Recycling plastic bottles saves lives, environment

By Yolanda Braham, WAMCOctober 2, 2009

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - The largest growth of plastic bottle sales isn't derived from beer, soft drinks, or juices, but surprisingly, it's derived from water. While increased water bottle sales can mean fewer cavities and slimmer waistlines, it also means big trouble for our environment.

It is very hard to argue the fact that waste management has become an issue considering the increasing demands for more landfills, but the rates of recycling continue to remain low. The number of plastic bottles produced and discarded by consumers has only exacerbated this problem.

It is important to the environment that we recycle so that we can keep the plastic bottles out of our landfills. Plastic does not simply go away, but will sit in a landfill for long periods of time if not properly handled. This can cause a lot of problems.

Although all plastics can be recycled and North Carolina state regulations now require consumers to recycle plastic bottles, people continue to throw them in the trash. There are many reasons why you should recycle plastic bottles.

Researchers say that people in the U.S. throw away two and a half million plastic bottles an hour. Plastic is one of the most disposable materials in U.S. culture. We throw away our milk bottles, soda bottles, trash bags, grocery bags, and water bottles every day without a second thought. Plastic makes up much of the street-side litter found in cities and throughout the countryside and is rapidly filling up our landfills.

Making new plastic requires a considerable amount of fossil fuels. Studies show that up to eight percent of the world's fossil fuels are used in producing new plastics, accounting for millions of tons of fuel per year.

Plastic is easy to recycle, and all plastic can be recycled. Some studies show that only 10 percent of plastic bottles created are recycled, leaving that extra 90 percent to take up space in landfills, the side of the road and sometimes ending up in the ocean.

Researchers say that our country's landfills are closing at a rate of around two per day. The landfill-space crisis is especially difficult in cities, where inner-city trash dumps are often filled to capacity and surrounding communities are unwilling to allow new landfills to come to their neighborhoods.

Many coastal cities use the ocean as a dumping ground, resulting in depleted fish stock, polluted beaches and other health issues for the local inhabitants. Plastic bottles make up about 11 percent of the contents of landfills.

Incinerating plastic contributes to greenhouse gases. To save space at landfills, plastics are often burned in incinerators. When this is done, chemicals, petroleum and fossil fuels used in the manufacturing process are released into the atmosphere, adding to greenhouse gas emissions.

Plastic in the oceans are responsible for the deaths of millions of sea animals. Plastic bottles floating on the surface of the oceans can look like food to larger sea life often with fatal consequences. In addition, fish, sea birds and other ocean creatures often get caught in plastic rings that strangle them or constrict their throats.

No one is sure if or how long it will take for plastic to biodegrade because it hasn't been around long enough. However, the first plastics made are still around today. Most scientists believe that plastics will take hundreds of years to degrade fully, if not longer.

Research has shown that recycling plastic saves energy. Studies show that the energy saved by recycling a single plastic bottle as compared to producing a new one from scratch is enough to power a single 60-watt bulb for six hours.

Recycled plastic can be found in many unexpected places including carpeting, the fuzz on tennis balls, scouring pads, paintbrushes, clothes, industrial strapping, shower stalls, drainpipes, flowerpots and lumber.

Recycling plastic is good for the environment, good for energy savings, good for the health of wildlife and humans alike. So next time you buy a bottle of soda or water, don't just throw it in the trash. Recycle it and do one small thing for the environment.

The Directorate of Public Works has already established a couple of collection points at the South and North Post Exchanges, where individuals can recycle both plastic and paper products. There are several places within Fayetteville that will also allow you to recycle plastics as well as other goods.

If you are located on the installation and would like to jumpstart your recycling program at work, please contact Tim Nance, Environmental Compliance Branch, at 396-5323. He may be able to provide your organization with recycling waste bins.