Why Do We Throw Out 70 Percent of Our Plastic Waste?

Maybe a single bottle isn’t so inconsequential after all.

Image via Flickr user Peter Kaminski (cc).

Like a lot of Americans, you probably purchase the occasional product in a plastic container, then put forth a good effort to toss it in a blue recycling bin once you’re done. Yet that action can sometimes feel inconsequential. What difference does a single bottle or milk container here or there really make?

According to the research, quite a lot, actually. Recycling decreases content in landfills, generates jobs, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. It is among the most effective ways to keep plastic out of our waterways—and eventually, the ocean.

Yet only approximately 30 percent of all plastic is recycled in the United States today. For there to be a marked improvement in recycling rates—meaning the percent of plastic waste that is converted back into a reusable material—governments, manufacturers, consumers, and corporations all have important roles to play. That includes organizations like Arrowhead® Brand Mountain Spring Water, the leading branded bottled water company in California..

Dave Thorpe
​Supply Chain Director, Arrowhead

“We believe that individuals, companies and municipalities all play a part in recycling. Whether that’s cities providing easy access to recycling, companies replacing virgin plastic with recycled content, or everyone pitching in at home through curbside recycling or bins in businesses, airports, or parks,” explains Dave Thorpe, Arrowhead Brand Mountain Spring Water’s director of supply chain. As a leading beverage brand in California, Arrowhead works to make good on Thorpe’s observation. The company employs 1,600 people across California as part of Nestlé Waters North America, and strives to be a responsible member of the plastic and the packaging economy at large.

“The Arrowhead brand has been part of the California community for over 120 years, and our experience teaches us that careful stewardship is the best way to prepare for the future, not only of our company, but for the conservation of California’s precious resources,” adds Thorpe. One way the company does this is by focusing on bottle innovation. Over the last twenty years, it has significantly reduced the amount of total plastic used in its Arrowhead bottles. A few months ago, the Arrowhead brandbegan expanding the use of recycled plastic across all sizes of single serve bottles. “We’ve reduced the weight and amount of plastic in our bottles by 60 percent since 2007, and we are using more recycled content in our bottles. These steps have a measurable impact on reducing our production of greenhouse gases and reducing the amount of plastic in landfills,” says Thorpe.

For the Arrowhead brand, expanding its use of recycled plastic is a huge first step on the way to contributing to a true “closed loop” system—a scenario in which plastic bottles do not contribute to the plastic waste problem because they are used again and again to make new bottles. This is also known as “bottle-to-bottle” recycling. “You drop it into a bin, it gets picked up and sent to a facility like CarbonLite, one of the largest recyclers of PET [a key material in plastic bottles] in the world, and made into a bottle again,” explains Thorpe. And he is optimistic about the future. “I look forward to a day in the future where we are able to use 75 to 80 percent recycled content,” he says.

Still, manufacturers’ use of recycled plastic is only one important component of the equation. To increase recycling rates, there needs to be improvements in education and awareness, making it clear to the general public that plastic is recyclable, while encouraging both consumers and companies to make sure recyclable plastic actually ends up where it belongs, in blue bins or the appropriate slot in curbside containers. Out-of-home recycling bins need to become a municipal priority, and there should be more incentives for companies to embrace recycled plastic as a packaging material. A true closed loop isn’t just about the first half of the process—pick up and handling to control litter. It’s also about giving packaging a second life. “We want consumers to understand that this packaging is not a waste, but a resource for the next bottle.”

Thorpe is optimistic that a movement is underway to help give plastic a second life. “We’re always looking for ways to make our consumers’ lives better, whether that’s making water easier to drink on-the-go or promoting calorie-free options to sugary drinks. And we want to lead the way to collaborative problem solving—from continued development of environmentally sensitive packaging, support for convenient, universally available recycling, to partnerships to restore local watersheds.”

So maybe that single bottle isn’t so inconsequential after all. If we all take responsibility for our own actions, whether as individuals or as corporations, we can become part of a movement that makes a big impact.

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

Millions of people in over 150 countries across the globe marched for lawmakers and corporations to take action to help stop climate change on Friday, September 20.

The Climate Strikes were organized by children around the world as an extension of the of the "Fridays for Future" campaign. Students have been walking out of classrooms on Fridays to speak out about political inaction surrounding the climate crisis.

"We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart," organizers say.

There's no doubt the visual images from the marches send a powerful message to those on the ground but especially those watching from around the world. GOOD's own Gabriel Reilich was on the scene for the largest of the Climate Strikes. Here are 18 of the best signs from the Climate Strike march in New York City.

Keep Reading Show less

September 20th marks the beginning of a pivotal push for the future of our planet. The Global Climate Strike will set the stage for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, where more than 60 nations are expected to build upon their commitment to 2015's Paris Agreement for combating climate change.

Millions of people are expected to take part in an estimated 4,000 events across 130 countries.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Apple

When the iPhone 11 debuted on September 10, it was met with less enthusiasm than the usual iPhone release. A lot of techies are holding off purchasing the latest gadget until Apple releases a phone with 5G technology.

Major US phone carriers have yet to build out the infrastructure necessary to provide a consistent 5G experience, so Apple didn't feel it necessary to integrate the technology into its latest iPhone.

A dramatic new feature on the iPhone 11 Pro is its three camera lenses. The three lenses give users the the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto options.

Keep Reading Show less
via I love butter / Flickr

We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

People often dream about their significant others and studies show it actually affects how we behave towads them the next day.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

Keep Reading Show less