether it might be better than plastic and other options environmentally and in other ways.

 

Summary – Is Boxed/Carton/Paper Water Better?

  • Environmentally, a better option than new packaging of any kind (including boxed/carton water) is drinking tap water (which you can filter or purify) from an existing bottle, or from an existing cup
  • For a new bottle or carton, single use or short use packaging of any kind tends not to beat reusable bottles over longer repeated use lifecycles and timelines. There isn’t as many studies on this, but just as an example, it’s estimated a stainless steel bottle used 500 times or over is better environmentally than a plastic water bottle used once. And, in terms of carbon footprint, 30 refills of some glass bottles may beat out a single use carton/boxed water 
  • In terms of single use packaging by itself – it appears carton/boxed water does in fact come out ahead favorably compared to most other single use items like plastic bottles, glass bottles, aluminum cans for an indicator like total carbon footprint for example. It does usually beat out a material like glass as well for transport cost and fuel use due to glass’ weight as a material. But overall, for single use or short term use items, where carton water sits may depend on how effectively it is recycled. If it can be recycled to a similar level as bottles and cans, it usually beats them all because of the lower carbon footprint. Specific companies also offer benefits for their boxed water over plastic bottles, such as short distances to transport their water cartons to fill them up, fitting more cartons (flat packed) into the same truck space than plastic can fit, and having the paper portion of their cartons sourced from sustainable and renewable forests and trees (compared to non renewable petrochemicals like plastics are sourced from). But, single use anything still does not look better than refillable or reusable bottles, and definitely not better than no new bottle or new carton at all.
  • Overall, boxed/carton water has it’s pros and cons (which we outline below in this guide) like any type of packaging

 

What Is Boxed/Carton/Paper Water Exactly?

There’s many different brands that offer boxed water/water that comes in cartons (similar to milk). Each one might offer a slightly different product with slightly different packaging.

But generally, it is water that comes in packaging that contains paper, instead of the common plastic water bottle.

More specifically, it tends to be a composite of materials/a multi layer board.

  • [A general makeup of Tetrapak and other brands of carton type packaging, might be paper (70%), aluminium and various plastics and plastic layers. There can be up to 12 or even 16 layers that make up one board]. This makes it difficult to recycle so depending on the country these may not be separated for recycling (tappwater.co)

Beveragedaily.com has a good cross section picture of a water carton showing the various layers – follow the resource link in the resource list to see it.

 

Examples Of Boxed/Carton/Paper Water Products

Just Water

  • … carton is 100% recyclable, 54% paper ( made from trees that are responsibly harvested and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council), 28% plants based plastic (plastic in the shoulder and cap of the JUST carton is made mostly from sugarcane), 3% aluminum + 15% protective plastic film (thin layer of aluminum foil to protect water from potential contamination. Both the aluminum and paper are shielded by a layer of BPA-free plastic film to protect the integrity of the bottle)

– https://justwater.com/ourpackaging/ (read more on transport benefits and recyclability in this link)

 

Boxed Water Is Better

Made from:

  • 74% paper, 20% plastic, 6% aluminum
  • Roughly three-quarters of each [box] is made of paper, fully recyclable and free of BPAs and phthalates. … Paper comes from well-managed forests which are continually being replanted to replace harvested trees, helping offset [the] carbon footprint …

As a single use option compared to plastic bottles, Boxed Water:

  • 64% lower carbon footprint
  • 43% less fossil fuel use
  • 1,084% lower impact on our ozone

Compared to aluminum:

  • 50% lower impact on ozone depletion & smog emissions
  • 33% lower impact on acidification due to deforestation
  • Due to smelting 120 million tons of bauxite waste is produced annually

– boxedwaterisbetter.com

 

  • 76% of the carton is paper [made from certified, sustainably managed forests], with the rest being layers of polyethylene plastic, and aluminum
  • … water is purified through reverse osmosis and ultraviolet filtration
  • For one truck’s worth of bottled water, Boxed Water can deliver 26 trucks’ worth of cartoned water

– grist.org, and citylab.com

 

Carton & Co

  • … cartons are sourced in Europe, and formed, filled and sealed in Australia
  • … majority of the carton is made from FSC-certified, renewable paperboard
  • ]water is mains water that is purified to] remove the ‘undesirables’ like iron, salts and fluoride. Our triple filters of carbon, reverse osmosis and UV are used in multi-stage process
  • Caps are plastic

– Cartonandco.com.au

 

Is Boxed/Carton/Paper Water Better For The Environment Than Plastic Bottles, & Other Bottles?

In general:

  • It appears that in the production stage, and with the overall carbon footprint, it might be better than plastic bottles and other types of single use bottles.
  • In transport and delivery, carton water looks like it beats glass, which is a heavier material and a more costly material to transport, that can also use more fuel. Furthermore, [trucks taking cartons to filling plants can generally fit more boxes of water in the same space as even plastic, to the ratio of 26 trucks to 1, because the boxes are packed flat] (citylab.com)
  • Carton water may have issues being recycled because it is a composite board of materials such as paper, aluminum and plastic layers. So, in waste management, carton water may be as bad as, and potentially worse than pure plastic, glass , aluminum and other materials. It may also contribute to waste in landfill and waste pollution if not recycled effectively. But, it depends on the effectiveness of the waste management systems in a city or country, and their ability to deal with mixed material packaging and products
  • Boxed/carton/paper water appears not to to be better than refillable bottles and reusable bottles, that are used or refilled 30 times or more
  • Using a new box or carton of water is not as good environmentally as using an existing bottle or cup to drink your water from a tap or a source that doesn’t require packaging
  • Something else to consider is that paper is made from trees, which are renewable. However, plastic is made from petrochemicals like crude oil and natural gas, which aren’t renewable. Glass and aluminum are both 100% recyclable, and can be recycled infinitely.

 

Tappwater.co has an interesting post where they outline the carbon footprint, recycling, end of life waste and transportation, of glass vs plastic vs aluminum vs carton Tetrapak. The results were:

  • Carbon footprint – carton came out ahead of everything except a glass bottle that had been re-filled/reused 30 times
  • Recycling – no data available, but paper can be re-used 4 to 5 times
  • Transportation – it’s assumed carton is better than glass which is heavier than other materials, which leads to more fuel use and higher transport costs
  • Waste management – might have a medium impact on wildlife and nature, and might have a decomposition residue of some micro plastics

 

Sources

1. https://tappwater.co/us/footprint-of-glass-vs-plastic-vs-aluminium-best-choice/

2. https://grist.org/living/is-boxed-water-actually-eco-friendly/

3. https://www.citylab.com/life/2015/02/the-single-best-reason-that-boxed-water-is-better/385138/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-vs-glass-vs-metal-stainless-steel-aluminum-bottles-comparison-which-is-best/

5. https://justwater.com/ourpackaging/

6. https://boxedwaterisbetter.com/pages/why-boxed-is-better

7. https://cartonandco.com.au/pages/faqs

8. https://www.beveragedaily.com/Article/2018/01/03/JUST-Brands-CEO-It-s-not-just-about-having-a-bottle-made-out-of-paper

Should We Ban Plastic Bottles?

Should We Ban Plastic Bottles?

In this guide, we look at the potential considerations behind the question of whether plastic bottles should be banned.

 

Summary – Should Plastic Bottles Be Banned?

  • Firstly, there should be a distinction made between the types of plastic bottles.
  • The two most common are 1. Disposable/single use plastic bottles (usually made from PET plastic), and 2. Reusable plastic bottles commonly used as long term water bottles.
  • There’s a strong case to be made to ban, tax, penalise or ultimately reduce in some way (and in some countries, States or cities more than others), the production, waste generation and pollution of single use disposable plastic bottles (in particular). Countries like the US, China and Mexico are places where more focus may be put on this happening first, as they are leaders in global bottled water consumption per year (in gallons). The US has one of the highest per capita usage rates of plastic bottle use in the world, and China, the US, Brazil, Indonesia, and Japan are some of the biggest polluters (shopkablo.com). Introducing punitive measures to bring these countries’ production, waste generation and pollution of single use of short term use plastic bottles down, may be the way to go to minimise the production, waste and pollution footprint and impact of these types of plastic bottles. Rather than banning plastic bottles or introducing punitive measures, initiatives to encourage reusable bottle use (and as a by product reduce disposable bottle use), are also an option that can be used exclusively, or side by side with other strategies. Read more about further ideas for reducing the footprint of plastic bottles in this guide
  • However, in comparison, reusable plastic water bottles can present a number of potential benefits over disposable plastic bottles and other bottle types/materials

 

More About Banning Disposable & Single Use Plastic Bottles

The big point that is usually made with disposable plastic bottles, and specifically single use plastic water bottles, is that they not necessary in a lot of the ways they are used in developed countries.

This is a problem because they:

  • Use fossil fuels (crude oil and natural gas) for their production
  • Have a transport and delivery carbon emissions and fuel burning footprint (although usually not as significant as glass)
  • Can use up energy in the store they are sold in, such as lighting, cooling, and so on
  • Have a high waste rate because of their short usage lifecycle
  • Don’t have a great recycling rate when they are disposed of – one reason is that it’s usually easier and cheaper for businesses to make new bottles than to recycle them. Therefore, plastic bottles commonly end up in landfill (or incinerated in some countries). 
  • Contribute to plastic pollution in the environment if they are littered and inadequately disposal. Three of the big problems with plastic once they become waste or once they get in the environment is that they can break down into microplastics, they can leach chemicals, and plastic can take hundreds of years to decompose 

On the flip side, disposable plastic bottles obviously benefit businesses from a logistical and profit point of view, job creation, the economy (at least on the front end before we have to pay for the cost to clean up and address plastic bottle pollution), cities that don’t have clean water supplies or who are facing water scarcity issues (at least in the short term until they can solve water infrastructure or water supply issues), along with several other potential benefits.

So, there are many downsides to disposable plastic bottles, but also some benefits.

Read more about the potential pros and cons of disposable and single use plastic bottles in this guide.

 

More About Banning Reusable Plastic Bottles

Reusable plastic bottles may be less of a focus to ban – certainly less of a focus compared to disposable and short use plastic bottles.

