Green is good – we are developing alternative fuels, installing solar powered energy panels on homes and businesses, and buying hybrid automobiles. Some people are taking even greater active steps to ride on the global warming bandwagon and save our planet and its people. Are you drinking a nice, cold, refreshing bottled water, energy drink, or functional vitamin-enhanced beverage while you are installing your solar panels? If so, you are not alone. But, did you know that:
* American consumers spent more than $270 billion for the 36 billion gallons of fountain and packaged beverages we consumed in 2005. That figure is about equal to the amount of money Americans spent on gasoline during that year.
* Americans purchased 215 billion beverage cans and bottles in 2005, 21 billion more than in 2002. 14% of those were plastic bottled water.
* 75% of non-carbonated beverage containers are plastic.
* Fewer than 1 in 5 plastic bottles are recycled. Almost 2 million tons of plastic bottles were sent to landfills in 2005.
* By 2010, sales of flavored non-carbonated drinks are likely to surpass soda sales.
Remember about 20 years ago when we thought buying water in a plastic bottle was going to be a flop of an idea? After all, you can take the plastic sports bottle from WalMart and fill it from your kitchen tap? I remember my father saying, “Now who is going to pay money for water in a bottle?” The more important question that was not asked 20 years ago by my father is, “Where are we going to bury billions of plastic bottles and cans that do not get recycled?”
The Container Recycling Institute released its’ Water, Water, Everywhere report in February 2007 and reports that an estimated 144 billion containers were wasted in the United States in 2005. More specifically, the containers in landfills, on road sides, or sent to incinerators includes:
54 billion aluminum cans
52 billion plastic bottles and jugs
30 billion glass bottles
10 billion pouches, cartons, and drink boxes
Ironically, it took 18 million barrels of crude oil equivalent to replace the 2 million tons of plastic bottles that were wasted instead of recycled. An estimated 800 thousand metric tons of carbon equivalent (MTCE) were released in the process of making approximately 50 billion new plastic bottles from virgin rather than recycled materials. When replacement of all of the containers are considered, the unnecessary use of energy comes to 53.5 million barrels of crude oil equivalent and 4.8 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
This booming growth in beverage sales and the alarming impact it is creating on the environment has led some states, like Connecticut, to revise their laws with respect to recycling bottles and cans. Most bills dealing with recycling were passed in the 1970’s and early 1980’s when the volume of cans and bottles were not at these levels. Some states are looking at financial incentives to boost recycling and reduce litter.
Also worrisome is the process of recycling plastic since most plants in the U.S. do not produce clean plastic that can be used for new food or drink packaging. Most of the recycled plastic is used for industrial packaging and textiles, even though this earns companies less money because it is the food and drink packaging market that creates the biggest demand for plastic. Plastic recycling companies cannot compete with China and Vietnam markets where recycling is flourishing because of cheap labor and lax environmental laws. Consequently, much of the plastic that is recycled in the U.S. is shipped to Asia.
There is a new generation of recycling plants that will use improved technologies to significantly increase the number of bottles that are recycled in the U.S. – but ONLY if consumers take an active role in the process. If your state is not currently providing incentives to consumers and bottle manufacturers to promote recycling, please write your legislators. If your community does not offer a recycling pick-up program and provide recycling bins for homes and in public areas, speak up at your city council meetings.
Thank you for your interest in this GREEN topic.