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Study Finds Landfills May Be Greener Than Recycling

Study Finds Landfills May Be Greener Than Recycling

Recycing plastic bottles might not always be the most environmentally-friendly option for disposal, according to a study by an independent consultancy based near Zurich, Switzerland.

The carbon-footprint study, titled “PET’s carbon footprint: to recycle or not to recycle” found that in communities with limited infrastructure, recycling a plastic bottle can actually result in a bigger carbon footprint than simply throwing it in a landfill.

“The footprint of recycling is lower than that of landfills only if at least half of the plastic ends up being valorised. That’s right: only if about 50 percent or better of the used PET actually displaces production of new PET, will recycling deliver the lowest footprint,” said Eric Johnson, one of the study’s authors.

In typical curbside recycling programs, less than 50 percent of recovered PET eventually ends up as new plastic packaging.

However, the researchers did find that programs where bottles were taken back by the manufacturer, recycling services that required separate collection or bottle-deposits typically reported much higher displacement rates – some in the range of 75 percent.

Still, the authors say these findings aren’t a reason to give up on recycling.

Instead, they hope their findings will encourage communities that already have a recycling infrastructure to increase used PET’s displacement of new PET significantly above 50 percent through better collection and sorting techniques.

For communities that lack suitable recycling programs, the authors hope to dispel the common misconception that shipping plastics for recycling in other countries is just as harmful as landfilling.

“Yes, the transport adds to the footprint, but not nearly as decisively as displacement, said Johnson in The Ecologist. “If the travelling bottles end up substituting what would have been new PET, then the journey was well worthwhile.”

One disappointing part of this study is that it seems to ignore the environmental impact of plastics once they do end up in the landfill.

As plastic bottles decay, they take up precious landfill space, leaching harmful chemicals into the ground and potentially polluting the soil and water. Because landfills are so tightly packed, some scientists are concerned that the rate of decay in landfills could be even slower than previously surmised, as the conditions are not optimal for breakdown (WiseGeek).

Read More!

Why Reuse Beats Recycling
Rewards for Recycling: A New Green Currency
8 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Recycle

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Image Credit: Flickr - judepics

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121 comments

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10:37AM PST on Jan 21, 2011

As recycling becomes more common, the costs should go down. Even if it's more expensive, think of the impact on our environment!

3:20AM PST on Nov 26, 2010

:) I think that the recycle is really great The business already recycle because the companies already realized that it saves money and I think all the world should know this. In UK is already full with [url=http://www.junk-removal.co.uk/]junk removal London[/url] companies which earn money by recycling.

2:29AM PST on Nov 26, 2010

:) I think that the recycle is really great The business already recycle because the companies already realized that it saves money and I think all the world should know this. In UK is already full with junk removal London companies which earn money by recycling.

6:51AM PDT on Nov 2, 2010

good thing in switzerland it's 75% then:D
Encourages me even more

7:56PM PDT on Oct 9, 2010

good recycle all 100%

3:05PM PDT on Oct 8, 2010

Noted. Thanks.

5:41PM PDT on Oct 4, 2010

I guess I'll be telling myage with this comment, but so be it. When I was growing up nothing came in a plastic bottle. Sodas & beer were in glass. Milk came in a plastic carton. There was no such thing as bottled water.
Why the change to plastic now? I wish things would go back the way they were. I would help save the planet.

8:13PM PDT on Oct 3, 2010

Thanks this was very interesting

1:39AM PDT on Oct 3, 2010

interesting

10:47AM PDT on Oct 2, 2010

interesting. As always, reduce is the number one thing to do!

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