Lines and Loops
Take sand, mix it with chemicals, heat it to 2800°C, make it into a thin glass bottle, fill it with juice, ship it 1200 km to a Saskatchewan convenience store where someone buys it. The juice is consumed within minutes, then the bottle is tossed away, picked up by a municipality or waste hauler and taken to landfill where it is buried (presumably) forever. A nice, straight line transaction. Resource intensive, but straight.
There are other scenarios:
- Take sand, mix with chemicals, heat to 2800°C, form into a thin bottle, fill with juice, ship 1200 km to our local convenience store. After purchase and consumption, the bottle goes to a recycling centre, where it is crushed and returned to a sand state and used locally. Not exactly a straight line, but not a complete circle either. What is being saved? Sand, transportation expense, landfill space.
- Take sand, mix with chemicals, heat to 2800°C, make into a bottle, fill with juice, ship 1200 km to a Saskatchewan convenience store. Drink juice, toss bottle into recycling bin. Bottle is crushed and shipped to B.C. (closest bottle making plant) back to furnace (at lower temperature) and formed into a bottle again. What is being saved? Sand, some processing energy (but likely more than offset by energy needed to transport it), and landfill space. Technically a circle (bottle back into bottle), but an awfully big one.
- Take sand, mix with chemicals, heat to 280°0C, make into a bottle, fill with juice, ship to convenience store, drink juice, return to depot for reuse. Bottle is washed and refilled, relatively close by. Repeat thirty times or so; once bottle is not refillable, recycle it in option B. What is being saved? More than 30 bottles (and the energy and pollutants that go into making them), transportation energy and (more) landfill space. At last, a circle that is small enough to make sense.
The beer makers have option C down pat and have proven the reuse system works for them and their glass bottles. The other types of beverages have moved away from refilling systems.
It seems an inappropriate use of such a beautiful, durable, and heavy material to choose it for a one-time use. And I guess the beverage industry agrees with me at least in part, because they're substituting glass for plastic at an increasing rate...which is a whole different system of lines and loops.
(Source: WasteWatch, March 2003)
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