The World Buys 1 Million Plastic Bottles Every Second! Where Do They All End Up?

New data obtained by The Guardian from Euromonitor International, one of the world’s experts in plastic bottle production, says that humans will consume more than half a trillion single-use plastic bottles by 2021! To be exact, our consumption of plastic bottles is set to stand at 580,000,000,000 or 580 billion, almost double what it was a decade ago. Most of it will be in the form of disposable water and soft drink bottles.

A significant demand for disposables will come from developing countries like China, India and others in Africa and the Asia-Pacific region which are witnessing a rise in disposable incomes, an influx of Western consumption patterns, increased urbanisation, and a move towards convenience products.

 Plastic in plastic

Plastic in plastic

"The majority of plastic bottles used across the globe are for drinking water owing to a desire for healthy living, concerns about groundwater contamination and the quality of tap water," says Rosemary Downey, head of packaging at Euromonitor.

 

Coca Cola produces more than 100 billion disposable plastic bottles every year. That’s 3,400 plastic bottles every second!

 

As expected, beverage companies are the biggest culprits when it comes to the manufacture of plastic bottles. Greenpeace International revealed earlier this year that Coca Cola produces more than 100 billion disposable plastic bottles every year. That’s 3,400 plastic bottles every second!

 Most single-use plastic bottles end up either in landfills or in the world's oceans.

Most single-use plastic bottles end up either in landfills or in the world's oceans.

But it's all recycled, right? Wrong!

Unfortunately, the rate of recycling of plastic bottles worldwide remains dismally low, far outpacing the frequency at which these bottles are being churned out. Most discarded plastic bottles end up in landfills or in the world's oceans where they disintegrate into micro particles that are toxic to marine wildlife.

The polyethylene terephthalate (PET) used in plastic bottles is highly recyclable. It can be recycled into new bottles and a variety of other plastic products. Yet, there is less than 7 percent recycled PET content in the plastic bottles of the world's biggest soft drinks firms. This is because of several reasons:

  • Companies lack targets to increase their use of recycled plastic.
  • Zero commitment to use 100 percent recycled materials across global production.
  • Worries about aesthetic appeal of the packaging and fear of consumers rejecting cloudy bottles.
  • Inadequate recovery and recycling infrastructure.

A question of better design

Unless there are serious and committed efforts to curb plastic pollution, the problem is only going to get worse. The global plastics and packaging industries must undergo a fundamental shift towards maximising resource recovery through closed loop systems that replace today's linear take-make-discard systems. This will require a two-pronged approach geared towards redesigning packaging to be less polluting as well as strengthening recovery and recycling mechanisms. Materials innovation would include eliminating polluting packaging features such as sachets and tear-off lids, replacing multi-layered packaging such as TetraPak, and laminates, and doing away with materials like Styrofoam that are uneconomical to recycle. Investment in reusable or biodegradable packaging, especially for daily use items such as personal care products, milk and water will also encourage innovation in materials technology.

Streamlining plastics recovery and take-back efforts and incentivising recycling will bring more material back into the production cycle and make high-quality raw material available to manufacturers.