Britain’s single-use sustainability crisis extends far beyond plastic, says Green Alliance

Shifting away from plastic to other materials for single-use containers – such as cans

The short document, titled Losing the bottle: why we don’t need single-use containers for water, summarises the various environmental implications of scaling up single-use plastic packaging alternatives in the bottled water market.

The document draws attention to how easy it is to buy water in aluminium cans, glass bottles and cartons throughout the UK marketplace, for example, but each of these materials have a severe impact on the planet annually. Green Alliance claims aluminium creates enough toxic waste to fill the Royal Albert Hall six times over; current glass bottle levels creates as many emissions as a population the size of Bath; and cartons results in filling 9,000 bin lorries with unrecyclable materials.

These findings come as the bottled water market continues to grow, having doublled in the UK within the past 15 years. The typical average UK adult uses 150 single-use plastic water bottles every year, according to one infographic in the report.

“If we don’t need single use plastic water bottles, we also don’t need single use cans, cartons, or glass bottles for water,” said Green Alliance’s senior policy adviser for resources, Libby Peake.

“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.”

Switching materials

Indeed, refillable bottles, which only have to be used 15 times to have a lower carbon impact than a single use plastic bottle, according to Green Alliance’s report.

Commenting on the report, chair of Green Alliance’s Circular Economy Task Force, Colin Church, said simply switching materials “isn’t always the right solution” due to the environmental drawbacks.

Church said: “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.”

Natalie Fee, founder of City to Sea – which runs the Refill app and campaign – also commented on the report, referencing the fact we live on a “finite planet” and have a “throwaway culture”.

Fee said: “Whether it’s plastic, aluminium or other materials, the extraction, manufacturing, transportation and recycling processes can come with a high environmental cost. The shift the planet needs and the public wants is away from disposability towards a culture of reusability.

“When it comes to drinking water on the go, refilling from taps and fountains is convenient and saves resources and money – what’s not to love about that?”

James Evison

© Faversham House Ltd 2022 edie news articles may be copied or forwarded for individual use only. No other reproduction or distribution is permitted without prior written consent.

Comments (3)

  1. Keiron Shatwell says:

    Single Use Sustainability – now that is an even better Oxymoron than Military Intelligence 🙂

    But it sums up our current consumer driven economy based on continuous buying of shit we don’t need, with money we don’t have then throwing it away (sometimes without even using it once).

    Ms Fee is correct that the planet needs us to shift towards a culture of reuse but she is sadly mistaken if she thinks the public wants that. Some of us maybe but the vast majority want it cheap, want it now and don’t care if they throw it away after a single use as long as it is convenient.

  2. Roger Munford says:

    Sadly its all about water and plastics when the whole spectrum of fluid containers from beer to juices to milk to yoghurt are suitable for reusable containers. I lived in Germany for some time and it is easy and effective. Those of a certain age will remember deposit bottles from their childhoods.
    the key is to have standard bottles that are interchangeable regardless of supplier so the bottles don’t have to go back to where they come from just anywhere convenient where they can be collected cleaned and sent on for their next "trip". Drinks can be distributed around the country in bulk and individual bottles can be filled locally like milk used to be or local brewers.
    In Gove’s waste proposal document last year there was a whole chapter (5 I think) "Leading the World showing by example" and as far as I can remember a single paragraph which was an actual warning that reusing bottles would necessitate washing them. There was no warning that recycling glass means collecting it, shipping it to the North East of England, melting it to make new bottles, then shipping it back to the fillers.
    They collect glass where I live every two weeks. Just think of the cost in money and energy of doing that. A deposit on containers would make sure that the glass is returned for free and it will be all sorted.
    I live 2 km away from a "dairy" or really a plastic bottling plant and for years have thrown away probably thousands of plastic bottles.
    In Germany all my beer, juice, water, dairy needs were 100% waste free.
    I need some of the energy we waste every day to fly to somewhere sunny

  3. ??????? ???????? says:

    We talk too much, but do very little. Let’s recycle. There are a lot of interesting ideas in this regards.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie

Subscribe