Reusable plastic bottles that are BPA and BPS free may even be a better option than glass in some instances (especially in countries where certain types of glass have low recycling rates), and metal (such as stainless steel or aluminum) where the metal bottle isn’t used more than approximately 500 times and recycled after use.

Read more about the potential pros and cons of reusable plastic water bottles in this guide.

 

Can Plastic Bottles Be Recycled?

Plastic bottles made of Plastic #1 (PET) or Plastic #2 (HDPE) are some of the most recyclable plastics compared to other types of plastic. Although, their recycling rates may still only hover around the 20-35% mark in some major countries.

Recycling rates of plastics do differ from country to country, and city to city though.

And, reusable plastic bottles may or may not be able to be recycled depending on the plastic they are made from.

One of the inherent problems with plastic is that they can only be recycled a certain amount of times before they lose their integrity/quality, and have to be downcycled or sent to land fill or incinerated. Compared this to metal or some types of glass which can be recycled endlessly.

 

Plastic Bottle Pollution (Plastic Bottles In The Ocean, & Littering)

Plastic bottles are among some of the most commonly littered, and inadequately disposed of items found on beaches, on land and in oceans.

 

Plastic Drink Bottles, Leaching (Of BPA & Other Chemicals) & Potential Human Health Effects

Some types of plastic, including some types of plastic water bottles have been questioned for leaching that may occur, and cause human health concerns.

Whether or not leaching is a problem, particularly of BPA, has been debated and differing reports do exist

BPA free plastic products like BPA free water bottles do exist though.

 

Economic Value Of The Bottled Water Industry

  • The bottled water industry was valued at US$ 185 billion in 2015 (businesswire.com)

Further on from the economic value of the bottled water industry, this industry provides jobs as well.

This is just bottled water as well – obviously there are many other beverages that are bottled, and that add economic value and jobs.

 

Other Considerations With Plastic Bottles

  • Plastic bottles all have different designs depending on the product and brand that makes them. A simple soft drink bottle may be made of a plastic bottle, with a plastic wrapper for the label, and a plastic lid. Reusable plastic water bottles though can contain multiple different materials, such as multiple different types of plastic, or plastic and another material for the lid for example. All these factors can impact production footprint, and other life cycle assessment factors such as how effectively a bottle can be recycled.

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-vs-glass-vs-metal-stainless-steel-aluminum-bottles-comparison-which-is-best/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/what-plastics-can-cannot-be-recycled-how-to-find-out/

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/potentially-harmful-effects-of-plastic-on-the-environment-wildlife-humans-health-the-economy/

4. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180813005378/en/Global-Bottled-Water-Market-2018-2023-334-Billion

5. https://shopkablo.com/blogs/the-reformist/the-environmental-impact-of-plastic-water-bottles-and-all-you-need-to-know

6. https://tappwater.co/us/footprint-of-glass-vs-plastic-vs-aluminium-best-choice/

Plastic vs Glass vs Metal (Stainless Steel & Aluminum) Bottles & Water Bottles: Comparison, & Which Is Best?

Plastic vs Glass vs Metal (Stainless Steel or Aluminum) Water Bottle: Comparison, & Which Is Best?

In this guide, we compare the pros and cons of plastic, glass, and metal (stainless steel and aluminum) bottles, and water bottles.

We also look at which material of bottle might be best from a sustainability/environmental, cost and practical perspective. 

 

Summary – Which Bottle Is Best?

Ultimately, which bottle is best comes down to how exactly you measure ‘best’ (there’s many individual ways to do this), and what your individual preferences are in a bottle.

But, it’s understandable people want a quick, clear answer. 

So, these are our own interchangeable rankings, from best to worst, of the best bottle options overall (based on the research provided in this guide):

  1. Not using a new bottle at all e.g. if you are at home, you can use an existing cup instead and a filtered tap/purified tap water. Or, re-using an existing bottle as many times as possible (instead of buying a new bottle), and then repurposing it it in some way. The one problem some people may have with an existing bottle is concerns with BPA leaching, or if it’s glass for example, breakage (or some other practical issue).
  2. The best new bottle option might be a recycled Food grade #304 or 18/8 stainless steel bottle (to prevent leaching, and to prevent a metallic taste of the beverage inside), that is recycled when disposed of, and is used at least 500 times. If it comes with a lifetime guarantee, that’s even better. Stainless steel is usually durable and practical over the long term, extended use gives the production footprint a chance to be averaged out over the lifetime of the bottle, and recycling of the metal means that new ores aren’t having to be extracted and processed as regularly. Make sure the stainless steel bottle you buy isn’t mixed with aluminum, doesn’t have a plastic liner, and has been tested for lead.
  3. Aluminum is tricky to place. According to several estimates, new aluminum has a higher lifecycle footprint than stainless steel. Also, several sources indicate the lining of aluminum can contain BPA (because it’s the main ingredient in the epoxy or enamel used to prevent aluminum bottles reacting with acidic liquids). But, several studies indicate that using recycled aluminum instead of new aluminum has only a fraction of the energy, emissions and resource footprint. Metals get extra points for practicality and durability of use over glass. A BPA free, leaching tested, reusable aluminum bottle made of recycled material, that you use more than 500 times, might be the second best option after stainless steel.
  4. Reusable, recyclable, BPA & BPS free hard plastic bottles might be next best, as long as you use them as many times as you can. You get the benefits of a lower production and transport footprint that plastic provides, along with lower leaching and health risks, but the one downside is that plastic eventually loses it’s integrity and economic value once it has been recycled too many times, and has to be turned into long term plastic fill, sent to landfill or burnt/incinerated. So, disposability and recyclability may be an issue here.
  5. Glass bottles might be next best, specifically Borosilicate glass which tends to be higher quality than soda lime glass. Glass tends to have a production footprint on par with or slightly higher than plastic according to some estimates (even though the use of a furnace for melting glass can require a lot of energy and fossil fuels). Using recycled glass cullet in some types of glass can reduce energy requirements and environmental footprint. Glass loses points though for fragility and potential to break, the fact you can’t take glass everywhere (such as public pools), glass’ usually high transport/delivery costs and footprint due to the weight of glass, and the economic and systematic difficulties of recycling some types of glass in some places. Glass may shoot up the list to as high as first or second place if it can be recycled effectively, breakage and practicality of use isn’t an issue, and the weight of the glass or the transport/delivery footprint and costs aren’t an issue. Glass usually has the advantage over plastic and metals in that it doesn’t usually leach under any circumstances and maintains purity of flavor, but it also takes the longest to naturally degrade of all materials on this list (and broken glass can be an issue for recycling or a hazard in the environment or in public). So, glass has some glaring and extreme opposite pros and cons.
  6. Disposable and single use plastic bottles are clearly the worst option if you use them frequently. They lead to higher costs, higher waste, and higher pollution, amongst other issues.

 

Other Variables & Factors To Consider For Bottle Materials & Types

  • ‘Best’ depends on the individual indicator or measurable being used. You could measure, emissions, air, water (fresh water, and ocean) or soil pollution, resource depletion and scarcity of resources, impact on humans and human health, impact on wildlife, waste generated, ease of waste management, water use and consumption, energy usage, economic impact and impact on employment, practical usage of the bottle. For example, plastic may be cheap to make, transport and buy, but rate poorly in terms of litter and ocean pollution indicators. Another example is that stainless steel may rate poor in terms of energy usage in production, but have great recycling potential and be very practical to use because of it’s durability.
  • ‘Best’ also depends on personal preferences as to what is most important to an individual i.e. environmental or sustainability measurables may be more important to some people than cost and economics. But, potential health concerns in terms of BPA leaching may be more of a priority to avoid for some people.
  • ‘Best’ may also differ for individuals, society and businesses separately (and for different reasons). Businesses for example may find certain types of bottles far more cost effective and logistically easier to offer than other types of bottles. 
  • Some water bottles are mixed material e.g. glass inner bottle with a hard plastic protective sleeve, or stainless steel with a plastic lid, or a mix of stainless steel and aluminum. These different types of bottles and mixed bottles can make assessment difficult (ultimately, there are many types of bottles on the market such as glass, stainless steel, aluminum, plastic, insulated, bottles with flavor chambers, bottles with outer sleeves and tubes, disposable, collapsible, and so on)
  • Different manufacturers ultimately design, make and deliver their bottles in different ways – so, it can be a manufacturer specific decision that requires research on each company and product.
  • Different cities have different waste collection and waste management (landfill, recycling, and incineration) systems and facilities – this can impact factors like recycling rates. Also, just because you put something in your recycling bin, it doesn’t mean it will be recycled. You may need to research the effectiveness of recycling of certain materials or items (like bottles) in your area to check how likely it is something gets recycled.
  • Something that is not often considered with reusable bottles (especially in lifecycle assessment studies) is washing these bottles with hot water or a dishwater. Over the lifetime of using the bottle, this can significantly add to the energy usage compared to washing with regular cold water. Even then, there is water usage component to reusable bottles to consider

Ultimately, a life cycle assessment may need to be done on each individual company’s product, and the local conditions for waste management for where the product is used and disposed of, to get the most accurate assessment of which bottle might be best. There can be continually changing variables and factors with different products, materials, companies, locations, waste management systems, and so on.

Just as one example, how many times you reuse the bottle matters for metals because of how energy and resource intensive they can be to produce. The more times you use them – the more the production footprint averages out over the lifecycle of the bottle. 

The above and below information is more so general information that may be used as a starting point for consideration for each type of bottle.

 

Moving on to the potential pros and cons of each bottle type and bottle material …

 

Pros & Cons Of Plastic Bottles

Plastic bottles come as disposable/single use plastic bottles, as well as the harder and more durable reusable plastic bottle options.

