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Should You Recycle That Plastic Bottle?

John Platt, January 11, 2011

Reduce, reuse, recycle... we all know that we should use fewer plastic bottles, and recycle the ones we do use, but is that really reducing the greenhouse impact of the bottles themselves? According to one new study, the answer isn't cut-and-dried.

It costs a lot of energy to recycle a plastic bottle, making it the least cost- or energy-efficient material to recycle. According to a recent study by Eric Johnson of Atlantic Consulting, recycled PET plastic definitely has a lower carbon footprint than new PET plastics. But if people live in an area with a weak recycling infrastructure, recycling that plastic can create more carbon emissions than creating new plastic.

This isn't everywhere, by far. But the study suggests that people in rural, underdeveloped areas will actually create fewer carbon emissions by throwing their old plastic away in a landfill than by recycling it.

Of course, this doesn't remotely reflect the cost of the plastic entering the environment through a landfill -- a key part of the equation -- but it does get you thinking. Even if you do recycle, it helps to do it in a responsible manner.

Some tips... Obviously, if you can avoid plastics, do so. Buy reusable bottles and avoid products that come encased in plastic. Recycle in bulk, so the collection process (often fueled by big, diesel-burning trucks) creates fewer carbon emissions. Don't live in a community that disposes of plastics through incineration (or if you do, start a campaign to change that). Start a local recycling drive, and help your community reduce its plastic input.

What else can you do, or do you do already? Let us know in the comments!

Tags: Bottles, Campus Buzz, Carbon Emissions, Greenhouse Gases, Plastic, Plastics, Recycling, Reuse

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