Recycling is converting waste products into new products. At the time of publication, the index prices for recycled aluminum were 140 percent index prices for recycled plastics. The absolute cost depends on how far and by what method, for example semi trucks or rail cars, the materials are transported and the cost of fuel. - A mission to change Sweden overnight - The cost of changing an entire country’s alphabet - Why we’ll never replace the QWERTY keyboard. The energy to recycle materials into new products is most often expressed as the ratio between the energy cost to recycle the product and the energy to make products from virgin materials. Contamination of PET plastic with PLA, however, can leave the resulting bottle weaker and unfit for use, meaning the whole batch will have to be discarded. More than 78 million tonnes of plastic packaging is produced worldwide every year by an industry worth nearly $198 billion. A tonne of virgin PET costs around £1,000 while clear recycled PET costs just £158 per tonne. “Rather than going back, it is perhaps more useful to look at innovation,” says Eliot Whittington. Another significant cost is the time and attention it takes to properly sort recycled materials at the collection facility. 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Plastic litter now clutters every part of our planet, from remote parts of the Antarctic to the deepest ocean trenches. While the cost of producing bottles can vary depending on the raw material and energy prices at the time, it is generally not that much more expensive to produce a glass bottle versus one made from PET – about $0.01 more, according to some analysis. “Anything that can reduce the amount of plastic debris in the environment is a step in the right direction.”. A report by the American Chemistry Council and environmental accounting firm Trucost estimates that the environmental costs – which places a value on dealing with the pollution generated by a product – would be five times higher if the soft drinks industry used alternative packaging like glass, tin or aluminium instead of plastic. Years of research have allowed plastics to push the time food lasts for from days to weeks. She holds a Master of Science in wildlife management from Iowa State University. A proposed recycling initiative could give you money for returning plastic bottles. And as many countries seek to introduce new laws that will put new levies on plastic bags and ban certain types of single use packaging, refillable and reusable options may become more attractive. Today almost all soft drink bottles are made from a tough plastic material called polyethylene terephthalate, or PET. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Capital and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday. That’s £4.80, or enough for an acceptable bottle of wine from an off-brand supermarket (which she would have probably preferred). Different plastics have different recycling processes and end products that necessitate this labor-intensive step. The idea is that by incentivising responsible waste disposal, these millions of bottles will be given a second lease of life through recycling, rather than creating an eyesore or harming wildlife. Whittington points to the growing bioplastics industry, which uses starch or protein from plants like sugarcane to generate the basic hydrocarbon materials needed to create plastics. She lives on the other side of town so ordinarily I’d drive, but today I decide to make the 45 minute walk, this time armed with multiple bags for life. The trip takes me through the centre of the city, and even though the street cleaning team has already been out to clear up the previous night’s carnage, I arrive on my friend’s doorstep with a further 32 bottles. Very soon my bag for life was full of discarded plastic bottles, so I returned home to tally up my treasure (I wasn’t too taken by the idea of carrying actual garbage with my bare hands). While some believe that single-use plastic packaging has actually led to an increase in the amount of food we throw away by encouraging a culture of disposability, many in the plastics industry argue that without plastic packaging, the cost of food waste could rise. Some of these bioplastics are not biodegradable at all, but others – like polylactic acid (PLA) – can break down over time and some are compostable, meaning they disintegrate entirely rather than merely crumbling into smaller “microplastics”. 1 Set (Min Order) The shrink wrap used on cucumbers for instance, can more than double the length of time the vegetable can last, allowing it to be kept for up to 15 days in the fridge and cutting food waste in half. “It is surprising until you look closely at it.”, More than 60 countries are introducing legislation aimed at reducing the use of plastic bags and other single use plastic materials (Credit: Getty Images). In Germany, for example, a similar scheme has boosted recycling rates to 97%. This month, tiny Pacific island nation Vanuatu became the first in the world to ban single use plastic bags, straws and polystyrene food containers. Fees for the collection of recyclable materials are not subject to the state's solid waste collection tax. So if implemented properly, this scheme has the potential to make a significant difference to a serious problem. Aluminum cans require minimum sorting, but the various plastics need to be separated by their resin identification code, the little number on the bottom of bottles and containers. “It will require a complete change in the way we use product packaging at the moment. To comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Capital, please head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter. Some experts fear that without the right approach, this rush to banish plastics from our shopping baskets will make the goods we buy more expensive. Putting grapes in their own individual plastic boxes has been found to cut food waste by 75%. But the World Economic Forum found innovative reuse and refill measures could actually reduce packaging costs by at least $8 billion a year,savings that could potentially be passed onto consumers. Whoever it was that bought a freshly-squeezed green lemonade and kale smoothie from M&S and then lobbed the bottle onto a grass verge clearly has no sense of irony.
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