Bottling It

Let me throw a few interesting statistics at you. The world consumes 1 000 000 plastic bottles per minute. That is the equivalent of approximately 17 000 per second. 480 billion bottles were sold globally in 2016. If laid end to end they would reach halfway to the sun. By 2021, at current rates of increase, that figure will be 583 billion.

That’s 583 billion plastic bottles. Let that figure sink in for a minute.

Plastic bottles on beach


Plastic water and soft drinks bottles are made from Polyethylene terephthalate (Pet) which is highly recyclable. We are all sufficiently enlightened at this point to be doing our bit on the recycling front, filling our green bins. It may come as a surprise to learn then that fewer than half of the plastic bottles produced on earth in 2016 were collected for recycling and a mere 7% were turned into new bottles. So where do they all go? Well they have two primary destinations; landfill and the ocean.

According to research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, between 5 million and 13 million tonnes of plastic leaks into the world’s oceans each year where it is ingested by sea birds, fish and other organisms. By 2050 the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish.

Hugo Tagholm, of the Marine Conservation Group Surfers Against Sewage, said the figures were devastating. “The plastic pollution crisis rivals the threat of climate change as it pollutes every natural system and an increasing number of organisms on planet Earth. Current science shows that plastics cannot be usefully assimilated into the food chain. Where they are ingested they carry toxins that work their way on to our dinner plates.”

Surfers Against Sewage are campaigning for a refundable deposit scheme to be introduced in the UK as a way of encouraging reuse.

Whilst consumption in the UK is increasing at an alarming rate it is China where the bulk of the uplift in demand is originating. The Chinese public’s consumption of bottled water accounted for nearly a quarter of global demand in 2016.  In 2015, consumers in China purchased 68.4bn bottles of water and in 2016 this increased to 73.8bn bottles, up 5.4bn.

As you might expect, it is the major drinks brands which produce the greatest numbers of plastic bottles. Coca-Cola, according to analysis carried out by Greenpeace, produces more than 100 billion throwaway plastic bottles every year – or 3,400 a second.  Greenpeace stepped in to conduct this research after Coca-Cola itself refused to publicly disclose its global plastic output. I suspect they reckoned the figures would not be that well received, by anyone who is not a Coca-Cola shareholder at any rate.

Now, add to this the frankly mind-blowing statistic that the top six drinks companies in the world use a combined average of just 6.6% of recycled Pet in their products, again according to Greenpeace. A third have no targets to increase their use of recycled plastic and none are aiming to ever use 100% across their global production.

Plastic drinking bottles could be made from 100% recycled plastic, known as RPet – and campaigners such as Greenpeace, Surfers Against Sewage and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation are continually pressing big drinks companies to radically increase the amount of recycled plastic in their bottles. So why isn’t it happening? The drinks companies would maintain that it is because there is not enough high-quality food grade plastic being made available via the recycling route. Campaigners would maintain however that there is a rather more sinister reason. Cosmetics. Brands are hostile to using RPet because they want their products in gleaming, shiny, brand new clear plastic not the matt effect that is attainable via RPet.

But the news is not all bad. Why? Well because here on a silver platter is Ireland’s chance to step forth and save the day. We have already shown the world how to eradicate noxious one-use plastic bags, what’s to stop us doing the same with plastic bottles? Nothing.

Come on Leo or whoever is in charge up there, get it sorted.

We love being loved, think of the global adulation this will unleash.

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