Shifting away from single-use plastic to different materials in the bottled water market will cause “different environmental problems”, according to new research, which suggests targeting single-use materials for elimination must go beyond plastic.
With the increase in awareness of the environmental harm caused by single-use plastics in the natural environment and the number of brands moving away from the material, it has become increasingly easy in the UK to buy water in alternative materials: aluminium cans, glass bottles or cartons.
But, according to new research by the Green Alliance, if these containers became even half as common as their plastic counterparts, their annual impact on the planet could be “severe”.
If we don’t need single use plastic water bottles, we also don’t need single use cans, cartons, or glass bottles for water
These impacts from aluminium cans might include creating enough toxic waste to fill the Royal Albert Hall six times over
Glass bottles might result in as many emissions as are created by a population the size of Bath.
Cartons might mean the equivalent of filling nearly 9,000 bin lorries with low quality containers that can’t be recycled.
Losing the bottle: why we don’t need single use containers for water suggests that the only low-impact option for hydration is a refillable container.
The amount of bottled water consumed in the UK has doubled in the past 15 years, and is still rising, the research says.
Traditionally, the market has been dominated by plastic, with the average UK adult using 150 single use plastic water bottles every year.
A typical refillable bottle only has to be used 15 times to have a lower carbon impact than a single use plastic bottle.
Libby Peake, senior policy adviser on resources at Green Alliance, said:“‘Single-use’ was named word of the year in 2018 as the public became more aware of the impacts of our throwaway society.
We need to reuse and refill more while thinking carefully about whether it is wise to switch to different materials
“But so far, people are mainly targeting single use plastic and the concern hasn’t translated to other materials, which also have environmental consequences.
“If we don’t need single use plastic water bottles, we also don’t need single use cans, cartons, or glass bottles for water.
“The good news is, it’s easy to do the right thing when it comes to drinking water and the environment. Tap water in refillable containers is the most sustainable option, and is hundreds of times cheaper to boot.”
Colin Church, chair of the Circular Economy Task Force and chief executive of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, said:“Plastic pollution is a real environmental problem, but simply moving on to making single use items out of other materials isn’t always the right solution because they too will have drawbacks.
“The problem of single use water bottles is a powerful example of why we should aim to cut the amount of materials used in the first place. We need to reuse and refill more while thinking carefully about whether it is wise to switch to different materials.”