PET or PETE … is the clear plastic used for most [disposable] soda and water bottles (shopkablo.com)

 

Sourcing Of Materials

  • Plastic manufacturing starts off with [refining and processing of crude] oil and natural gas [so, ultimately relies on mining, and relies on a non renewable resources] (earth911.com)

Production

  • [In Australia, overall] plastic [recorded] the greenest results in production and manufacture [compared to aluminum and stainless steel]. [It was found that] plastic bottles have around 80 per cent less impact on the environment than the worst performer in all three categories: water use, global warming and solid waste. Although the metals can claim bonus points for recycling, they never recover from the huge investment of energy required in their production processes. (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • … the energy required to produce one [disposable] plastic water bottle is equivalent to filling the bottle ¼ of the way with oil … Unlike tap water which is distributed through energy efficient infrastructure, producing bottled water involves burning vast quantities of fossil fuels … By the time a bottle of water makes it to a store near you, it has a total carbon footprint equal to 82 grams (or 3 ounces) of carbon dioxide … Producing plastic water bottles also exhausts water resources, taking over three times as much water to produce a bottle of water than the contents of the container itself (shopkablo.com)
  • [In Australia, when comparing plastic to stainless steel and aluminum, it’s interesting to note that plastic consumes] 8.2 per cent of the energy used in the manufacturing sector, but contributes only 1.4 per cent of the carbon emissions (greenlifestylemag.com.au)

Transport & Delivery

  • Plastic can be much cheaper to deliver and transport than glass because plastic is far lighter as a material, and because of the shape of plastic … you can get more plastic into the same transportation or packing space than glass. Plastic is also less fragile than glass
  • Plastic bottles [are] 40 percent lighter today than they were 20 years ago (inquirer.com)

Waste Management & Recycling

  • … [the general view from some governments worldwide is that] plastic managed well can be as good as glass. With recycling, downcycling and incineration plastic has a similar carbon footprint and does no harm to the environment (tappwater.co)
  • If single use plastic bottles are made of 100% recycled material the carbon footprint will be 30% less [and around 9.5% of bottles are recovered currently] (tappwater.co)
  • Estimates show that less than 9% of all plastic produced gets recycled … With current technology, it’s less expensive for companies to produce new plastic water bottles than it is for them to recycle used bottles. Converting plastic bottles into carpet and apparel is less energy-intensive and laborious than converting it back into food-grade drinking bottles … [and] degradation of the plastic material [is a problem in the current recycling systems] (shopkablo.com)
  • Plastic can be recycled, but it can lose it’s integrity eventually after a certain amount of recycling, where it then needs to be turned into some type of plastic fill or long life plastic, or needs to be incinerated or sent to landfill. Metal and glass don’t have this loss of quality problem.
  • Plastic takes up less space in landfills than some other materials like paper
  • If no additives are used, PET bottles can be recycled back into PET bottles … Otherwise, they get “downcycled” into carpeting, clothing, and other fibers (inquirer.com)
  • [On an individual level, plastic bottles have been re-used as] plant pots, salt shakers, lighting fixtures, irrigation, and even walls for a greenhouse [in some countries and States] (canr.msu.edu)
  • There’s a 27% recycling rate for plastic bottles [specifically compared to plastic as a material in general] in America (drkarenslee.com)
  • [In Australia, re-usable] PP bottles are less likely to be recycled as there isn’t a kerbside scheme devoted to just this type of plastic [and, plastic type PP has a lower recycling % than PET] (greenlifestylemag.com.au)

Pollution

  • Plastic takes a long time to decompose/degrade as a material, and plastic bottles and plastic bottle tops are some of the most littered and inadequately disposed of items found on beaches, on land, in rivers and natural waterways, and in the ocean
  • Micro plastic pollution and leaching of plastic additives and chemicals can be a problem out in the environment with plastic, along with plastic entanglement and ingestion by wildlife
  • Plastic bottles might take 70 to 450 years to decompose in landfill sites, compared to 1 to 2 million years for glass bottles, compared to 200 years for aluminum cans (down2earthmaterials.ie)

Human Health

  • [the chemical BPA is used in some water bottles than contain] polycarbonate plastic [and a major study linked low levels of BPA exposure to some health impacts for humans]. [Some national food regulators say] BPA poses no significant health risks at the low levels that migrate from plastic packaging into food and drink. [As a solution to BPA concerns -] PP (code 1) and PET (code 5) plastic do not contain BPA and have no known health hazards. If you are concerned about BPA, a number of brands now make ‘BPA-free’ plastic reusable bottles (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • Though BPA has been banned in some plastic products — such as baby bottles and sippy cups — its often replaced by a chemical called BPS that may also be toxic, as well as harmful. Check labels carefully, and look for the number “7” printed in the plastic, as this can be an indicator of BPA content (ogdenclinicblog.com)
  • … plastics made with BPA will often have a resin code of 7 appearing on the item. (canr.msu.edu)

Usage

  • Soft plastic can dent and lose it’s shape or scrunch up when in use, where as hard plastic and reusable plastic water bottles last far longer and keep their shape far better
  • [plastic bottles have lifestyle benefits including being more] lighter and more flexible (greenlifestylemag.com.au)

Other Notes

  • Globally, we spend over $100 billion every year on bottled water … [and in theory] one year’s revenue from these [plastic water bottle] corporations could be used to permanently resolve the global water crisis and they would still have a few billion dollars left to pocket. (shopkablo.com)
  • [re-usable plastic is better than single use plastic environmentally] (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • plastic is much better for the environment in many cases [compared to glass] (blog.theplasticbottlescompany.com)
  • … many water bottle distributors use tap water to fill their bottles, and the truth is, tap water is better regulated than bottled water in terms of safety requirements … [so people are buying water they get for free and buying bottles that produce waste] … The US is one of the worst per capita plastic bottle users in the world (shopkablo.com)
  • [One estimate put plastic at 400 years to decompose, with very high impact on wild life and micro plastic decomposition residue] (tappwater.co)

 

Pros & Cons Of Glass Bottles

[Be aware of the] different types of glass. Borosilicate [used in Pyrex]… can withstand high and low temps without shattering and is lighter and less prone to break. Soda lime glass or traditional glass are also great options that are less expensive (aquasana.com)

… borosilicate [is] stronger, lighter and handles a greater temperature range than typical glass (ogdenclinicblog.com)

So, with glass, soda lime glass may be used for the disposable glass bottles you see and buy, and borosilicate for the reusable glass water bottles you see and buy.

 

Sourcing Of Materials

  • [… glass comes from mostly natural abundant materials, but these materials may need to be quarried – such as limestone] (earth911.com)
  • Glass is a resource efficient material which is made of abundant natural raw material such as sand and glass waste (cullets) (glassallianceeurope.eu)

Production 

  • Glass production can still use fossil fuels for energy involved in melting glass and using a furnace that burns at high temperatures to do this
  • The production and use of glass has a number of environmental impacts … New glass is made from four main ingredients: sand, soda ash, limestone and other additives for colour or special treatments. Although there is no shortage of these raw materials as yet, they all have to be quarried, which can damage the landscape, affect the environment and use more energy … [But] The addition of domestic waste glass (known as cullet) to a furnace in the glass manufacturing process, substantially reduces the energy requirement and decreases CO2 emissions (recyclenow.com)
  • [the production process and melting of flat glass uses fossil fuels and results in greenhouse gas emissions in the form of CO2, but also air pollution in the form of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particles] … Other environmental issues are water pollution, the use of non-renewable natural raw materials such as sand and minerals, production of solid waste and emission of volatile organic compounds (used in production of mirrors and coatings) … A glass furnace runs 24/7 and cannot be stopped and cooled down during its lifetime (15-18 years). Most technologies can therefore only be installed during a furnace rebuild … [development of environmental techniques to minimise environmental impact are ongoing] (agc-glass.eu)
  • … fossil fuels [are] required to generate the very high temperatures needed to manufacture glass (blog.theplasticbottlescompany.com)
  • [Glass is made from raw materials where] Silica (sand), soda ash, limestone, and cullet (furnace-ready, recycled glass) are combined. [But materials are melted at very high temperatures in a furnace, which uses a lot of energy] (oberk.com)
  • … manufacturing [a] low weight PET bottle is [the] equivalent to manufacturing a glass bottle, which is heavier, causing carbon emission that’s similar to a PET plastic bottle (drkarenslee.com)
  • [some sources indicate reusable glass bottles beat out reusable plastic bottles across abiotic materials, water usage, and GHG emission indicators in production/manufacture] (giynow.com)
  • [glass is actually more eco friendly per gram in production across several eco indicators compared to plastic, but similar plastic items tend to be lighter – so, the totals of glass vs plastic items, especially for single use plastic items, tend to win out] (giynow.com) 

Transport & Delivery

  • Glass is usually heavier than plastic and also metal bottles, so it can cost more to ship and transport/deliver to where it needs to go. There can be more fuel used, as well as greenhouse gas emitted from increased fuel use. Glass also may not make as efficient use of packing space as plastic and some metals. Glass may also require more packaging in transport because of it’s fragility and potential to break.
  • Glass bottles [though] … are 40 percent lighter today than they were 20 years ago, which means it takes less fuel and produces fewer emissions to transport them (inquirer.com)
  • A 500mL glass bottle weighs about 400g, but a comparable 500mL PET bottle, cartoon or aluminium weighs about 10g … that 40 to 1 weight ratio is a very big problem for manufacturers and distributors. It means more wear and tear on packaging machinery, less efficient shipping and distribution, and, as a result, higher fuel costs and emission responsibility (tappwater.co)

