Know Your Plastics: #1 PET

Plastic #1 SymbolPlastic #1.  PET or PETE, sometimes now also rPET (containing some recycled content) is short for Polyethylene Terephthalate.  Most plastic soda and water bottles are made of PET, as are many food containers.  Although ten U.S. states have bottle deposit laws that increase recycling rates substantially, nationally only about 21% of PET drink bottles are recycled, according to the Container Recycling Institute.  The majority are landfilled or incinerated, and a significant number are littered into the environment.

#1 PET Plastic Water Bottle Waste, Hydrabad. Via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0, by iHyb

Research indicates that PET can leach chemicals such as antimony (a heavy metal), phthalates (plasticizer)  and bromine (fire retardant), all potential endocrine disruptors, into food and drink, especially when exposed to temperature extremes and sunlight (UV exposure).  Although the amount of leaching may be small, new research indicates that no amount of hormone mimicking compounds can be considered safe for the human body; presumably other living organisms in the environment are also adversely impacted.

Another surprising fact is that a PET bottle not only uses fossil fuels and energy for production, but also requires large quantities of fresh water to manufacture. The Pacific Institute estimates that it takes 3 liters of water to produce a 1 liter bottle of water (2 liters to make, 1 liter to fill).

Interestingly, PET is widely used for refillable plastic bottles for water and soda in Europe, where a thicker-walled bottle is washed and reused up to 20 times before being recycled.  How do they get those bottles returned for refilling?  Consumer education,  Extended Producer Responsibility laws, and bottle deposit systems all play a part.  According to the website Zero Waste Europe, “…refillable bottles have 50-60% lower global warming potential than one-way containers.”

Although there have been recent breakthroughs in closed loop recycling of PET (see Pepsico’s “reNEWabottle” and “EcoGreen” 100% rPET bottles),  in the U.S. very little PET actually ever gets recycled. Currently most rPET bottles contain no more than 30% recycled resin. 70% will be virgin feedstock derived from fossil fuels.

In place of PET bottles, we highly recommend using a glass bottle or a food grade (300 series) stainless steel water bottle from a reputable manufacturer that offers an assurance that there is no plastic lining on the interior that might contain BPA  (Bisphenol A),  BPS (Bisphenol S)  or other endocrine disrupting chemicals.  A reusable glass or steel water bottle  is not only better for your health than plastic, but it cuts out the use of non-renewable fossil fuels and toxic chemicals associated with manufacturing plastic.  Used in place of disposable bottles, it decreases the humongous plastic waste stream and the environmental damage caused by plastic pollution.

Once again, Dear Reader,  it comes down to this: repeated reuse trumps recycling every time, and reusing your own –inert– bottle is better for your long-term health and the health of planet Earth.  Remember to BYOR!

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