The Problem with Plastic – How Drinks Bottles are Choking the Ocean

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The Problem with Plastic – How Drinks Bottles are Choking the Ocean

trash island

Bottled drinks are responsible for one of the ocean’s most pressing environmental problems. Urban legends have been rife for decades about a large mountain of plastic trash polluting the Pacific Ocean. The truth of the matter is, in fact, much worse.

There are at least 5 of these super-sized garbage sub-continents currently polluting the Earth’s seas.

What’s Happening?

There are many places in the world where plastic bottles are the only way of safely transporting water, where one bottle is re-used countless times. This doesn’t contribute to the pollution problem in the world’s oceans at all compared to the incredible wastage that we see in the First World. For every six plastic drinks bottles bought, only one is recycled – five are thrown away to eventually end up in landfills, or the ocean. Plastics take literally hundreds of years to decompose – poisoning the environment and the wildlife living in it in the meantime.

Another major problem is the amount of pollution caused by the manufacture of plastic bottles. Crude oil is liberally used – each plastic bottle manufactured takes up an entire quarter of the bottle’s volume capacity of crude oil.

Put simply – plastic bottles are an environmental nightmare at every point of their existence.

How Did This Happen?

Even as recently as one generation ago, the culture of disposable goods was much smaller than it currently is. Glass bottles, re-usable containers and other recyclable packaging materials were the norm, and much more of a household’s waste could be easily recycled. While plastics can indeed be recycled, they degrade in quality through the recycling process, until eventually plastics can’t be recycled and have to be taken to landfills.

Unfortunately, times changed, and major businesses found it more cost-effective to use plastic rather than glass. While this was fantastic news for the drinks companies’ CEOs’ wallets – it wasn’t good news at all for the environment, and the massive trash islands started to gather.

Is it Too Late to Fix?

No. It’s never too late to make a change.

Changing this situation doesn’t require any major efforts, costs, or even lifestyle changes. If everyone in the world simply made a few changes in the way they consume plastic items, the problem would at least be limited – and, with changed attitudes, those in power could slowly mend the damage that’s been done.

By simply re-using as much plastic products as you can, you do your bit to save the environment. Instead of buying a fresh bottle of water or soft drink every day, refill an old one. Bottled water has no significant advantage over regular tap water at all, despite what their ad campaigns may tell you – and tap water is so much cheaper than bottled, and so much better for you than fizzy drinks!

Things are slowly getting better. The tourist stations at the Grand Canyon in the States has now banned the sale of bottled water, instead providing free water fountains which visitors can use to refill their old water bottles. This is a step in the right direction, and hopefully the first of many systems that encourage the re-use of water bottles.

When getting your coffee, bring a re-usable cup. Whilst the paper cups used by coffee shops are mostly recyclable paper, plastic is still used to keep the cup water-tight, and the lids are single-use plastic. Cut them out and buy a stylish travel mug!

As I’ve already said, if everyone in the world would make a couple of changes, this problem would be dramatically reduced. Make the change today, because until we all do, this problem won’t go away.

Sean writes on behalf of Spring-Clear.co.uk, suppliers of quality water filter cartridges. Facts and figures come courtesy of the National Geographic and 5Gyres.org.


Greener Ideal is an independent environmental news and lifestyle publication that has been curating content since 2008 to further the green movement. The views expressed by contributing authors are their own and may not reflect those of Greener Ideal.

  • Parenthea

    It’s best to avoid plastic altogether. Refilling old bottles is good only if its glass! Chemicals leach from plastic into the drink and into our bodies. The more you use an old plastic bottle, the more it leaches. Please just use glass. Plastic is all around terrible.

    • http://www.spring-clear.co.uk/ Spring Clear

      Absolutely right. Apart from any other factor, glass is so much more recyclable – that’s if you choose not to simply re-use it for as long as possible. Thanks for commenting!