Where in the world have my bottles gone?

by | Oct 19, 2020 | media | 0 comments

What on earth is going on? When I found out that South Africans consume more than 500-million litres of bottled water each year (the bulk of these being 500ml bottles by the way!) I was astounded. This was again in my face, when Cape Town experienced the severe water crisis during 2017/2018 and my taps were turned off. At this time, buying more bottled water than I ever had before, got me thinking…

 We’re trying to survive one crisis (the drought) by using excessive amounts of bottled water. But are we creating the next crisis through all the discarded plastic?

Interestingly, STATS SA tells us that less than 11% of South African households recycle. Furthermore, South Africa’s garbage and refuse service does NOT sort the waste when it’s collected. Yes, that’s right, it all goes to landfill! 90% of South Africa’s waste is heading to landfill. So what’s wrong with that? The harsh reality is that plastic of all kinds, HDPE bottles, PET bottles and of course all the other categories are being dumped there or ending up in the environment.

We know for a fact that various animals eat plastics mistaking them for food. This fills them up and of course they die as a result from starvation and ingestion of toxins. 

If that was not enough, we now know that plastic releases a toxic poison into the soil over time, known as leachate. This happens over time as a result of changing weather conditions and then when it rains, this enters the surrounding land, poisoning it and the nearby ecosystems.

Fossil fuel breakdown

But, let me clarify something… Plastic is not really the problem. That sounds ridiculous given the above. Let me clarify… Actually, plastic can be very useful as we have used it for many years in a multitude of applications. Think of life-saving ventilators now during the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic. They have cylinders made from plastic used for a volume of air to move in and out through a diaphragm mechanism.

So what’s causing this plastic crisis, during the COVID-19 crisis?
WASTE MANAGEMENT. In a nutshell, human behaviour combined with current infrastructure is leading to the bulk of our waste being dumped in landfill, destroying our environment and killing wildlife.

In a perfect world, if all our municipal bins allowed for the various categories of waste to be correctly separated and our fellow South Africans made the effort to separate and recycle their waste we’d be in a far better situation. We would also need improved waste sorting facilities for the municipal waste instead of it being dumped in landfill.

But, let’s face the facts; we are not there yet.

What’s the answer then?

Many people have told me that they believe glass bottles are the answer when it comes to needing a solution for bottles. I have since found out that glass recycling is not as easy as we thought. For example, the glass in your car windscreen is very different to those in a bottle. If both are found in general recycling streams, they cannot be processed together.

Considering this, I decided to look up the length of time it takes for a glass to biodegrade. It is astounding! How long do you think it takes?
Try a quick search: How long does glass take to biodegrade?

I believe then, that making bottles from plant-based materials the way Fortis X in Cape Town is already doing, avoids using fossil-fuels (crude oil). Did you know PET plastic is made from petroleum?

The plant-based material does not produce a leachate in the ground. In actual fact, when it’s composted, the bottles become lactic acid which is a valuable soil supplement. Instead of being made from fossil fuels which contribute to global warming, their sugarcane actually removes CO2 from the atmosphere over the course of its lifetime.

For customers that don’t have compost, that’s been thought of too. Private waste collection services are offered free of charge and work is being done to partner with all the waste management services in the country. Bingo! Yes please.

“…Furthermore, the bottled water market is expected to further increase by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7% during the 2019 to 2023 forecast period”…in South Africa.