Why Recycling Plastic Bottles Doesn't Help The Problem (Video)


Photo by stephendepolo via Flickr CC

Plastic bottles always suck, even if they're being recycled. That's because the energy it takes to recycle them is mind-boggling. It's no simple task to melt down all those bottles, and the plastic is usually degraded in the process and often can't be used for food-grade products again. Take a tour of a plastic bottle recycling facility in this video and be amazed.

Core77 states it best, "Ecostar recycling facility in Wisconsin. The amount of steps--not to mention electricity, water and manpower--that need to be taken to go from a bale of plastic bottles into safe, useable material is pretty staggering."

To clarify, we aren't knocking recycling. And we aren't knocking Ecostar, because we love that they're at least paying homage to greener materials and recycling. Recycling is a vital step to keeping items out of landfills and in the consumer stream. However, recycling should be a last line of defense in slowing down our consumption of natural resources. Plastic bottles -- indeed anything disposable -- is simply a bad idea from the start.

Reduce, and reuse are the two most important Rs in the loop. For some reason, recycling gets the most attention. It might be because it doesn't require us to change the important habits, like shifting what items we buy in the first place so we avoid excessive packaging and disposable items.

It's sort of amazing that in 2011, we're still battling plastic bottles even after we know the destruction they cause. But just to hammer home the point, and since today is World Oceans Day, we'll end on this note:

It is estimated that we have 6 times more plastic than plankton in our Oceans.

If that doesn't make you want to ban the bottle along with the bag, I'm not sure what will.

UPDATE: When I found this statistic, it seemed a little dramatic. Luckily, TreeHugger writer John Laumer was all over it, and just sent us these back of the napkin calculations from his friend Friend Russ George:

World plastic production is now about 40 million tons per year.

Ocean plankton production is about 1gm/m2/day or about 1 tonne/ km2/day

Oceans are about 300 million km2

That's about 300 million tonnes of plankton growth each day, a low estimate. So maybe 30 - 40 billion tonnes of standing plankton biomass per year.

How does one get from 40 million tonnes per year total world plastic production to an ocean filled with more plastic than plankton?

If one assumes 100% of all plastic ever produced is floating today in the oceans one might estimate 100 years of plastic production x 40 million tonnes per year (current production rate) might equal 4 billion tonnes of plastic ever produced. More likely 1/10th that, but hey go ahead and give max case in favour of the plastic horror vs. least case for Pico and kin.

If one factors in the fact that not all plastic production is making it out of the land fills and into the oceans to float around as one factor, nothing near 4 billion tonnes of plastic has ever been produced as another factor, recycling of plastics another factor, breakdown in the environment another factor, and perhaps more then just how do "they" justify the outrageous scare media marketing tactics. There are 4 or 5 orders of magnitude of "scary spice" in the soup.

Scary spice added with gusto or not, these numbers give us some perspective on the plastic vs plankton ratio. Despite the un-surety over the actual statistic, we do know that plastics plague ocean wildlife, from sea turtles ingesting plastic bags to albatross feeding their chicks bottle caps. And that is reason enough to back off of disposable plastics consumption.

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More on Plastic Bottles
The US Consumes 1500 Plastic Water Bottles Every Second, a fact by Watershed
Pablo Calculates the True Cost of Bottled Water
An Ocean of Plastic...In Birds' Guts (Slideshow)

Tags: Bottled Water | Plastics | Recycling