Waste Management & Recycling 

  • Common soda-lime cullet [is] made from [recycling glass] bottles and jars (cen.acs.org)
  • [Glass has] an unlimited life and can be melted and recycled endlessly to make new glass products with no loss in quality. [And, using recycled glass in the form of] cullet [with new ingredient for new glass] benefits glassmakers, the environment, and consumers. [But, only about one third of the glass disposed of in the US gets recycled annually and the rest ends up in trash]. There is a 90% recycling rate [for glass] in Switzerland, Germany, and other European countries (cen.acs.org)
  • The UK currently recycles around 50% of [soda-lime-silica] container glass (like bottles and jars) … [compared to other types of glass like borosilicate glass, lead glass and glass fibre that are not widely recycled] (recyclenow.com)
  • Some curbside recycling organisations and facilities are choosing not to deal with glass because of increased processing costs and because they don’t have the proper equipment to clean glass properly [they choose not to or can’t upgrade recycling facilities and equipment], but others are choosing to recycle glass – so, glass recycling rates can be dependent on the city … [but] viability of the material, end markets, economics, supply and processing costs [all have to be considered with glass before recycling it]. There are some claims around glass recycling that broken and mixed glass are problematic, glass must be washed and cleaned, glass can contaminate other materials, and glass has no end market. But, [in some markets] Demand for recycled glass exceeds supply, [and many issues surrounding glass recycling can be fixed with the right glass recycling equipment] (recyclingtoday.com)
  • Glass is a fully recyclable material that can be recycled in close loop over and over again … This is particularly true for glass bottles which on average have a recycling rate varying from 50% to 80%. Thanks to glass recycling, significant amounts of raw materials are saved and natural resources are preserved. Glass recycling also helps in saving energy as cullets melt at a lower temperature than raw materials. Consequently, less energy is required for the melting process [and less emissions are produced]. (glassallianceeurope.eu)
  • There’s a 33% recycling rate for glass bottles in America (drkarenslee.com)
  • Glass is 100 percent recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without loss in quality or purity. An estimated 80 percent of recovered glass containers are made into new glass bottles … [and] A glass container can go from a recycling bin to a store shelf in as little as 30 days (blog.glassticwaterbottle.com)
  • Glass can be more expensive to recycle than plastic (blog.theplasticbottlescompany.com)
  • 50% of the energy is used to recycle glass compared to making a new glass (drkarenslee.com)
  • The advantage is that glass can be recycled almost infinite times. At least with non-clear glass … According to a study … switching from clear glass to green cuts packaging-related CO2 emissions by 20%. This is due to the higher recycled content in green glass bottles, which is as much as 72.4%, against an industry standard of 28.9% (tappwater.co)

Pollution 

  • More pollution is created in the manufacture, shipping and recycling of glass [than plastic] (blog.theplasticbottlescompany.com)
  • Glass can take a long time to degrade in the open or in landfills – up to 4000 years.
  • Broken glass can be a health and safety hazard for humans and animals

Human Health

  • Glass generally doesn’t leach chemicals or have BPA issues like plastic might
  • [But, you might want make sure a glass bottle you buy has been] tested for lead and cadmium content (aquasana.com)

Usage

  • Using glass bottles can come with fragility and breaking concerns if not protected by an outer sleeve or pouch
  • Glass isn’t allowed into some places in public such as public pools or other places with a no glass policy
  • Glass is generally dishwasher safe

Other Notes

  • the best alternative for your health and the environment is glass (blog.glassticwaterbottle.com)
  • Glass is non-permeable and won’t absorb color, odor or taste (blog.glassticwaterbottle.com) … and there’s a reason wine and spirit bottles use glass [for purity of flavor]
  • Some glass bottles come with a plastic outer shell in case the bottle is dropped and broken … but glass has problems with fragility and breaking (blog.glassticwaterbottle.com)
  • Glass creates more than 6 times the global warming gases than plastic (blog.theplasticbottlescompany.com)
  • Reusing a glass bottle three times lowers its carbon footprint roughly to that of a single-use plastic beverage bottle (tappwater.co)
  • … [one study shows that total] greenhouse gas emissions for the manufacture of the packaging and the transportation, [and] all other things being assumed equal, are 265 grams for [a] glass [bottle], 101 grams for [a] plastic jug, and 32 for [a] tetrapak. If the glass is reused 30 times it gets closer to tetrapak but that excludes the collection and transportation back to where the milk is produced (tappwater.co)
  • If glass bottles are made of 100% recycled material the carbon footprint will be 26 to 40% less [and around 80% of bottles are recovered currently] (tappwater.co)
  • [One estimate put glass at 1 million years to decompose, with minimal impact on wild life and glass decomposition residue] (tappwater.co)
  • … [the best glass bottle might be a] BPA-free borosilicate glass water bottle for yourself and each member of your family. These can be reused and they are non-porous and non-leaching, ensuring that one purchase saves years of waste and provides clean water throughout the day (shopkablo.com)

 

Pros & Cons Of Stainless Steel Bottles

Stainless steel bottles are generally reusable.

 

Sourcing Of Materials

  • … SS uses iron ore, chromium and nickel – which all have to be mined, and processed, and metals extracted from the ore

Production 

  • Producing [a] 300-gram stainless steel bottle requires seven times as much fossil fuel, releases 14 times more greenhouse gases, demands the extraction of hundreds of times more metal resources and causes hundreds of times more toxic risk to people and ecosystems than making a 32-gram plastic bottle (archive.nytimes.com)
  • … the process that converts iron ore into stainless steel (where the steel is alloyed with chromium to prevent corrosion and create a shiny finish) is energy intensive (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • … [the process of extracting useful metal from ores can also cause air, water and soil pollution] (archive.nytimes.com)
  • …producing stainless steel results in about 10 times more pollution than regular steel … [but using recycled iron, and a lighter single wall design for bottles can reduce environmental impact] (archive.nytimes.com)
  • … the manufacturing process for stainless steel bottles is unsustainable … [it] requires the processing of nickel and chromium ores, resulting in ten times more pollution than ordinary steel … ore extraction is energy intensive [and releases pollutants] … (blog.glassticwaterbottle.com)

Transport & Delivery 

  • [transport of stainless steel bottles makes up only 1 to 5 % of the environmental burden … the energy used by the store you buy the bottle and producing the bottle have the biggest burdens] (archive.nytimes.com)
  • [transportation costs of stainless steel are usually lighter than glass due to it’s lighter weight] (drkarenslee.com)

Waste Management & Recycling 

  • Stainless steel is 100% recyclable … The main alloying elements of stainless steel (chromium, nickel and molybdenum) are all highly valuable and can be easily be recovered and separated from other materials (bssa.org.uk) … [and] The amount of recycled stainless steel in any stainless object is approximately 60% (bssa.org.uk)
  • [it’s worth sending stainless steel back to a mill for recycling to cut down on mining and process of ores] (archive.nytimes.com)
  • [In Australia it is likely that aluminum and stainless steel water bottles would be picked up and recycled from kerbside recycling programs, and this can] offset some of the impacts of the original manufacture (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • [In Australia] both [aluminum and stainless steel] have achieved high levels of industry recycling. Approximately 75 per cent of the primary aluminium ever produced is still in use, while more than 50 per cent of stainless steel is made from remelted scrap metal. (greenlifestylemag.com.au)

Pollution 

  • Unlike many other metals, in this situation stainless steel will have no damaging effects on the soil and water [when it finds its way into disposal sites] (bssa.org.uk)

Human Health

  • Some sources indicate metal water bottles may leach BPA [via a plastic liner or other means], many stainless steel bottles are actually made from aluminum … which is linked to Alzheimer’s, and Stainless steel bottles can leach iron, chromium and nickel into alkaline and acidic beverages (blog.glassticwaterbottle.com)
  • There are no known safety concerns associated with using stainless steel, assuming it is indeed stainless and lead free [so, look to see they are tested for this] (aquasana.com)
  • When made from culinary grade, lead-free steel, there’s no danger of chemical leaching [from stainless steel] (ogdenclinicblog.com)
  • … high quality SS [like Food grade #304 or 18/8 stainless steel] means, there is no nickel leaching … [and they] should not taste metallic either. Unlike aluminum bottles that need to be lined, SS does not need to be lined because of chromium’s unique protective layer that prevents any chemicals from leaching (drkarenslee.com)

Usage

  • [washing a SS bottle in a hot dishwasher 50 to 100 times can cause the same amount of pollution as was caused in making the bottle … whereas a cold water wash is substantially better environmentally] (archive.nytimes.com)
  • SS bottles are usually very durable, hardy, and some can come with lifetime guarantees

Other Notes

  • Overall, if your stainless steel bottle takes the place of 50 plastic bottles, the climate is better off, and if it gets used 500 times, it beats plastic in all the environment-impact categories studied in a life cycle assessment (archive.nytimes.com)
  • If a steel or aluminium bottle is retained and reused for a number of years consistently, it is significantly better than a single-use, throw-away drink bottle in environmental terms, even if the PET bottle is recycled (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • Some stainless bottles actually have plastic liners inside – make sure to look for options that are plain-old culinary grade stainless steel (aquasana.com)
  • If you choose to go steel, look for lead-free, stainless options marked as food grade #304 or 18/8, which indicates an 18 percent chromium and 8 percent nickel content (ogdenclinicblog.com)
  • Some people report a slightly metallic taste with stainless steel bottles (compared to glass which has purity of flavor)

 

Pros & Cons Of Aluminum Bottles

Aluminum bottles are usually reusable, but there can be the disposable single use aluminum bottles and cans (used for soda and alcoholic beverage commonly).

