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

122 comments

Mark Bill
Past Member about a year ago

I never ever saw such blogs and the knowledge you have given that is accurately to the point and in simple wording, I like it!
When an essay is a concern - get our improve!

Dana W.
Dana W.5 years ago

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

Klara Jones
Klara Jones5 years ago

:) 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.

Klara Jones
Klara Jones5 years ago

:) 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.

Alexandra S.
Alexandra S.5 years ago

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

James Makowski
James M.5 years ago

good recycle all 100%

Carol Cowbrough
Carol Cowbrough5 years ago

Noted. Thanks.

Jane R.
Jane R.5 years ago

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.

jane richmond
jane richmond5 years ago

Thanks this was very interesting

Chavonne Harvey
Chavonne Harvey5 years ago

interesting