Should we be recycling plastic bottles??
Crafting a Green World had this thought-provoking post earlier this month.
Is upcycling an excusable practice if we abuse or ignore the “not-so-green” materials as a medium, all in the name of art and crafting?
How about using “eco-friendly” materials, like eco-felt or wool-felt or reusing plastic juice pouches or PET plastic bottles, thinking it’s OK to use, since they are eco-friendly, even though they originated from not-so-green resources?
There is a whole industry of reusing “evil” materials into “green” material: recycled cotton, bamboo, plarn, bags using juice pouch, pillows with eco-felt, etc. And the list goes on.
But shouldn’t we just NOT buy any plastic, chemically treated materials that result in environmental damage? Even if the end result is pretty or functional? I’d rather buy long lasting, natural, minimally processed materials to craft with, even if that means NOT crafting or upcycling, because truthfully speaking, what is the shelf life of a barrette made from eco-felt? Or a bag made from juice pouches?
We can make playground equipment with recycled plastic that will last much longer than any of the accessories that are made with recycled plastic.
Right now, there’s such a “cool” factor to many items. Tshirts made from old soda bottles. Bags made from old juice pouches or recycled water bottles, etc. I think some people buy into the whole idea without really thinking a whole lot about it. I’m a professional skeptic, so I tend to think TOO much about this stuff, lol.
But I’m not sure where I land on this one. The upcycling I do is all turning one relatively OK, but unwanted, thing into another thing that’s usually a reusable replacement for a disposable item. (Um, so turning an old sweater into a cloth diaper cover, which is a replacement for a disposable diaper.) I don’t do a lot of crafting with disposable single-use items (like juice pouches or water bottles) – but not because I’m against it philosophically. That’s just not the kind of crafting I do. Plus, I’m not sure where Id acquire quantities of clean, used water bottles or juice pouches, and I don’t use them myself.
I do like her point that we can recycle old water bottles into playground equipment that will last MUCH longer than anything else we could do with an old water bottle. It’s looking at the lifecycle.
One thing she doesn’t mention is the environmental impact of reusing the bottles – it obviously takes energy and probably chemicals and unsafe working conditions to change the water bottles into fabric, or into whatever else. It would be interesting to see just what that process is, and how nasty it is. (Like the process of turning bamboo into fabric.) I’ve looked, but haven’t found anything published by anybody who’s not trying to sell something made from recycled water bottle fabric, and it seems to me that those information sources might be a tad biased.
Wikipedia has an interesting few paragraphs under “Challenges” in their Plastic Recycling entry, but most of their statements are uncited. Green Talk has a thought-provoking blog entry on this subject, as well. The author here discusses Antimony, which is a cancer-causing chemical released when PET is burned, and which inevitably ends up in the products made from recycled PET. Among the things that the author learned in her quest for information:
- The energy consumption to make recycled polyester is more than conventional cotton, organic cotton and hemp. (But less than virgin polyester.)
- Creating recycled polyester can causes toxic chemicals to leach into our waterways unless the facility treats its wastewater.
- The demand for post consumer bottles has increased so much that companies are sourcing new unused bottles from the bottle manufacturers.
They also provide this tidbit from the EPA on Antimony (again, released when plastic bottles are melted down for recycling):
“Breathing high levels for a long time can irritate your eyes and lungs and can cause heart and lung problems, stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach ulcers.
In short-term studies, animals that breathed very high levels of antimony died. Animals that breathed high levels had lung, heart, liver, and kidney damage. In long-term studies, animals that breathed very low levels of antimony had eye irritation, hair loss, lung damage, and heart problems. Problems with fertility were also noted. In animal studies, problems with fertility have been seen when rats breathed very high levels of antimony for a few months.”
From GreenTalk, I found a link to O Ecotextiles (a company known for environmentally responsible textiles, and for being well-researched) and their blog on the same subject, titled “Why is recycled polyester considered a sustainable textile?”
The majority of the world’s PET production – about 60% – is used to make fibers for textiles; about 30% is used to make bottles. It’s estimated that it takes about 104 million barrels of oil for PET production each year – that’s 70 million barrels just to produce the virgin polyester used in fabrics. That means most polyester – 70 million barrels worth – is manufactured specifically to be made into fibers, NOT bottles, as many people think. Of the 30% of PET which is used to make bottles, only a tiny fraction is recycled into fibers. But the idea of using recycled bottles – “diverting waste from landfills” – and turning it into fibers has caught the public’s imagination.
Their post is very science-y and FULL of citations. I highly recommend it, but I’m into science-y blog posts, lol.