Monday, August 1, 2011

What do bottles do to the planet exactly?

We’ve all seen the images of bottles washing up on the seashore and piling up in landfills. To be exact, 63.4 billion plastic bottles end up in landfills and the ocean each year.  But, why exactly is happening? What exactly are they doing to our planet?

Our lives depend on the oceans more than you might think. In fact, most of the oxygen in our air is generated by the sea. Ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Well, it’s a garbage patch that is twice the size of Texas in the North Pacific. There’s also marine life to think about. About 100 million mammals and turtles are killed annually in the Pacific Ocean alone because of plastic. Sea birds often starve to death because they eat too much of it, and, as a result, cannot consume anything else. If you’re not an animal lover, think about this, where do you think that salmon you had for dinner last night came from? Plastic is poisoning the very fish you eat, because more than likely they ingested plastic. So much for organic, right?  

Realistically, landfills are expensive to build. Recycling 1 ton of plastic saves 7.4 cubic yards of landfill space. It’s for these reasons that North Carolina banned plastic bottles in state landfills in 2009.  The law was designed to reduce energy consumption, provide economic incentives for entrepreneurs, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. In the manufacturing of the plastic bottles, massive amounts of greenhouse gases are produced. They are also produced as the bottles are incinerated with the regular trash.  Greenhouse gases pose risks to our health and the ozone layer.

The amount of plastic bottles recycled in the U.S. has grown steadily since 1990, but the actual recycling rate seems to remain steadily around 27%, less than 1/3. Plastics should be recycled so less petroleum is consumed. So, that means less drilling for oil.  But, raising awareness and recycling isn’t enough.

Yes, you can reclaim the bottles, and, yes, make new bottles and other products at home. But, this is often time consuming and expensive.  Not to mention, according to the Ecology Center’s biggest plastic misconception, not all plastic containers put into the recycling bin are recycled full and reprocessed or converted into useful products. Understand that your choices aren’t limited to polluting the oceans or recycling. There are other options . Go bottleless! Purchase a reusable water bottle for when you’re on the go, or a bottleless water cooler for your office.  Know that it’s not a choice between the earth and your personal budget or health- you can do it all.  
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