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

Shifting materials for single-use containers away from plastic will not resolve the overall issue, according to a new infogaphic-based report from Green Alliance.

Shifting away from plastic to other materials for single-use containers – such as cans, glass and cartons – will not resolve the problem, Green Alliance claims

Shifting away from plastic to other materials for single-use containers – such as cans, glass and cartons – will not resolve the problem, Green Alliance claims

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


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