 

Sourcing Of Materials

  • … comes from bauxite and depletion of resources is not really a concern (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • [bauxite mining can cause some environmental concerns] (earth911.com)
  • [one study indicates aluminum has a] greater ‘cradle to gate’ (raw material) environmental impact in terms of energy required and global warming potential than stainless steel (greenlifestylemag.com.au)

Production 

  • Aluminium production is one of the most energy-intensive industries [which may lead to greenhouse gas emission concerns if electricity comes from fossil fuels] (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • … [a similar product to aluminum bottles is aluminum cans, and] making a can from an old can instead of the raw material uses five percent of the energy and generates five percent of the emissions (inquirer.com)

Transport & Delivery

  • Generally quite lightweight like plastic – leads to a smaller transportation footprint

Waste Management & Recycling 

  • As a commodity, aluminum brings a significantly higher price [than glass or plastic], so much of the cost of a recycling program is actually paid for by [aluminum cans]
  • Today’s typical [aluminum] can contains 68 percent recycled content

Pollution

  • Aluminum generally has a low impact on the environment compared to a material like plastic when littered or dumped

Human Health

  • … the lining of aluminum cans contains bisphenol A [so, there may be questions around aluminum bottles too] (inquirer.com)

Usage

  • Aluminum is usually harder wearing than disposable plastic, very light, and doesn’t gave the fragility issues of glass

Other Notes

  • [When comparing aluminum to stainless steel via a life cycle assessment] aluminium was the worst performer for water use, stainless steel the worst for solid waste generation and the two metals the worst in terms of global warming impact. Overall, stainless steel was a slightly better performer than aluminium due to lower emissions from the mining of its raw materials and the production process (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • [For some beer brewers, aluminum cans are cheaper, more eco friendly, and can be taken places where glass bottles can’t be taken] (inquirer.com)
  • [Some companies are trying to accelerate development of bottles made partly from plants] (inquirer.com)
  • Aluminum bottles look like stainless steel, but are, in fact, very different. Aluminum is reactive with acidic liquids. So, aluminum bottles have to be lined with an enamel or epoxy that can wear away over time.  BPA is often a main ingredient used in epoxy… Aluminum may not always be dishwasher safe (aquasana.com)
  • [Medium estimates of the carbon footprint of different products are 488g for 4 x aluminum cans, 323g for [a single use] glass bottle, 250g for a single use plastic bottle, 32g for a tetrapak carton, and 24g for a glass bottle refilled 30 times] (tappwater.co)
  • If aluminium cans are made of 100% recycled material the carbon footprint will be 96% less [but only 45% of cans are recovered currently] (tappwater.co)
  • [One estimate put aluminum at 100-400 years to decompose, with low impact on wild life and metal scrap decomposition residue] (tappwater.co)

 

Further Ideas For Having A More Sustainable Bottle Footprint

  • Drink more from centralised points with reusable glasses, cups and bottles 
  • For example, drink water from the tap instead, with a cup or container, and, install a reverse osmosis water filter on your faucet and consider adding a water remineralizer to ensure you are not drinking sterilized water (shopkablo.com)
  • Drink from a keg or wine tap instead of individually packaged alcohol bottles
  • Drink other beverages from a soda stream or single point instead of individually packed cans and bottles
  • Re-use all new bottles as many times as possible
  • Repurpose bottles where you can instead of or before throwing them out
  • Buy as few new bottles as you can
  • Buy locally made where you can
  • Offer more public bottle water refill fountains and stations
  • Have more bulk food and beverage stores where people can bring existing bottles, containers and storage items to re-fill
  • Ban or penalise the sale of disposable bottles only where these types of bottles are completely unnecessary
  • Governments can help developing nations who don’t have clean water in the long term by investing in clean water infrastructure instead of sending bottled water to these countries

It’s important to note though that initiatives like re-fill schemes can have economic, logistical and other challenges for businesses, private and public parties, so, this is something that needs proven feasibility in the long term to work effectively.

 

What About Boxed/Carton/Paper Based Water Bottles?

Read more in this guide about whether boxed water packaging might be better and more sustainable than bottles made of plastic and other materials.

 

Sources

1. https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/04/19/opinion/20090419bottle.html?_r=0

2. https://tappwater.co/us/footprint-of-glass-vs-plastic-vs-aluminium-best-choice/

3. https://www.drkarenslee.com/comparing-reusable-bottles-stainless-steel-glass-plastic/

4. https://www.down2earthmaterials.ie/2013/02/14/decompose/

5. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/steel_glass_and_or_plastic_bottles_what_is_the_best_choice

6. https://earth911.com/living-well-being/recycled-beverage-containers/

7. https://www.biome.com.au/blog/how-to-choose-the-right-water-bottle/

8. https://www.ogdenclinicblog.com/choosing-a-water-bottle/

9. https://www.aquasana.com/info/education/bottle-battle

10. https://www.inquirer.com/philly/health/environment/20120723_Which_is_greener__Glass_bottles__plastic_bottles__or_aluminum_cans_.html

11. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/steel_glass_and_or_plastic_bottles_what_is_the_best_choice

12. https://shopkablo.com/blogs/the-reformist/the-environmental-impact-of-plastic-water-bottles-and-all-you-need-to-know

13. https://www.greenlifestylemag.com.au/features/2436/plastic-vs-stainless-steel-vs-aluminium-reusable-water-bottles?page=0%2C0

14. https://www.oberk.com/packaging-crash-course/glass-bottle-formation

15. http://blog.glassticwaterbottle.com/glass-water-bottles-vs-stainless-steel-better/

16. https://www.agc-glass.eu/en/sustainability/environmental-achievements/environmental-impact

17. https://www.bssa.org.uk/sectors.php?id=99#recycling

18. https://blog.theplasticbottlescompany.com/environmental/articles/is-glass-or-plastic-better-for-the-environment

19. https://www.recyclenow.com/recycling-knowledge/how-is-it-recycled/glass

20. https://cen.acs.org/materials/inorganic-chemistry/glass-recycling-US-broken/97/i6

21. https://www.recyclingtoday.com/article/busting-myths-about-glass-recycling/

22. https://www.glassallianceeurope.eu/en/environment

23. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/is-boxed-carton-paper-water-better-than-plastic-other-bottles/

24. https://giynow.com/2017/05/01/when-glass-is-more-sustainable-than-plastic/

Case Study: How The US Might Be Able To Increase Glass Recycling Rates

Case Study: How The US Might Be Able To Increase Glass Recycling Rates

This is a guide/case study with some main points outlining how the US might be able to increase glass recycling rates.

 

A Note On The Resources Mentioned In This Guide

  • The guide extrapolates on, and paraphrases or uses direct relevant quotes from an existing article by Cen.acs.org. You can view the full article here – https://cen.acs.org/materials/inorganic-chemistry/glass-recycling-US-broken/97/i6
  • The article listed by Recyclingtoday.com is also worth a read for an explanation of how glass recycling myths can be debunked, and what the right glass recycling equipment and facilities can do
  • We’ve also linked to our own guide about some of the pros and cons of recycling in general at the bottom if you’d like to read more

 

The Current State Of US Glass Recycling

  • [Currently, only about one third of the glass disposed of in the US gets recycled annually].
  • [Comparatively] There is a 90% recycling rate [for glass] in Switzerland, Germany, and other European countries

Note that this is a reflection of the national glass recycling picture in the US … cities and specific locations in the US like San Francisco may have much higher or lower recycling rates for different materials.

 

Benefits Of Recycling More Glass

  • Cullet (a granular material made by crushing bottles and jars usually collected from recycling programs) benefits glassmakers, the environment, and consumers [in several different ways]
  • Read about those ways and the estimates of these benefits in the original article

 

Potential Reasons For Current Glass Recycling Rates In The US (& Challenges & Difficulties)

  • [The lack of glass recycling in the US is not because there is a lack of knowledge of how to do it]
  • [Ultimately there’s many reasons more glass isn’t recycled … and these include] the interplay between the quality and availability of cullet and the economics of making glass, [and] differences [with other countries] in government policy and consumer education and habits
  • More specific reasons include …
  • … glassmakers are limited by what recycled material is available to them at a manageable cost [especially clean, furnace-ready cullet produced from single stream processing]. [Clean, furnace ready cullet is processed] inefficiently [in the US] compared with what happens in Europe
  • … US municipalities manage residential recycling primarily via single-stream curbside collection [that mixes glass with other materials … even non recyclables that incorrectly get thrown in the recycling bin … and contamination of glass can be a problem in this instance, along with sorting for material with commercial value]. [Roughly 40% of glass put in single stream recycling gets recycled compared to about 90% of glass put into multi stream recycling … and this mainly comes down to] the difference in the quality of glass from the two streams
  • [Multi stream recycling is far] is simpler on the processing end [than single stream recycling because glass is separated by consumers from other recyclables into glass only bins]
  • [A con to multi stream recycling is] a high level of consumer education [is usually required] and [it] is considerably more expensive than single-stream collection. [But, a couples of pros of multi stream recycling are that] the glass is much cleaner than what comes out of the single-stream supply, [and] glass can go straight to cullet processors [and skip sorting facilities]
  • Single stream recycling is ultimately an inherently inefficient and expensive recycling method. But most municipalities in the US stick with single stream because the collection costs are lower than those with multi-stream systems
  • Another reason is the size of the US, and distance between a materials recovery facility and a cullet supplier, or a cullet supplier and a buyer tend to be greater [than in European nations] … [and this presents an economic issue because transport is costly]
  • Another reason is that costs of recovering cullet are impacted by cullet specifications that vary between manufacturers [because different suppliers need to meet the needs of different manufacturers]
  • So, overall, we see costs and limited supply of cullet are an issue

 

How The US Might Increase Glass Recycling Rates

  • Implementation of multi stream recycling that separates glass from other recyclable materials, and separates glass from non recyclables that incorrectly get put in the recycling bins at the consumer level and contaminate recyclable material
  • Multi stream recycling can ultimately lead to ‘large quantities of high-quality cullet that are essential to further increase the recycled content in products’
  • To switch to multi-stream systems, US municipalities would need to introduce taxes or fees to meet the higher collection and handling costs. And most municipalities are reluctant to do so.
  • There would also need to be some type of subsidy to support transport of glass waste and cullet due to the distance between waste pickup locations, material recovery facilities, cullet suppliers, and buyers
  • Finding a way to standardise or streamline cullet recovery and cullet specifications for suppliers and manufacturers would also help
  • Local and state based glass recycling systems and facilities can help (recycling programs, cullet processors, suppliers, manufacturers, etc.)
  • Making recycling more of a social and cultural norm through education and awareness can help
  • Higher landfill costs can help – it discourages easy and convenient cheap dumping of glass into landfills, and encourages more recycling
  • Where recycling is legislated can help – Europe legislates nationally and not locally

But, ultimately, all parties need to work together – the honus and expectation can’t just fall on waste collection companies, manufacturers, and suppliers via legislation… consumers, government and other parties have to help and do their part to change and support the systems as well.

 

Recyclingtoday.com also gives examples of how common glass recycling myths might be debunked, and how the right glass recycling equipment (which requires upgrading most of the current equipment and glass recycling facilities) can solve some glass recycling problems. Read more at https://www.recyclingtoday.com/article/busting-myths-about-glass-recycling/

 

The Pros & Cons Of Recycling In General

Not all materials and products make sense to recycle in general, and then of course recycling can have different pros and cons based on the country or city in question (different cities have different recycling and waste management systems and capabilities).

