To help you see just how much waste your plastic water bottle is responsible for, let’s go through the stages that bottle’s life cycle.
- First, crude oil and natural gas are pulled from the earth through large-scale extraction operations.
- Shipment #1: From here, the crude oil is shipped to a refinery. Make note of how many rounds of shipping are involved in the production of your water bottle. Each of these stages requires vehicles to burn fuel and release greenhouse gasses, creating a lot of waste.
- The refinery then distills the oil into its component parts, i.e. gas, fuel oil, etc.
- Shipment #2: Then the refined oil is shipped to a plastics factory.
- At the plastics factory, the oil chemically bonds with gas molecules to create monomers. These monomers undergo chemical processes which then bond them together into polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the polymer most plastic water bottles are made from.
- The PET mixture at this point is in the form of many tiny pellets. The manufacturing plant melts them down and injects the mixture into molds. The plastic takes the familiar shape of a bottle.
- Shipment #3: Next, the empty plastic bottles are shipped to the bottling plant.
- The bottling plant fills the water bottles with water. The bottles are then packaged.
- Shipment #4: The water bottles are then shipped to the grocery store, where they’re stocked and placed on shelves.
- Shipment #5: You buy the water bottles and drive them from the store to your home.
- You drink the water and toss the empty bottle into the trash or recycling.
- Shipment #6: The bottles are then picked up by waste management services. Approximately 73-90% of them go straight to landfills, where they’ll take about 500 years to decompose.
- The other 10-27% of bottles that are recycled are instead taken to recycling centers. The recycling center then sorts the bottles, melts them back down into pellets, and remakes them into other products. Those include things like carpeting, clothing, and other plastic items.
- Eventually, those products are also thrown in the trash, and that 10-27% of bottles that are recycled still end up in a landfill for the next 500 years.