October 11, 2023

Amidst a world drowning in single-use plastics, UN Environment Chief Andersen sounds the battle cry: "Humanity cannot just recycle its way out of the mess!".

During an interview at UN HQ in New York City on 21st Sep 2023, she called for a total rethink about the way we use plastics.

So, apparently recycling isn't gonna save us. Bummer.

But why not, you ask.

What's the problem with single-use plastic bottles if we recycle them? Aren't we doing our part by putting them in the recycling bin?

You're absolutely right, recycling is a good thing. But here's the simple truth: it's not enough to solve our problems with plastic bottles. Annual production of plastics has more than doubled in the past 20 years, to reach 460 million tonnes. It could triple by 2060 if nothing changes.

So, to truly make an impact, we must look beyond recycling bins and rethink our plastic addiction from the ground up.

If we recycle the plastic we use, is that not enough to stop plastic pollution?

You've asked an excellent question and your perspective makes sense.

We've been bombarded with green chasing arrows, making us play a never-ending game of Tetris with our trash. We're convinced recycling is the answer, and while sorting our plastic waste we feel like we're contributing to a cleaner environment.

True, recycling plastics can prevent incineration or landfilling, reducing toxic pollution that can harm both our health and climate. And PET - that #1 resin code you often see on plastic bottles, is one of the most recycled plastics and can indeed have a second life.

All positives, right?

Recycling Realities

In reality however, only 10% of all plastic waste gets recycled. What's more, plastic doesn't have an infinite recycling superpower either; some plastics can't be recycled at all, while others can only go through the recycling process 2-3 times.

And there are countless more hurdles on the road to recycling success:

  1. It depends on our participation, from proper sorting to disposal of plastics. In 2022 in The Netherlands, 58% of the small (0.5L) bottles were returned to a collection point. Wow, that's more than half, you might think. But it means that 1 million bottles a day were disposed of elsewhere, and that's in our tiny little country alone!

  2. The sheer volume being produced has become unmanageable and unprofitable for our infrastructures. We produce so much plastic waste in Western countries that we illegally ship and dump it in foreign countries.

  3. It's a complex, costly (virgin plastic is cheaper) and energy-intensive process. Even Lego, our beloved childhood hero, found that using recycled PET didn't reduce carbon emissions due to the complicated production process.

I hear you think: if even toy giant Lego can't crack the code for sustainable bricks, how on earth are we supposed to make a dent?

Well, what if we took a different tack and reimagined our relationship with single-use plastic?

Redefining Our Plastic Affair

The most potent tool against plastic pollution isn't recycling - it's to stop producing and using wasteful plastics in the first place. Andersen urges to start with eliminating single-use plastics for mindless packaging.

And we can play our part right at home: we can reduce our reliance on single-use plastics, seeking alternatives, and opting for refillable and reusable options.

Luckily, one striking alternative to the single-use plastic bottle dilemma is right under our noses: tap water. In Europe, it's a safe, sustainable, and readily available option that's often overlooked.

So, let's rethink our plastic habits, ditch packaged water and embrace tap water!

Here's your bold call to action: Get a reusable bottle, carry it everywhere, refill for massive impact, and personally prevent 40 SUP bottles a year from existing*!

Not bad, considering it's just YOU making 1 minor behavioural change. Well done.

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