Read more about the various potential pros and cons of recycling to consider in this guide: 

 

Sources

1. https://cen.acs.org/materials/inorganic-chemistry/glass-recycling-US-broken/97/i6

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/pros-and-cons-of-recycling-benefits-disadvantages/

3. https://www.recyclingtoday.com/article/busting-myths-about-glass-recycling/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/how-to-practically-increase-recycling-composting-rates-decrease-landfill-waste-a-san-francisco-city-case-study/

Pros & Cons Of Burning/Incinerating Plastic

Pros & Cons Of Burning/Incinerating Plastic

In the interest of finding out the best way to dispose of plastic, we’ve put together this guide outlining the pros and cons of burning/incinerating plastic

 

Summary – Pros & Cons Of Burning/Incinerating Plastic

  • The reality is that it’s not always practical, possible or beneficial to burn plastic, or use it in waste for energy applications
  • Every local government needs to do a waste management assessment to figure out the best solution to manage or dispose of plastic in their region
  • Incinerating or burning plastic for energy may be beneficial in some ways, and have drawbacks in others. The same can be said for recycling plastic, and also sending it to landfill. The type of plastic, and plastic items and products need to be taken into consideration too (as each may present different challenges and variables)
  • The more sustainable options may be to use less total plastic, produce less total plastic waste, and re-use and repurpose plastic where possible and beneficial
  • Another way to say it is … reduce, reuse where possible, and then look at recycling … and then look at whether to bury or burn plastic

 

Pros Of Burning/Incinerating Plastic

  • Burning waste can produce a lot of energy – enough to generate enough electricity for local grids in some instances. Energy from plastic can also be used for applications like providing energy to manufacture cement (bbc.com)
  • Plastic specifically as a material is more energy dense than coal – because it’s made of hydrocarbons like oil (nationalgeographic.com). Some plastic is made from natural gas too  
  • Plastic is a direct substitute for burning fossil fuels for energy in some instances 
  • Burning plastic addresses one of the biggest perceived problems with plastic – plastic takes a long time to degrade and break down. This means plastic spends a longer time in landfills, or out polluting the environment than other materials. Burning plastic addresses this problem (but admittedly, you are still left with emissions and waste ash to treat and manage)
  • If plastic production rates and totals increase into the future, burning plastic waste may be necessary – especially in places that are scarce of land for landfill, or that lack the recycling facilities
  • Emissions and air pollutants from incinerators can be managed – with scrubbers, precipitators, and filters to capture toxic pollutants and compounds such as dioxins, acid gases, and heavy metals (nationalgeographic.com). Bag rooms [also] bring [down] levels of pollution (treehugger.com)
  • Incinerator ash can be re-used or recycled, or simply treated and disposed of in a safe way
  • Pyrolysis may be the plastic burning method of the future – it has many benefits over conventional waste to energy and incineration, as well as over gasification (it doesn’t emit air pollution contaminants … only a small amount of CO2) (nationalgeographic.com)
  • Incineration of plastic provides an option for contaminated or non recyclable plastic – not all plastic can be recycled, and a lot of plastic is rejected or sent away from recycling facilities for different reasons. Incineration provides another option to dispose of this plastic next to landfill
  • Incineration can provide at least temporary relief for countries that need short term solutions to the China plastic import ban – incineration can ease the pressure on landfills for example

 

Cons Of Burning/Incinerating Plastic

  • Plastic is not a renewable resource (yet) – so, plastic incineration does not mask the fact that plastic products and waste being generated in the first place is unsustainable and causes pollution in a lot of ways before plastic can be burnt. Many sources indicate that incineration as it currently exists doesn’t contribute to a circular or sustainable society (pyrolysis can be the one exception to this though if the by products of plastic pyrolysis are used for new high quality material) (nationalgeographic.com). Burning plastic can be a non eco friendly and non sustainable easy way out for many countries and cities looking to take shortcuts or make profit in getting rid of plastic
  • Incineration technology can be expensive, and hard to scale – not every city and country can afford environmentally friendly or effective incineration technology. For example a plant in Scandanavia spent a billion kroner to try to meet the European standards for dioxin [emissions] (treehugger.com). Incineration can have various challenges that can make it harder to scale than say landfill. For example, incinerator plants need guaranteed streams of waste coming to them to be economically feasible in many instances
  • Burning plastic isn’t always energy efficient – plastics burned in incinerators set up to generate only electricity create heat at 25% efficiency. This is much lower than the 55% efficiency for new gas-fired power stations (bbc.com)
  • Recycling can be better than incineration of plastic in some ways – studies have shown that recycling plastic waste saves more energy—by reducing the need to extract fossil fuel and process it into new plastic—than burning it, along with other household waste, can generate (nationalgeographic.com)
  • Air pollution and air contamination from incineration emissions can degrade air quality and impact human health – toxic pollutants such as dioxins, acid gases, and heavy metals can be an issue. Additionally, these pollutants can only be captured with sophisticated technology, and the technology is only useful if combustion plants are properly operated and emissions controlled (nationalgeographic.com). Some sources indicate US incineration plants don’t meet the environmental standards that some European ones do, nor do they have the latest pollution controls (treehugger.com). Read more about waste incineration pollution, and ash control and management, in the thisiseco.co.uk resource below.
  • Greenhouse gases from incineration plants and plastics can be an issue –  In 2016, U.S. waste incinerators released the equivalent of 12 million tons of carbon dioxide, more than half of which came from plastics (nationalgeographic.com). When coal is phased out for generating electricity, incineration of unrecycled waste will be the most CO2-intensive form of generation (bbc.com)
  • Incineration ash can be hazardous and can be an issue – Waste to energy and incineration plants have incinerator ash that needs to be managed, recycled or disposed of in an eco friendly way
  • Even pyrolysis has it’s problems – pyrolysis is an expensive and immature technology, and it is still cheaper to make diesel from fossil fuel than from waste plastic (nationalgeographic.com)
  • Some sources indicate landfill is more eco friendly than incineration – In environmental terms, it is generally better to bury plastic than to burn it … [and there is the case to be made] that burying waste plastic in landfill is actually a cheap form of carbon capture and storage (bbc.com)

 

Other Resources On Disposing Of Plastic

 

Sources

1. Various other BMR guides on plastic and waste management

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/best-way-to-dispose-of-plastic-recycle-landfill-or-burn-incinerate/

3. https://www.thisiseco.co.uk/news_and_blog/what-happens-to-waste-to-energy-incineration-ash.html

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incineration

5. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/03/should-we-burn-plastic-waste/

6. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-43120041

7. https://www.treehugger.com/plastic/single-use-plastics-are-being-incinerated-instead-recycled-usa.html

Pros & Cons Of Sending Plastic To Landfill

Pros & Cons Of Sending Plastic To Landfill

In the interest of finding out the best way to dispose of plastic, we’ve put together this guide outlining the pros and cons of sending plastic to landfill.

 

Summary – Pros & Cons Of Sending Plastic To Landfill

  • Plastic in landfill seems to get a bad reputation in a lot of places, whilst recycling plastic or sending it to waste for energy incineration can be seen as magic bullets or clear cut solutions
  • The reality is that it’s not always practical, possible or beneficial to recycle plastic or burn it for energy (for various reasons)
  • Every local government needs to do a waste management assessment to figure out the best solution to manage or dispose of plastic in their region
  • Landfill may be beneficial in some ways, and have drawbacks in others. The same can be said for recycling and burning plastic. The type of plastic, and plastic items and products need to be taken into consideration too (as each may present different challenges and variables)
  • The more sustainable options may be to use less total plastic, produce less total plastic waste, and re-use and repurpose plastic where possible and beneficial

 

Pros Of Sending Plastic To Landfill

  • Every city has different waste management collection and disposal systems, technology and facilities – In a specific city, landfill may be the best option across a range of indicators and considerations compared to incineration/waste to energy, and recycling, for some types of plastic and plastic items. As one example, recycling and incineration technology in a particular city may be so inefficient, ineffective or have so many drawbacks, that landfill by default becomes the best disposal option for some types of plastic or all plastics
  • Some plastics are non recyclable or present major challenges to recycle – landfill may be the best option for these plastics (where incineration is also not possible or not beneficial). Apart from the non recyclable plastics example, recycling can be more expensive, time consuming, resource consuming and energy consuming
  • Ability to isolate plastic to one location – In a landfill with a good landfill liner, effective leachate management system, and one that is well contained/secure/closed off around the perimeter, at least plastic is being isolated to one area with less risk of external pollution problems arising
  • Potential advantages over incineration – Plastic in landfill is less of a chance to cause air pollution and air contamination issues (and subsequently less likely to degrade air quality) compared to incineration
  • Plastic doesn’t emit GHGs in landfill like other materials might – Plastic isn’t an organic material. This means it doesn’t emit methane in landfill like organic material like food scraps does
  • The end destination for a lot of plastic (if not the environment) is landfill anyway – A lot of plastic eventually ends up in landfill any way due to a range of reasons, such as being rejected at recycling facilities (contamination is one reason for this), or the fact that plastics can only be recycled a certain number of times any way before they degrade in quality and performance too much to be recycled again
  • Landfill may be more beneficial in the short term for countries with money and organisational problems – Landfill is a much cheaper, easier, and quicker option to have at least one effective mode of plastic disposal/management for some lower income countries, regions and cities. The same may also apply to places with a lack of good organisational, institutional, and political structures
  • Plastic takes up less space in landfill than some other materials – An indirect benefit of plastic in landfill is that it takes up less space than other materials like paper in landfill

 

Cons Of Sending Plastic To Landfill

  • Plastic still takes up space in landfill, and can occupy that space for a long time – Plastic takes a very long time to break down and degrade (it’s not actually known how long some plastics take to fully break down). So, plastic in landfill may be sitting there for a very long time taking up space and resources while it breaks down
  • Recycling may be more beneficial in some ways than landfill – Some types of plastic may provide more benefit economically, socially or environmentally when recycled compared to being disposed of in landfill
  • Incineration and burning plastic for energy may be more beneficial in some ways than landfill – Some types of plastic may provide far more benefit economically, socially or environmentally when incinerated or when used for ‘waste for energy’ – especially when the incineration technology can severely minimise or eliminate air pollution, and there is an effective method in place to deal with incinerator ash and waste
  • Unsecure, uncontained and open landfill and dumping sites can be an issue – Plastic can leak/escape into the environment (creating plastic pollution problems) when disposed of in an unsecure or open landfill, or in open dumping sites 
  • Some plastics may be more of a problem than others in landfills – There’s debate over the toxicity and leaching of specific types of plastic in landfills, such as some types of PVC and plastics with synthetic additives. Landfill liners and leachate management can somewhat help with this. But, even liners need to be replaced after a certain amount of time
  • Some plastic problems can only be solved by not producing as much plastic in the first place – so, landfills can help with some problems, but, the preferable option across many sustainability indicators may be to not produce or use as much plastic in the first place

 

Other Resources On Disposing Of Plastic

 

Sources

1. Various other BMR guides on plastic and waste management

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/best-way-to-dispose-of-plastic-recycle-landfill-or-burn-incinerate/

A Realistic Plastic Free Living (Or Plastic Free July) Guide, With Tips

A Realistic Plastic Free Living (Or Plastic Free July) Guide, With Tips

The terms ‘plastic free’ gets used a lot by some people, and, plastic free living along with challenges like Plastic Free July are seemingly becoming more common.

