Sam Judd

Comment on the environment from nzherald.co.nz columnist Sam Judd

Sam Judd: Fake plastic watering bottles?

37 comments
The PLA bottle that has hit the headlines. Photo / Supplied
The PLA bottle that has hit the headlines. Photo / Supplied

I enjoyed the Campbell Live report The 'eco-bottle' you can't recycle about Charlie's so called "Eco" bottle. I have long believed that this is a classic example of misleading greenwash.

There were a couple of factual mistakes in the report though.

Polylactic Acid (PLA) is the material that the body of a Charlie's bottle is made of, while the cap (which comprises of at least three pieces of plastic) is your standard Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET).

The PLA can be reprocessed in a commercial composting facility - requiring a standard temperature of 60 degrees for a sustained period of time to break down - but there are very few around. Envirofert is one of the only places in New Zealand where you can achieve this.

The bottle cap is recyclable, but the fact that it is a different material to the bottle itself makes re-processing these materials very difficult and less eco-friendly than companies that use these products would have you believe.

The reality is, most of the time the materials do not get separated and the "eco-bottles" get sent to landfill. It is simply not efficient to have to remove the lids and composting does not generate revenue for waste management companies.

In my opinion, single-use PLA bottles with additional PET components should not be on the shelves in everyday shops, because we don't have composting available on a large-scale in the public arena yet. Nor do consumers have the tolerance to separate the pieces before sending them to either compost or recycling. Thrown in the recycling bin as a single item means they are contaminating our public waste streams which is not "eco-friendly" at all.

It is different at events where you have the ability to control the situation. Currently this is where PLA can be superior - it just takes work to do it properly.

The Warbirds over Wanaka event organisers needed to do more research before choosing to use PLA.

At the Summer Sunday festival, Charlie's water was used and all of the caps were painstakingly separated and sent to recycling, while the PLA went to composting. This is an example of how to be responsible for materials used at events and do it properly.

If materials can be composted then it is far more efficient and environmentally friendly than wrapping up PET bottles in shrink-wrap and sending them to Asia to be recycled.

But the reality is that until we have a system in place for PLA in the public waste stream, claiming that bottles of this nature are "eco-friendly" seems to be greenwash. I have been told that PLA does not break down in the ocean and releases methane in landfills - which is where most of them go.

If you want some of our abysmal statistics on recycling, you can find that here: Sam Judd: Plastic Addiction and the Myths of Recycling

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