Posted by: waterworks | December 12, 2007

10. Water Miles (2)

Britain’s discarded water bottles are now a vital source of recyclable  plastic for emerging industrial nations, notably China.  Currently, 58.3% of plastic bottles are exported for re-processing overseas.  Once there, they are used to create new plastic products.  The UK presently ships  40m tons of such waste to China for recycling each year.  As luck would have it, Chinese demand for discarded plastics dovetails nicely  with the UK’s newfound need to  export waste on account of the European Union’s Landfill Directive.  By 2019, local councils in the UK will only be allowed to bury in the ground around 35% of what was permitted during the 1990s.  Unfortunately, new facilities for the recycling of waste will cost up to £8bn to build if national demands are to be met. Hence, the considerable incentive that exists to send our bottled remains overseas.  

The only party that does not emerge as a clear winner from this novel new arrangement is the environment.  Thanks to all the energy needed to move discarded plastics from UK neighbourhoods to local depots, and then towards coastal waste terminals, before next travelling ever-forwards in the general direction of China – where even more energy is needed to power the recycling plant – the ecological footprint of a bag of waste keeps growing long after it is placed in a recycling bin.  At all stages of its life-cycle, each empty plastic bottle demands the operation of energy-hungry machinery.  Meanwhile, few people in positions of influence apparently possess the will to raise the question of restraint when it comes to bottled water consumption in the first place. Recycling will not actually put the carbon genie back in the bottle.  Drinking from a tap might do.

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