But, what is a realistic way to define plastic free, or make it part of your own lifestyle?

We provide some unique context on these things in this guide (from our perspective, and not necessarily what you might read or see in other plastic free guides), and also provide some tips on how the average person might go ‘plastic free’ in a more practical way.

 

If You Live In A Modern City Or Location, It’s Virtually Impossible Not To Use Plastics

Unless you live a more isolated or custom built life away from most of modern civilisation, and you don’t often travel, the odds are good that you aren’t living 100% plastic free.

The reality of modern living is that plastics exist almost everywhere.

We all use them both directly and indirectly almost daily … consider comprehensive answers to these questions:

  • What are all of the pipes in your house, or under the pavements and roads made of? 
  • What are all the materials in your car made of, or the bus/train/tram/plane you use to get around?
  • What are all the materials made of that are required for the energy equipment and cables that supply you with electricity?

We use plastic in many different industries, and the plastic we use  can provide us with significant benefits we couldn’t easily, reliably or affordably get from other materials in some instances

Something people may not know, is that plastic bags (according to one recent Danish study), are better as carrier bags across a range of environmental and human toxicity indicators when considering production and waste disposal, compared to paper, cotton, organic cotton, and composite (including jute) bags. This study did not take into account the impact of plastic litter, and various other indicators or factors like economic impact, but you get the picture … plastic isn’t always the villain it’s made out to be. Plastic has it’s pros and cons like anything. 

Back to the topic of this guide … living ‘plastic free’ or participating in a plastic free challenge almost certainly means you are still going to be using some plastics, directly or indirectly.

What you might focus on instead is reducing or eliminating the use of plastics that are potentially or clearly more problematic or harmful.

 

Problematic &/Or Harmful Plastics

Some types of plastic have the potential to be more problematic and harmful than others (or they clearly are).

They may include:

  • Commonly Littered Plastics, Or Plastics Commonly Found During Volunteer Waste Cleanups
  • High Waste Plastic, & Plastic With Short ‘In-Use’ Lifetime
  • Non Recyclable Plastic
  • Plastics That Take The Longest To Break Down & Degrade
  • Plastics That Might Leach Chemicals, Or Are Made With Potentially Problematic Additives & Substances
  • Plastic Most Prevalent In Land Pollution
  • Plastic Most Prevalent In Ocean Pollution

 

How You Might Change Your Plastic Footprint – Tips For A Plastic Free July Or Living Plastic Free

With the above information in mind, these are some realistic tips you may choose to consider for changing your plastic footprint, or living a more ‘plastic free’ lifestyle.

You may choose to follow one, a combination, or all of them (in as a relaxed, or strict way as you deem suitable for your own life circumstances):

  • Buy new plastic less frequently (in products, or packaging)
  • Re-use existing plastic more frequently (such as shopping bags)
  • Repurpose existing plastic more frequently (such as using plastic bags for bin liners)
  • Dispose of existing plastic less frequently (can achieve through more re-use and repurposing)
  • Reduce your own litter (by using bins, or re-using and repurposing at all times where possible)
  • Pick up or clean up littered plastic where possible, and/or participate in clean ups
  • Use less and buy less products with plastic packaging, or short use/single use plastics
  • Use less non recyclable plastics (generally, plastics #1 and #2 are more recyclable than others, but it also matters how you dispose of your recyclable plastics – so, know your local recycling guidelines)
  • Be mindful of whether you are using plastics that take a long time to break down (but in reality, all plastics take a long time to degrade and break down – so, it’s better to use less plastic in general)
  • Use alternative materials to plastic that can leach where easily substitutable (e.g. use a glass or stainless steel drink bottle, or food container)
  • Use less textiles with synthetic fibres (e.g. buy natural fibre clothing and garments where you can, or buy second hand)
  • Buy more natural products (that don’t have man made additives, or aren’t packaged in plastic) in general where realistic (e.g. buying natural personal care products where possible may reduce micro beads and other plastics)

There are many more tips you can implement, but the above are some good individual points to consider.

On a society wide and global level, there are many more things we can be doing to try to address and solve the plastic problems we face.

 

Being Conscious Of Your Plastic Footprint Is Great, But, There Are Other Ways To Live A Sustainable Life, Or Lower Your Individual Sustainability Footprint

If someone wants to do something about their plastic footprint, that is obviously a positive.

But, it can also be beneficial to take a wider view, or get a bigger picture about how individuals can live a more sustainable life (and know that people can contribute in other ways).

As we outlined in our link to the life cycle assessment of plastic bags above … many sustainability experts have pointed out that choices in these areas of your life (and other ares) can have significant impact on living a sustainable and/or eco friendly lifestyle:

  • What you choose to eat
  • The transport you use
  • The size of the house you live in and how well insulated or efficient the energy or heating/cooling is
  • Your overall consumption behavior (what you consume, how you consume, how often you consume, how frequently you re-use, and so on)

So, be aware of all choices in your lifestyle, and how significant or effective each is when it comes to sustainability.

You may be contributing (or capable or contributing) to a better world in more ways than you initially thought.

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/what-is-plastic-used-for-in-society-sectors-that-use-the-most-plastic/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/ways-in-which-plastic-benefits-society-the-environment-the-economy/

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/what-are-the-most-problematic-harmful-types-of-plastic/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/should-we-ban-plastic-bags-are-they-better-or-worse-than-other-types-of-bags/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/the-pros-cons-of-plastic/

6. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/solutions-to-plastic-problems-how-to-solve-plastic-pollution-how-to-manage-plastic-in-society-in-the-future/

What Are The Most Problematic & Harmful Types Of Plastic?

What Are The Most Problematic & Harmful Types Of Plastic?

There’s several ways you could classify or rank plastic as problematic or harmful.

So, what we’ve done in this guide is identified the different ways that plastic can be problematic or harmful, and identified the types of plastic to aware of in each case.

 

Summary – Most Problematic Or Harmful Types Of Plastic

We’ve categorised them in the following ways:

  • Most Littered Plastic, & Most Commonly Found During Cleanups
  • High Waste Plastic, & Plastic With Short ‘In-Use’ Lifetime
  • Non Recyclable Plastic
  • Plastics That Take The Longest To Break Down & Degrade
  • Plastics That Leach Chemicals, Or Are Made With Problem Additives & Substances
  • Plastic Most Prevalent In Land Pollution
  • Plastic Most Prevalent In Ocean Pollution

 

Most Littered Plastic, & Most Commonly Found Plastics During Land Cleanups

Littered plastic waste and waste found on land and on beaches (as well as in rivers) contributes to plastic pollution problems.

There’s a few guides we’ve written about these types of plastic and general waste:

As a summary of plastics to be aware of in this category:

Beaches

  • Cigarette butts
  • Plastic food wrappers
  • Plastic beverage bottles,
  • Plastic bottle caps and lids
  • Plastic grocery bags and other types plastic bags
  • Plastic straws and stirrers
  • Plastic containers
  • Plastic cutlery (forks, spoons, knives, plates) 
  • Plastic cups
  • Styrofoam cups

Land

  • Many of the same items found on beaches

Rivers

  • Cigarette butts
  • Plastic bottles and bottle caps
  • Plastic food packaging
  • Plastic bags

 

High Waste Plastic, & Plastic With Short ‘In-Use’ Lifetime

Plastic that becomes waste quicker than others is going to contribute to plastic waste management and plastic waste pollution problems more than others (amongst other issues).

Plastic packaging produces the most total plastic waste, and has one of the shortest ‘in-use’ lifetimes among different plastic types.

From OurWorldInData.org: “Packaging, for example, has a very short ‘in-use’ lifetime (typically around 6 months or less). This is in contrast to building and construction, where plastic use has a mean lifetime of 35 years”

Many people refer to different types of plastic packaging as ‘single use plastics’ or ‘disposable plastics’ – such as plastic shopping bags and plastic food wrappers, just as two of many examples.

But, plastic packaging doesn’t just used on the consumer side, it also gets used for transport and delivery of products to store (plastic bags, plastic cushioning, plastic ties and fastening material, plastic containers and boxes, and so on.

 

Non Recyclable Plastic

Some plastics are more recyclable than others, whilst some plastics cannot be recycled at all.

What can and can’t be recycled in terms of plastics depends on the city, and the recycling services and capabilities they offer.

But typically, plastics #1 (PET) and #2 (HDPE) are recycled widely. These plastics tend to be hard plastics like plastic bottles, jugs, containers etc.

Soft plastics tend not to be recycled as widely (although, some cities do offer individual soft plastic recycling).

It should be noted, non recyclable plastics are only more of an issue when recycling is the best disposal option for plastics, and not say landfill or incineration.

 

Plastics That Take The Longest To Break Down & Degrade

The longer plastics spend in landfills, or out in the environment, the more opportunity they have to cause a range of problems.

The reality is that all plastics can take a long time to break down and degrade, but some plastics take longer than others, such as fishing line, diapers, toothbrushes, plastic cups and bottles, plastic 6 rings, and straws, just to name a few.

