No one is denying it - we have a problem with plastics. It’s a problem that affects all areas of the planet and therefore needs to be tackled globally. It’s estimated that plastic waste accounts for 80% of marine pollution. Around 8-10 million metric tons of plastic will end up in the ocean every year, and currently there are around 50-75 trillion pieces of plastic and microplastics in the ocean.
The majority of the millions of plastic water bottles sold every day are made of single-use plastic. In the UK alone, we buy and discard billions of plastic water bottles every year. Every single day, 16 million plastic bottles are thrown away and not recycled, which means they end up in landfill, are incinerated or find their way into the natural environment. Plastic pollution has become such a huge problem, something has to be done.
At the end of November 2022, the first Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) met in Uruguay to try to come up with an international legally binding agreement that will bring an end to plastic pollution. Government representatives from 160 countries, including the UK, attended the meeting, alongside environmentalists, scientists, local leaders and waste pickers. One of the Committee’s dilemmas was voiced succinctly by a representative of the American Chemistry Council who said that while manufacturers want to work with governments to solve the issue, they weren’t prepared to support production restrictions. Unfortunately no resolutions were agreed at the first meeting, but there are four more meetings planned over the next two years.
Until there is a workable global solution put in place at a government level, it is up to individuals and businesses to find their own alternatives to plastic water bottles. And there is some exciting news from California.
In December, Cove - a California-based materials innovation company - launched the world’s first biodegradable water bottle. The manufacturer said the new bottles are made with the sustainably sourced biopolymer called PHA, and are plastic-free, biodegradable, renewable, non-toxic and compostable. PHA is dependent on naturally occurring microorganisms that inhabit the soil as well as water, and they will break down the bottles without producing any toxic waste.
Until the last couple of decades of the 20th century, things were very different. Milk bottles were made of glass, and the empties were collected and reused on a daily basis. Fizzy drinks were sold in glass bottles with an additional deposit charged which you’d get back when you returned the empty bottle to the shop. The reintroduction of deposit return schemes has been suggested in recent years. There was even a consultation about the introduction of a scheme in England with a view to starting it in 2023, but plans have been delayed.
However, in Scotland, a new deposit return scheme for bottles and cans will be launched on 16 August 2023, with a target of achieving a 90% return rate. The way it will work is that a 20p deposit will be added to every drink sold in a single-use bottle that’s made of PET plastic, steel, aluminium or glass. People will get their deposit back when the bottles are taken to one of thousands of return points.
While we wait for the world’s leaders to put safeguards in place, there’s plenty we can do as individuals and businesses to help prevent pollution from plastic water bottles. Investing in reusable water bottles is the most obvious way - branded bottles can make great corporate gifts.
The UK has some of the cleanest tap water in the world. Indeed, thanks to our strict health and safety regulations, it is cleaner than some bottled water! If your staff members have a problem with getting their water straight from the tap, it’s usually because of the taste, so invest in a filtering system that will make it taste like the best mineral water. You can also buy special taps - for example, Quooker - that dispense both chilled water and boiling water, enabling your staff to get access to refreshingly cold filtered water and spend less time boiling kettles.
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