Pardon our French, but plastique c’est le worste. Its reputation is less than stellar, and might we add, deservedly so. In the United States, every second of every day 1,500 plastic bottles are discarded. Americans send more than 38 billion water bottles to landfills every year, the equivalent of 912 million gallons of oil. If laid end to end, that’s enough bottles to travel to the moon and back 10 times. What the what!
The worst thing is that only about 30% of plastic bottles will make it to a recycling bin, and even if they do, they will never be recycled. You see, plastic doesn’t get recycled, it gets downcycled. That is, it loses quality and volume in the recycling process so that an old bottle will never turn into a new bottle. The remaining 70% of plastic bottles will go directly to landfills and to our oceans, where they will slowly break into smaller and smaller pieces, but will take about 1,000 years to biodegrade (good news for your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren).
The rumors are true… There is indeed a huge floating patch of trash in the Pacific Ocean. Exactly how big is this “patch”? Well, scientists estimate that it’s about the size of Texas (or about 121 million football fields!). It turns out that close to 10% of the plastic we use each year ends up in the oceans. In fact, 90% of ocean trash is plastic. A portion of it floats and is carried by currents to the middle of the Pacific, forming the garbage patch.
Once a piece of plastic makes it to the ocean, it begins a process known as photodegradation (do we sound smart, or what?). This doesn’t mean that the plastic slowly disappears, but rather that the sun’s beautiful rays break it down into tiny little pieces. Over time, they become so small that they get ingested by marine life and enter the food chain...eventually landing on our own plates.
Learn more about the garbage patch over at GOOD (they’re awesome).
Aluminum is recycled more than twice as often as plastic, glass, and cartons. Its high scrap value helps ensure that even if you forget to recycle, someone else will do it for you. In fact, the scrap value of aluminum is actually what funds the majority of curbside recycling programs around the country. This has helped aluminum enjoy recycling rates near 70%!
CLOSED LOOP CYCLE
Not only is aluminum the most recycled material, it’s also infinitely recyclable as well. That means that the material from one bottle can go right back into making another, identical bottle. No new material needed! Amazingly, this process can happen in as little as 60 days.
Before they can be sold to recyclers and paper mills, papers, plastics, and metals have to be sorted. In the limited regions where carton recycling is accepted, the process to separate the paper from the aluminum and plastic requires a biiiig machine called a hydrapulper, which soaks and blends the materials until they're separated. The paper can then be repurposed for tissues and other paper goods, but the plastic/aluminum mix has few uses.*
Psst! Aluminum also contains 70% post-consumer content in each bottle, more than 20x that of plastic (3%) and 3x that of glass (23%). Whoa!
— EPA, 2016