Ever wondered what the life cycle of a plastic bottle looks like?
In this article, we’ll show you. We all know that plastic bottles are one of the most common types of plastic pollution, all over the world. This piece gives an insight into how bottles are made, how they end up in our homes or workplaces, and then what is and can be done with the waste.
How many plastic bottles are used in Australia?
Australians purchase almost 15 billion plastic bottles every single year. This includes those bought by households and individuals, as well as businesses in the commercial sector. Many of these bottles hold water.
The most common liquids that plastic bottles hold include:
– Soft drink
… and much more.
Did you know that it takes 3L of tap water and 250ML of oil to produce 1L of bottled water? This is an astounding fact, especially considering that in Australia, we have some of the highest-quality tap water in the world. When you add the fact that it costs far more, it would seem an easy fix to stop buying bottled water.
Are plastic bottles a problem?
Yes, single-use plastic bottles are one of the biggest issues when it comes to plastic pollution in Australia and the wider world. Each one of these bottles takes up to one thousand years to break down fully. That means that when they are not being recycled, plastic bottles will sit there for years, and years… and years.
In the US, 80% of all the plastic bottles used annually end up in landfills. In Australia, that figure is a little better; according to Sustainability Victoria, 53% of plastic bottles that we use end their life cycle in landfills around the country. While it’s a slight improvement, that’s still more than half of all the plastic bottles used across the nation.
And plastic at large remains an enormous issue.
In 2019/20, all of the plastics used in Australia created 16 million tonnes of greenhouse gases. A huge portion of these plastics is made up of bottles. That’s single-use water bottles, soft-drink bottles, bottles that hold cooking oils and condiments, and much more. While recycling plastic is a better result, the process still produces significant amounts of greenhouse gases.
Therefore, the end goal must be to reduce the amount of single-use plastic we use.
What is the life cycle of a plastic bottle in Australia?
The plastic is created
Plastic bottles are typically made of plastic #1, which means they can only be recycled a finite amount of times. On the other hand, materials like aluminium can be recycled infinitely. The plastic itself is made from crude oil, forming polyethylene terephthalate (PET). This is the main material used to make the bottle.
Bottle is moulded
The plastic material first appears as a small pellet. Then, the pellet is blown open like a balloon and moulded into the shape of the bottle. Once this process is complete, the plastic cools and solidifies into the correct shape.
Bottle is filled with liquid
The completed bottles are shipped off to the companies that purchase them en-masse. These are the water, soft drink, and condiment companies (and whatever else). Once the bottles are delivered to their factories, they enter the production line, where they will be filled with the correct liquid, and then sealed.
Bottle is stocked, sold, and used
The bottles are then transported to a retailer or distributor, where they will be placed on the shelves of the relevant store. Eventually, the bottles will be purchased by consumers and the consumer will drink or use the liquid in that bottle. Then, the consumer will be left with an empty plastic bottle.
What to do?
Now, it’s your choice
Once the bottle has been used and whatever liquid it held is consumed, you as the consumer must make a decision. What do you do with the plastic bottle?
The bottle is thrown away as litter
It ends here. The life cycle of the plastic bottle is finished, and it will likely end up in the rivers and then, our oceans.
The bottle is thrown into general waste
It ends here. The life cycle of the plastic bottle is finished, and it will likely sit in landfill for many years to come, failing to break down.
The bottle is placed in the recycling bin
This is the beginning of a new cycle, as the bottle is cleaned, broken down, and returned to the manufacturing process. However, while recycling is a much better option than throwing the bottle into general waste, keep in mind that the bottle can only be recycled only once or twice.
The bottle is reused
Reusing the bottle or repurposing it is the best outcome. It prevents the carbon emissions that come with the recycling process, and ensures that the bottle doesn’t become a pollutant, or another piece in landfill. Many plastic bottles aren’t supposed to be reused as drinking implements, but can be used for a range of other things, such as holding cleaning chemicals and products, propagating plants, protecting seedlings, and more.
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