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The plastics problem

What makes a plastic eco-friendly?

There is, increasingly, a lot of 'greenwash' out there about what's a 'green' plastic and what's not.  There are biodegradable plastics, recycled plastics, plant-based bioplastics, and they're all 'green' to an extent.  It's not always easy to get it clear in your mind what is eco-friendly and what isn't, so I'll try to clarify what's good and bad about each of these types of plastic below.

 

The issue we’re looking at here is what we call the ‘plastics problem’.  This problem is concerned with the fact that we make plastic out of fossil fuels – specifically oil, but because crude oil takes millions of years to form, once we’ve used it all up there’s no more to be had.  Oil is used in a host of things: from plastic, through paint, to petrol, and we're already seeing the price of these things rise as oil gets more and more scarce. (Remember when petrol was 80p/litre - just a few years ago?) So, we're taking oil from the earth to make plastic - but this source in't sustainable.

The secondary problem caused by this continual taking, taking, taking of resources from the earth is that we keep on using plastic and putting it into landfill, and so we’re running out of space for landfill sites!

Biodegradable plastic

Biodegradable plastic is good in that it tackles the landfill problem.  It's basically plastic which will rot down over time, sometimes over centuries, and form compost.  However, biodegradable plastic is not recyclable  – it's meant to either go into landfill or into a composting centre, and in fact, one biodegradable bottle in a load of other perfectly recyclable plastic will contaminate it all so that none can be recycled.   The other thing we don’t like is that biodegradable plastic addresses the secondary landfill problem, it doesn’t get to the root of the real plastics problem – at the end of the day, it still goes into landfill even if it does rot down and make more space over a few years.  Essentially, biodegradable waste is a ‘greener’ waste than plain old plastic bottles – it eventually makes compost, as opposed to staying plastic for ever after.

Recycled plastic

ECO-bottle was ‘green’ because it was made from recycled plastic.  We prefer recycled plastics because it means they can be reused, and recycled, time and time again with no deterioration.  If you’ve extracted oil out of the earth to make plastic, why, when we’ve finished using the plastic, should we throw the plastic back into the earth again?  That’s why we recycle – to make the most of what we’ve already extracted from the earth.  Our standard Activ-bottles and Activ-PLUS bottles all contain a percentage of recycled material: hard to say how much, but it’s around 35% recycled material. There aren't really any negatives to this - it does take energy to reprocess the plastic, but nowhere near as much as is needed to extract oil from the earth and make that into plastic.

Bioplastic

Activ-R comes from bioplastic, which we like best because it strikes right at the heart of this plastics problem.  There is an alternative, sustainable source to making plastic out of finite fossil fuels – there is actually a way to make it out of sugar cane,  and that’s why it’s called bioplastic.  As we've said, someday, scientists say that oil will run out.  But as long as we can grow sugar cane, we’ll never run short of plastic.  At the moment, bioplastic is more expensive than standard plastic because it's not yet being made in huge quantities, but there will come a time when oil is so expensive that the demand for – and therefore, supply of -  bioplastic,  will bring its price right down.

Plus, because bioplastic is made from plant material, these plants lock away carbon dioxide  as they grow, and only some of that carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere during the processing of the plastic.  This means that many bioplastic products - Activ-R included - have a negative carbon footprint, in that they are actually helping to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.  That in turn will help to combat the greenhouse effect, which leads to global warming. Obviously the impact of one water bottle is negligible, but using bioplastic products is a tiny, but definite, step towards sustainability.

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