For every minute you spend reading this short piece, a million plastic bottles will be sold. That figure will jump by 20% within three years.
More than 480bn plastic drinking bottles were sold worldwide in 2016, up from about 300bn a decade ago, according to Euromonitor International’s global packaging trends report.
Most of these are made from polyethylene terephthalate (Pet), which is easily recycled but as usage soars recycling plants are overwhelmed and cannot keep up. Less than half of the bottles bought in 2016 were collected for recycling and just 7% were turned into new bottles. Most ended up in landfill or in the ocean.
David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II gave an indication of the devastating scale of plastic pollution in our oceans. So much so that British environment secretary Michael Gove, hardly a tree hugger from central casting, has said he was “haunted” by images of the damage done to the world’s oceans by discarded plastics.
The majority of that pollution is caused by the choices, not the needs, of consumers. The plastic bottle is now almost as ubiquitous as the mobile phone, even if this is the first generation in the history of humanity to develop such a contrived dependency. In the face of destruction on this scale it is hard to imagine that individual action can have an impact, but it can — and so too would an overdue and punitive tax on plastic bottles.