2 trillion drinks containers are made every year – so where do they go?

coke can

(Ernest Brillo, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Alex Thornton, Senior Writer, Formative Content


Be honest – how many drinks containers have you used today? A carton of orange juice at breakfast, a plastic bottle of water for your morning run, a takeaway coffee, maybe a can of soft drink at lunch, a couple of styrofoam cups at the office water cooler, perhaps even a bottle of wine to go with dinner? It all adds up.

Globally 2 trillion drinks containers will be made and sold this year, according to projections by the Campaign for Rural England (CPRE). That works out as more than five a week for every person on the planet. And the number is growing every year.

So what can individuals and governments do to make sure those containers don’t end up harming the planet?

Not all containers are equal

Different containers have different impacts on the environment.

Aluminium cans are lightweight and easy to transport, and can be easily recycled. The metal is also one of the most common on earth. But extracting it uses huge amounts of energy and water, and bauxite strip mines cause significant ecological damage.

Glass bottles are heavy to transport, which increases their carbon footprint. But they are 100% recyclable, and even when they are not recycled eventually break down into what is effectively sand.

Plastic is the most versatile material for packaging drinks. But recycling rates are low – just 14% of the 78 million metric tons produced annually is recycled, and only a fraction of that is reused to make more plastic. Discarded plastic can last centuries before it degrades, and 8 million tons a year ends up in our oceans.

Image: World Economic Forum / Ellen MacArthur Foundation

The best way to prevent drinks containers ending up as waste is, of course, to reuse them. Cities around the world are encouraging the use of refillable water bottles by installing water fountains, or setting up schemes where cafes and bars allow customers to fill up for free. There is even an app that will tell you where your nearest refill station is.

But for containers that can’t be reused, recycling is the next best thing. As the chart below shows, the challenge is actually getting people to do it.

Image: Statista

Deposit schemes

Deposit schemes are one solution. A small charge is levied on each bottle or can, which is then refunded when it’s taken back for recycling.

Norway has been running a highly successful scheme for many years, with recycling rates now at an astonishing 97%. It provides incentives not just for consumers, who can redeem their bottles for cash or credit, but also the shops which take part. Manufacturers benefit from a tax break if the overall national recycling rate reaches a minimum level, giving them a reason to design containers that are easy to recycle.

Different versions of the scheme run in other European countries like Germany, Denmark and Lithuania, and in several states within the US, Canada and Australia. Scotland has recently announced it will be charging 20p per bottle when it launches its own scheme.

Research has shown the schemes have had a broadly positive effect not just on recycling rates, but on the amount of waste plastic making its way into the ocean. Environmental campaigners are now calling for their introduction everywhere.

As the World Economic Forum’s New Plastics Economy Report makes clear, there is an enormous economic potential in designing and manufacturing packaging that reuses existing material. If the beverage industry can successfully apply the principles of the circular economy, you’ll be able to enjoy the convenience, without feeling guilty about the environment.

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

the European Sting Milestones

Featured Stings

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Italian banks: It’s Rome’s turn to confront Berlin’s aggressiveness

We generate 125,000 jumbo jets worth of e-waste every year. Here’s how we can tackle the problem

Deal agreed to protect consumers against misleading and unfair practices

Jellyfish are taking over the world – and climate change could be to blame

EU Commission: Germany can make Eurozone grow again just by helping itself

Ocean life faces ‘onslaught of threats’ from human activity, but tools exist to save it

Brussels wins game and match in Ukraine no matter the electoral results

Is Data Privacy really safe seen through Commissioner’s PRISM?

Taking fast road to ‘e-mobility’ central to a sustainable future: COP24

ISIS fighters fleeing Mosul for Syria can topple Assad. Why did the US now decide to uproot them from Iraq?

More than four in 10 women, live in fear of refusing partner’s sexual demands, new UN global study finds

Vĕra Jourová, European Commissioner in charge of Justice

The New EU-US “Shield” for data privacy is full of holes

The International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA) on the arrest of Turkish Medical Association leaders

Crackdown on Christians in Eritrea spurs UN expert to press Government ‘to live up to its international commitments’

It’s not just the protests. Here’s how young people are helping the planet

UN experts report: Business ‘dragging its feet’ on human rights worldwide

EU budget: Commission proposes €1.26 billion to reinforce the European Solidarity Corps

European creativity and digital economy are drowning in a copyright swamp

A Sting Exclusive: “The EU Cybersecurity Act for a more secure and cyber-resilient European Digital Single Market”, by EU Commissioner Gabriel

2013, a Political Odyssey: What future for Italy?

MEPs react to breaches of human rights in Moldova, Burundi and Somalia

Innovation and Entrepreneurship Changing the Face of Europe

Norway’s electric car market has overtaken traditional vehicle sales

Families deserve answers when loved ones go missing in conflict: Security Council adopts historic resolution

Modern farming is harming the planet. Tech-driven permaculture could heal it

If you live in a big city you already smoke every day

Eurobarometer: Not a single answer about what the Banking Union will cost to citizens

Sweden’s forests have doubled in size over the last 100 years

We can save the Earth. Here’s how

Afghanistan: top UN official denounces ‘extreme’ suffering of civilians in Ghazni

Righting a wrong: UN Fund helps thousands of sex abuse survivors rebuild their lives

The West castigates Turkey’s Erdogan for the ruthless political cleansing

How leaders can use ‘agile governance’ to drive tech and win trust

A European young student shares his thoughts on Quality Education

Tuesday’s Daily Brief: UNESCO ready to help after Notre Dame fire, and updates on Libya, Nicaragua, and the Cyclone Idai response

ECB describes in detail how it exploits the poor

The US calls off globalization, targets Germany. Paris offer to Berlin comes at a cost

Better training ‘a necessary and strategic investment’ in peacekeeping that saves lives: Guterres

Trade negotiations with US can start under certain conditions

What makes America the world’s most competitive economy?

More than one billion people do not have access to electricity. What will it take to get them connected?

The Shifting Rhythms of Harmonious China: Ancient, Modern & Eternal

This Chinese megacity is building a giant waste-to-energy plant

European Youth Forum @ European Business Summit 2014: European Youth Unemployment

“Decisions taken in the coming weeks will shape Europe’s experience of the internet”, Joe Mcnamee from EDRi says live from European Business Summit 2015

WEF Davos 2016 LIVE: “If we do not do properly the Paris agreement, then all 16 remaining goals will be undermined”, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon cautions from Davos

EU’s new environmental policy on biofuels impacts both the environment and the European citizen

Two-thirds of global drug deaths now from opioids: UN drugs report

China invites the EU to a joint endeavor for free trade and order in the world

The US repelled EU proposals on common rules for banks

Eurozone hasn’t escaped the deflation danger

Despite violence, ‘tremendous hunger’ for peace in Afghanistan: top UN official

Does the West play the Syrian game in Egypt?

Mali: Presidential elections critical to consolidate democracy, says UN peacekeeping chief

Take-home pay growing at lowest level since 2008, as gender-gap persists: UN labour agency

Guterres underlines climate action urgency, as UN weather agency confirms record global warming

G20 starts to tackle inequality

UN chief hails victory of ‘political will’ in historic Republic of North Macedonia accord

Obama, Crimea and the TTIP pill

GSMA Mobile 360 Series –Digital Societies, in association with The European Sting

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s