 

Plastics That Leach Chemicals, Or Are Made With Problem Additives & Substances

There are conflicting studies and reports regarding the impact of BPAs and Phthalates in common consumer goods that contain plastic, as well as the impact that certain plastic types like PVC have at various stages of their life cycle.

Specifically, there are human health concerns with plastics that contain BPAs and Phthalates, and there are toxicity concerns (amongst other concerns) with some types of PVC.

Read more about plastic leaching, as well as BPAs, Phthalates, and PVC plastic in this guide.

 

Plastic Most Prevalent In Land Pollution

Plastic on land comes from many sources.

One of the major sources of plastic in soil, rivers, water and bottled water supplies, food, and so on, is thought to be from plastic fibres in the clothes we wear and the textiles we use.

But, in reality, plastic pollution on land happens in many ways.

Read more about plastic on land in this guide:

 

Plastic Most Prevalent In Ocean Pollution

Plastic in the ocean mainly comes from land based plastic (about 70 to 80% of the total plastic in the ocean is from land based sources), and the rest comes from marine sources (about 20-30%).

Plastic from land can come from plastic packaging and other types of plastic, and marine based plastic can come from fishing vessels and other sea vessels (marine plastic can include fishing gear and equipment like nets and fishing lines, and dumped waste and gear from ships)

Read more about plastic in the ocean in this guide:

 

Other Factors To Consider With Problem Plastics

Certain countries and regions of the world may be responsible for more plastic production, plastic waste generation, mismanaged plastic, and polluted plastic going in rivers and the ocean than others.

You can read more about those countries and regions at https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/most-common-plastic-waste-generated-found-on-beaches-in-oceans-on-land/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/most-commonly-littered-items-in-society-land-rivers-beaches-oceans/

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/most-common-types-of-waste-found-in-oceans-on-beaches/

4. Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2019) – “Plastic Pollution”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution’ [Online Resource]

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/what-plastics-can-cannot-be-recycled-how-to-find-out/

6. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/best-way-to-dispose-of-plastic-recycle-landfill-or-burn-incinerate/

7. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/how-long-plastic-takes-to-break-down-degrade-in-landfills-in-the-ocean-the-environment/

8. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/potentially-harmful-effects-of-plastic-on-the-environment-wildlife-humans-health-the-economy/

9. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-pollution-on-land-faq-guide/

10. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-in-the-ocean-faq-guide/

‘Why Plastic …’ (FAQ Guide)

'Why Plastic ...' (FAQ Guide)

This is a short FAQ guide answering some of the most common questions that include ‘Why Plastic … X ‘

 

Why Was Plastic Invented?

There should be a distinction between the first synthetic polymer that was invented, and the first fully synthetic plastic that was invented:

  • The first synthetic polymer was invented in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt, who was inspired by a New York firm’s offer of $10,000 for anyone who could provide a substitute for ivory
  • In 1907 Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite … [in part] to meet the needs of the rapidly electrifying United States

– sciencehistory.org

 

Why Is Plastic Bad/Why Is It Harmful/Why Say No To Plastic

Read about some of the potentially harmful effects of plastic in this guide:

 

Why Plastic Pollution Is A Problem

Plastic pollution causes several potential issues on land in the ocean. Read more in these guides:

Also note, a more indirect form of plastic pollution might occur from the burning of plastic waste – where air pollution could occur (from dioxins and other air or atmosphere contaminants), and incinerator ash could cause pollution if not treated or recycled or disposed of properly.

 

Why Is Plastic In The Ocean

Because there are both land based, and ocean based plastic sources responsible for putting plastic into the ocean.

Plastic from the ocean mainly ends up there from coastal populations within 50kms of the coast line, and rivers are a significant way that plastic from inland gets carried out to coastal populations (ourworldindata.org)

Marine based plastic sources mainly come from fishing vessels (fishing gear, fishing equipment, dumped gear and and equipment like pots).

 

Why Plastic Bags Should Or Should Not Be Banned

Read more in this guide:

 

Why Plastic Straws Should Or Should Not Be Banned

Read more in this guide:

 

Why Plastic Bottles Should Or Should Not Be Banned

Unlike plastic straws and plastic bags, plastic bottles tend to be hard plastic, and can generally be recycled, so there tends to be a weaker push to have plastic bottles banned (amongst other reasons such as plastic bottles being a more necessary plastic item).

 

Sources

1. https://www.sciencehistory.org/the-history-and-future-of-plastics

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/potentially-harmful-effects-of-plastic-on-the-environment-wildlife-humans-health-the-economy/

3. Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2019) – “Plastic Pollution”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org.Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution’ [Online Resource]

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/should-we-ban-plastic-straws-potential-impact-of-plastic-straws-a-comparison-to-plastic-straw-alternatives/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/should-we-ban-plastic-bags-are-they-better-or-worse-than-other-types-of-bags/

‘Where Plastic …’ (FAQ Guide)

'Where Plastic ...' (FAQ Guide)

This is a short FAQ guide answering some of the most common questions that include ‘Where Plastic … X ‘

 

Where Was Plastic Invented

There should be a distinction between the first synthetic polymer that was invented, and the first fully synthetic plastic that was invented:

  • The first synthetic polymer was invented in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt, who was inspired by a New York firm’s offer of $10,000 for anyone who could provide a substitute for ivory
  • In 1907 Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite … [in part] to meet the needs of the rapidly electrifying United States

– sciencehistory.org

 

Where Does Plastic Come From, & Where Is It Made

Most plastic comes from fossil fuels.

In the US, plastic starts out with crude oil refining or natural gas processing

The compounds from these processes are used by ‘Chemists [who] combine various types of monomers in many different arrangements to make an almost infinite variety of plastics with different chemical properties’ (science.howstuffworks.com)

 

Where Is Plastic Used

Plastic is used across different industries, for different uses and applications, and different countries lead in terms of overall production and plastic waste …

 

This guide outlines the industries that use the most plastic in society:

This guide outlines the various uses and benefits we have for plastic in society:

In terms of plastic waste produced by country, Ourworldindata.org has plastic waste figures:

  • With the largest population, China produced the largest quantity of plastic, at nearly 60 million tonnes. This was followed by the United States at 38 million, Germany at 14.5 million and Brazil at 12 million tonnes.

 

Where Does Plastic End Up

Consider these three disposal methods for plastic, and where the plastic ends up:

  • Plastic adequately disposed of via waste management, but ending up in landfill – most of the plastic we dispose of isn’t recycled (most figures put that amount of plastic not recycled over the 90% mark). But, different countries and cities can have different shares of plastic going to landfill, incineration and recycling
  • Plastic littered, and ending up on land (in rivers, in the soil, on beaches etc) or in the ocean – the rate of littering is about 2% of a country’s plastic waste generation
  • Plastic Inadequately disposed of and ending up on land (in rivers, in the soil, on beaches etc), or in the ocean – low to middle income countries have much higher rates of plastic being inadequately disposed of i.e. leaking from rubbish dumping sites because landfills aren’t secure or closed off

 

Where Is Plastic Recycled

Mainly recycling facilities, but the complete plastic recycling process can extend out to several third parties who are responsible for sorting, discarding, purifying, forming or pelletizing, re-selling and reusing plastic recycled waste.

TheAtlantic.com outlines a piece of plastic we send to be recycled can enter ‘an elaborate global system within which its plastic is sold, shipped, melted, resold, and shipped again—sometimes zigzagging the globe’

Read more about the potential journey of a plastic bottle sent for recycling in the US at https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/12/what-actually-happens-to-a-recycled-plastic-bottle/418326/

 

Where To Recycle Plastic Bags

Plastic bags aren’t able to be recycled in most places.

But, some cities do offer plastic bag and ‘soft plastic’ recycling services. Do an online search for ‘soft plastics recycling in [insert city name’]

 

Where Is Plastic Pollution

It can happen on land, and in the oceans, mainly.

Plastic on land comes from a range of sources, and happens in a range of ways.

Ocean plastic pollution has it’s own unique causes to consider.

Also note, a more indirect form of plastic pollution might occur from the burning of plastic waste – where air pollution could occur (from dioxins and other air or atmosphere contaminants), and incinerator ash could cause pollution if not treated or recycled or disposed of properly.

 

Where Does Plastic In The Ocean Come From

Roughly 70-80% of plastic in the ocean in total comes from land based sources, and 20-30% comes from marine sources (fishing discards and fishing equipment/gear).

Plastic in the ocean mainly comes from coastal populations within 50kms of the coast line, and rivers are a major way that plastic gets carried from inland to these coastal locations.

 

Where Is Plastic In The Ocean

There’s four points to consider here (plastic could end up in all four of these locations):

  • Plastic congregates on the surface of the water at ocean basins and gyres
  • Plastic breaks up into micro plastics and nano plastics and sinks to the deep sea and deep sea sediments
  • Plastic breaks down and ends up in organisms and living things
  • Plastic breaks down and is washed up or buried in our shorelines

– ourworldindata.org

 

Where Is The Plastic Island

The plastic island people refer to is the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’.

You can view the parts of the ocean with the greatest masses of plastics in surface ocean waters by ocean basin at https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution

Go to the section ‘Which Oceans Have The Most Plastic Waste’

 

Where To Shop Plastic Free

It depends on the country and city you are in.

Some cities now have dedicated plastic free and zero waste stores, as well as bulk food stores that minimise plastic packaging (by using packaging such as compostable or reusable bags and containers, and tin ties, just as examples).

You can also cut down on plastic in your own shopping by re-using bags, and looking for products that includes less or no plastic packaging.

 

Sources

1. https://science.howstuffworks.com/plastic.htm

2. https://www.plasticseurope.org/en/about-plastics/what-are-plastics/how-plastics-are-made

3. https://www.sciencehistory.org/the-history-and-future-of-plastics

4. Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2019) – “Plastic Pollution”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution’ [Online Resource]

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-pollution-on-land-faq-guide/

6. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-in-the-ocean-faq-guide/

7. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/12/what-actually-happens-to-a-recycled-plastic-bottle/418326/