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.
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.
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 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.
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.