Did you know that over a million plastic bottles are sold every minute - that's 500 billion bottles a year! South Africa sets the standard for PET bottle recycling at over 60% a year - but that still leaves millions of these bottles in our environment and landfills, and the situation is even worse overseas.
It’s no surprise then that Coca-Cola, Nestle and PepsiCo have all come up as the world’s top polluting brands in the Break Free From Plastic brand audit. Plastic bottles suck, and with the rise of (often pointless) water bottles, they represent a huge amount of our waste. These plastic bottles take hundreds of years to break up and are a massive threat to the environment.
What can I do?
Thankfully, plastic bottles are one of the easier habits to break. It just means getting into the habit of using your own reusable one.
While we first advocate using what you already have at home before rushing out to buy anything new, if you are going to step out to purchase a reusable bottle, think about the quality and its lifespan. There are a myriad of reusable bottles on the market to choose from. Essentially, you need to look for the one that is going to suit your lifestyle best.
When it comes to sodas and cooldrinks, the obvious best solution is to choose something healthier! But if you need that favourite mixer, we recommend choosing refundable bottle options or home carbonation devices wherever possible.
Why does it matter?
Aside from the fact that tap water is readily available for safe consumption in many parts of the world, including all major urban areas of South Africa, bottled water is incredibly wasteful for other reasons. In fact, bottled water is so unnecessarily wasteful, that many regard it as a bit of a scam.
Studies have shown that the environmental impact of bottled water is 90 to 1 000 times greater than tap water - and that's before accounting for refrigeration and carbonation. Bottled water used 11 to 90 times the energy of tap water to transport, and it's worse the smaller the bottles are. Ironically, although a common defense of bottled water is that it makes water available in water-scarce regions, the bottling/manufacturing process is actually pretty wasteful, and at best, about 2 litres of water are wasted for every 1 litre bottled.
Myth-busting: Are cooldrink cans plastic-free?
You’ve probably seen the viral videos of people dissolving drinks cans only to find that there is a thin layer of plastic inside. These are 100% true - because fizzy drinks (beer included) are slightly acidic, they can react with the metal so a thin barrier is needed.
In the ocean and environment, this plastic sits around a lot longer than the can itself does! And even if recycled this plastic is still harmful - it is actually burned off the cans in an initial incineration and smelting process. So, although South Africa has an excellent aluminium can recycling record, soda cans aren’t a completely sustainable alternative to plastic bottles.
Who can I follow?
Fortunately, the world is waking up to the wastefulness of plastic water bottles and even countries where drinking water access is not universal, like Rwanda, have banned them and are finding alternatives to plastic bottles.
Some of the world’s leading brands are also starting to think differently when it comes to design. Check out how The Paper Bottle Company aims to make truly biodegradable bottles for Coca-Cola and Carlsberg, and Adidas X Parley who have created functional fashion from ocean retrieved plastics.
Back in Cape Town, two sisters from The Joinery have made it their business to bring new life to some of the overflow of plastic bottles. Partnering with local plastic bottle recycling company PETCO, they have come up with a cool fabric which is made from recycled bottles. They have even created the coolest surfboard bag!
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