From a much-loved symbol of the modern and healthy lifestyle, to a hated problem child for our climate and nature. The single-use plastic bottle has taken the whole trip through the image mill. It has even happened within one generation. Why has the bottle become one of the forms of plastic most often found in the sea? How can you help stop the development? Get the answers here.
After all, it's just one single plastic bottle - said 5 billion people.
In just one generation, single-use plastic bottles have evolved from being a revolution in drinks and health, to being designated as one of the biggest climate culprits.
The ecosystems of our oceans in particular are threatened by the disposable bottle.
When the team from Copenhagen Cartel collects rubbish on the beach, we often come across single-use plastic bottles – and especially their screw caps. In fact, the two types of plastic are some of the most commonly found in the ocean.
Plastic bottles take third place on the top 10 list of marine litter. The plastic bottle cap holds fourth place.
It is a huge waste of the planet's precious resources, because the single-use plastic bottle has obvious recycling possibilities, and can be given a new life as clothes, shoes, art in the home, equipment for sports, outdoor life and many other things.
It was actually also the intention of the inventor that the product should be able to be used again and again. How the plastic bottle ended up doing the exact opposite, we'll dive into that now.
From reusable glass bottles to disposable plastic bottles
In the early 1970s, the first PET plastic bottle was introduced, completely changing the way we consume beverages.
It was no longer necessary to produce beverages in reusable glass bottles that had to be returned from the customer to the retailer, transported back to the factory, and finally cleaned, refilled and sent back out to stores and consumers.
Now the customer could buy their drinks in a plastic bottle which could be emptied and thrown directly into the bin as soon as it had completed its task.
As if with a snap of the fingers, the extensive and expensive production cycle of the past was gone.
The revenue potential of the new single-use plastic bottle was enormous. Just think how many disposable bottles could be sold in the time it took a glass bottle to make the trip back and forth between the factory.
The costs of the liquid liquids' plastic packaging could be passed on to the customers. Since you were no longer dependent on having to pick up and bring the recycled bottles, production could be centralized and a lot of jobs could be cut.
It was almost a no-brainer for large beverage manufacturers such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, who quickly seized the opportunity.
It was pure profit. It still is to this day.
1 million per minute
Fast forward to today – more than 40 years later.
1 million . In the minute.
That's how many single-use plastic bottles were sold worldwide, around the clock, in 2017. Since then, the number has only grown, and the 2017 figure is expected to be 20% higher in 2021.
At the same time, the single-use bottle pushed the rapidly growing use-and-throw-away culture, which over the years has been reinforced by the increasing number of people who live the busy life "on the go".
According to The Guardian , the trend has been exported from the West and on to particularly Asian developing countries, where the large populations boost sales of disposable bottles.
Where the plastic bottle was pure profit for the drinks manufacturers' earnings, it is otherwise gloomy for nature - and indeed people too.
It requires non-renewable energy sources such as petroleum and crude oil to produce the plastic from which the bottles are made. At the same time, enormous amounts of energy are required to produce the bottles. That pollution is sent into our air, oceans and land.
The production of PET plastic, which is used in bottles, is considered one of the least toxic. Yet it still generates 100 times as many toxic emissions as the same process with glass. In fact, it takes 2000 times more energy to produce bottled water than it does to draw it straight from the tap.
Plastic bottles were designed for recycling
Plastic bottles are what is called single-use plastic. This means that the bottle is designed to be used once. Packaging is also an example of single-use plastic, and single-use plastic is estimated to make up almost half of all plastic pollution.
Despite the recyclability of single-use plastics, much of it never finds its way back into the circular production cycle. National Geographic estimates that less than half of all single-use plastic bottles sold worldwide in 2016 were collected for recycling.
National Geographic and WWF estimate that single-use plastics end up in nature because it is difficult to hand in the bottles for recycling, garbage is mishandled and there is a lack of structure in garbage and recycling methods, and because the single-use plastics are thrown into nature and blown away from trash cans and landfills, etc.
It can be hard to imagine that a single plastic bottle can cause such a big problem. But consider that a million plastic bottles are bought every minute, every single day, around the clock. Half of those bottles are never recycled. It gives an outline of the scale of the problem.
Although in the era before plastic bottles, consumers handed in used glass bottles without problems so that they could be used again - exactly as our modern deposit system works in Denmark today - American beverage manufacturers in particular are fighting a fierce battle to look at recycling plastic, rather than reintroducing the glass bottle system.
Coca-Cola and Pepsi, which as beverage manufacturers helped to push the trend towards plastic bottles, have been named the world's most polluting companies for several years in a row , together with Nestlé.
Coca-Cola holds first place because their bottles are most often found discarded in nature. They are even more polluting than Pepsi and Nestlé combined.
How can it be stopped?
The production of plastics has exploded over the past 50 years. Growth is expected to continue in exactly the same way in the coming decades.
Plastic – especially single-use plastic – has proven to be one of our biggest climate challenges. The long-lasting substance, which does not disappear, but breaks down into microplastics and is found in everything from mussels to human stomachs, is dangerous to us and the planet.
Skilled NGOs, researchers and enthusiasts are working to eliminate the plastic that is already found in nature.
Several countries have also started to ban the use of single-use plastic bottles, and this is good. Because if we want to get rid of the problem, we have to stop it at the source. This is where you can help.
Something as simple as replacing your disposable bottles with a drinking bottle can make a huge difference. In fact, it will save the world billions of plastic bottles if all people make this small change in their everyday lives.
At the same time, it will save the sea from plastic waste, it will spare the climate from wear and pollution, and inappropriate consumption of the earth's invaluable natural resources. It would also reduce the dangerous amount of microplastics that are killing our animal and plant life, and ourselves.
Think about which brands you support when you buy their products.
Remember that you can also contribute to the fight against the plastic bottles in our oceans through Copenhagen Cartel. Every time you buy a product from either our CC Casual or CC Extra collection, we collect 20 plastic bottles from the ocean.