Not All Recyclables are Created Equal - Uncovering the Truth of Where Recyclables Go
Recycling is so simple, right? Just toss a bottle into the recycling bin and poof -- a new product of equal quality emerges. Well, perhaps this is true when it comes to aluminum and glass but single-use plastics on the other hand… They have a much bigger challenge in living up to their “recyclable” label. After all, recycling is a business, and that business relies on the viability of those recyclable commodities within the post-consumer market.
Most plastics are low-value material with low incentivization for recycling. The reality is that more than seven types of plastics exist, and sorting them is vital to ensure an uncontaminated batch of plastic can be melted down and made into new products. This rarely happens and less than 10% of all plastic types actually make it to be recycled. For polyethylene terephthalate (PET) #1 the most common plastic water bottle, recycling is really downcycling. Unlike aluminum containers that can be recycled infinitely into new bottles, single-use plastic bottles are mostly downcycled. Plastics downcycling means single-use plastic bottles get made into inferior products like clothing and carpet fibers which are often not recycled and thus destined for our landfills and oceans.
But wait! Aren’t plastic bottles REUSABLE?
Technically, single-use bottles can be refilled but not without leaching antimony, aldehydes, phthalates, estrogenic chemicals into the water. The plastics industry claims these chemicals are in trace amounts that are harmless; however, research is beginning to demonstrate that in fact, exposure to excess estrogenic chemicals is linked to cancer and obesity.
More rigid plastics often contain BPA (Bisphenol A) which has been banned from baby bottles and is a well known endocrine disruptor. Studies have shown that BPA is linked to cancer, infertility, brain functions, fetal development issues, heart disease, and weight gain. While many plastic products have advanced society and are instrumental to health, aerospace, and vehicles, most people now agree that plastic water bottles are not an ideal material for every day as single use.
But we’re lucky! The tide is turning, and now most people understand that these types of plastics are quite detrimental to human, animal, and planetary health. Most people are ready for solutions! That is why we’ve created PATHWATER to be one solution on the path to sustainability. A sorta gateway bottle!
Why Aluminum is Called the “Magic Metal”
The aluminum recycling system is currently the most robust because of its ease to be melted back down into a pure element, Aluminum. This can be done infinitely. Aluminum uses only 5% of the energy it took to initially extract. Is this system perfect? Of course, not, every recycling process has its challenges. But aluminum continues to win first place as the best, most recyclable material.
Many different materials are used for beverage containers. Most of which are inferior plastics that have little value after just one use. Aluminum, on the other hand, is a highly valued element that can be broken down time and time again to its original, pristine form and still become yet another beverage container, countless times over. And this is where the “magic metal” name comes from!
Aluminum is the third most abundant element on the planet next to oxygen and silicon. And while extracting raw aluminum from bauxite is by no means a perfect system, using already recycled aluminum absolutely IS. Why is this? Because it consumes just 5% of the energy, it originally took to extract. That’s why we’ve got to recycle! Aluminum offers a potentially endless circle of valuable materials, as long as it is put back into the system and recycled by everyone. Manufacturers are able to melt down aluminum recyclables and easily make them into new products, including new PATHWATER bottles, infinitely. This is called a Closed Loop System and is why aluminum carries so much value throughout its life. In fact, 75% of the aluminum that was ever put into production is STILL IN USE today. That’s because it keeps getting recycled, remelted, and turned into new products over and over again.
So behind the true capabilities of each recyclable material, namely plastic, lie murky details. The most staggering aspect is the fact that 90% of plastics end up in our landfills because they either don’t make their way to a recycling facility or they are incapable of genuinely being recycled. And the 10% that do get recycled are actually downcycled into polyester fibers that are used to make carpets and clothing.
Walk Away Smarter about Recycling
What’s the solution to the plastic recycling confusion? Avoid plastics wherever you possibly can. Stick to buying products like aluminum and glass that are genuinely REUSABLE and are backed by a robust recyclable market for when it's time to pitch items into the recycling bin. Distilled down, this is basically the story behind reduce, reuse, and recycle.
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