More Refillable Bottles, Less Ocean Plastic

Image: Ihabitat

It’s not news that we’re in the midst of a plastic pollution crisis. As consumers become more conscious and cities try to tackle mounting piles of waste, plastics manufacturers are making no plans to slow down the production of virgin plastic. That’s a big problem and one outlined in Oceana’s most recent report on ocean plastic:

When choosing virgin plastic over providing refillable bottles, manufacturers, and retailers are significantly contributing to plastic pollution in the ocean. In fact, the report found that increasing the market share of refillable bottles by 10% in all coastal countries in place of single-use plastic bottles could reduce PET bottle marine plastic pollution by 22%.

  • And if we made the switch to refillable bottles it would keep up to 7.6 billion disposable plastic ones out of the ocean EACH YEAR. 

The Report: Called “Just one word: Refillables. How the soft drink industry can reduce marine plastic pollution by billions of bottles each year,” the report also estimates that between 20 billion and 34 billion plastic PET bottles produced and sold by the soft drink or Non-Alcoholic Ready to Drink (NARTD) industry enter the ocean each year. As Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless explained,

“Beverage companies are major ocean polluters and are producing billions of plastic
bottles every year that end up in the sea essentially forever. They need to take responsibility and make commitments to reduce plastic production and waste.”

What Can Be Done: Oceana’s report calls for a swift pivot to using more refillable beverage bottles. These are bottles that companies sell to customers and then are returned, washed, refilled, and sold again. Customers return these bottles because they pay a deposit that is refunded to them upon returning the bottle.

  • The bottles, made from both PET plastic and glass, are used 20 to 50 times. Until recently, refillables systems were the primary way beverage companies sold soft drinks around the world.
  • The report notes that studies have found that refillable bottles have a lower carbon footprint than single-use throwaway plastic bottles, citing recent life cycle analysis studies in Germany and Chile.

The Hold Up: The plastics industry has no plans to stop producing virgin plastic. As Inside Climate New wrote,

“In Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, one giant plastics  plant is under construction, and a second awaits a decision on financing in an Appalachian region that federal officials have said could support even more manufacturing—an effort that the Trump administration may assist with loan guarantees this year.”

That’s a problem. Since oil is cheap and recycling and refilling infrastructure can be complicated, manufacturers are taking the easy road.

Why This Matters: Tens of thousands of whales, sea birds, fish, and turtles have been observed suffering from entanglement or ingestion of plastic permeating the marine environment. It is impacting everything from zooplankton and fish, to sea turtles, marine mammals, seabirds, and whales. Our addiction to plastic is choking our planet yet the solution will be achieved in part with solutions that we already have in our arsenal: like refillable bottle systems. It’s a great place to start!

Go Deeper: Check out how Oregon has been experimenting with its own refillable bottle program.

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