Would Banning Plastic Bottles Help or Hurt the Planet?


– When you see me holding
this plastic bottle of water what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Quick and cheap hydration
that you can grab when you’re on the go, Yet another piece of
plastic that’s just gonna end up polluting the planet. If my butler’s not serving me sustainably harvested
rain water from Finland, well then I’m not interested. When does my trust fund mature, again? Okay, for real, if that’s
you, definitely give me your contact info because I
think we’d really hit it off. If what popped into your
brain was any variation of the first two responses
then you’re no stranger to the dilemma that
plastic bottles create. Short term convenience on one hand, long term threat to the
planet on the other. I can go to Costco right
now and buy a pallet of plastic water bottles. That’s 1900 16.9 ounce
bottles for the cost of 20 cents per bottle. That’s like a year and a
half of water for one person. Now the average American buys more than 300 plastic bottles a year, factor in the rest of
the world and humans use one million plastic bottles per minute. And if you think recycling is
the way to deal with it all, well I have news for you. Fewer than half the bottles
bought in 2016 were collected and recycled and just 7% of those were turned into new bottles. Instead, most end up in
landfills or in the ocean. To deal with this massive
problem, some lawmakers, activists, businesses, and
consumers are wrestling with this question. Should we ban single-use plastic bottles? Early forms of plastic have
existed since the mid 1800s giving us things like PVC for
pipes, shellac for records, and the Bakelite telephone. But when World War II came
along, scientists diverted all their plastic technology
to help with the war effort. So after the war, all this
plastic needed to go somewhere. So why not the American consumer? What we got was a plastic
explosion; Tupperware, Swanson TV dinners,
Barbie dolls, you name it and it was probably made of plastic. The plastic explosion
has never really stopped that’s why today it’s estimated
that humans have created over eight billion tons of plastic. Most of which still exists. See, plastic doesn’t ever
really break down completely or biodegrade. It just breaks apart into
smaller and smaller pieces over time. These tiny bits of plastic
make their way into oceans creating a plastic soup of pollution that can get into the bellies
of all kinds of marine animals like fish, pelicans, and turtles. Some research studies
predict that by 2050, pound for pound, plastic
in the ocean will outweigh all the fish. Now let’s take a moment to think about how much plastic that is. That’s a lot of plastic. To combat all this, some cities, states, and even whole countries
are doing what they do best, passin’ some laws. San Diego recently became
the largest city in the U.S. To ban styrofoam food
and drink containers. California now bans most
stores from handing out those flimsy, single-use
bags to customers. The entire European Union
can now put you in jail for five years if you’re
caught with a straw. In fact, just saying the word
straw gets you a $100 fine. Okay, those last two things are not true. The EU is just going to
ban stuff like straws and plastic plates starting in 2021. I was hoping at least
France would taunt you with a fresh baguette as punishment. But no. Next up on the chopping block, and that’s a wood chopping block, might be plastic bottles. And why not? About 70% of plastic water
bottles bought in the U.S. Are not recycled and so end
up in the oceans as part of that plastic soup we were
talking about earlier. And almost all plastic bottles
are made from fossil fuels. In fact, the Pacific Institute,
a non-profit research group in Oakland, California, found that it took about 17 million barrels of oil to produce enough plastic for the
bottles of water consumed by Americans in 2006. And since then, consumption
has increased by 65% meaning, Americans need over
28 million barrels of oil to fuel their plastic water
bottle needs for one year. All right, quick side bar,
that sounds like a lot and it is a lot. But in total, the U.S.
consumes more oil than that every two days. Put that in your General
Electric CF6 jet engine and burn it. In 2013, Concord, Massachusetts
became the first U.S. city to ban most single-use
plastic water bottles. That same year, the University of Vermont started a similar ban. And for six years, up until
2017, dozens of national parks implemented restrictions
on bottled water sales. According to the National Park Service, those restrictions prevented
up to 112,000 pounds of plastic from being sold
and discarded each year. Along with up to 140 metric
tons of carbon dioxide emissions and guys, remember, tap water is free, and assuming it’s safe
to drink where you live, why not get yourself a
trendy, reusable water bottle? Sure if it’s full, it can feel
like you’re carrying around a bowling ball but it’s probably
worth the inconvenience. (metal bottle clanks) Now I’ve got to admit,
going into this story, banning plastic bottles to
help save the environment felt like a no brainer to me. But the more I looked into
it, the more I realized it wasn’t so simple. To start with, in many areas of the world, clean drinking water is only available due to the miracle of
single-use plastic bottles. I mean, even in the U.S.
Look at Flint, Michigan. They’ve had a literal state
of emergency for years now due to lead contamination
in their drinking water. If I lived in Flint and
I had to choose between plastic water bottles or
drinking contaminated water, I’m picking bottled water. And outright bans can have
unintended consequences. After the University of
Vermont instituted their ban on selling single-use plastic
water bottles on campus, total shipments of all plastic bottles actually increased 20% as people bought other plastic bottled beverages
like soda and juice instead. So if there was a ban on every kind of single-use
plastic bottle tomorrow, would we just increase our
use of single-use containers made from something else? Let’s talk about these
plastic bottle alternatives because they’re not necessarily
any better for the planet. You’ve got aluminum cans,
they’re largely recycled from previously used cans, thumbs up. More so even than plastic
bottles, double thumbs up. But when cans are made from new aluminum, it’s not so great for the environment. Three words for you:
mining, refining, smelting. Glass bottles have a
problem too, they’re heavy. A 16 ounce glass bottle can
weigh over 10 times more than a 16 ounce plastic bottle. So transporting them all
requires 40% more energy which most likely means burning more fuel which obviously isn’t
good for the environment. And then there’s the
eco-friendly corn-based plastic. That’s gotta be okay, right? Well, while it does biodegrade eventually, it can still take hundreds of years. Plus, it has to be kept
separate from regular plastic because it can’t be recycled the same way. It needs to go to special
composting facilities. All these things cost money and fuel too. So the next time you reach for a bottle to quench your thirst, something, something insert something smooth outro line here, what? Really? Did we not finish the script in time guys? Is that how we’re gonna
finish the episode? All right, so what do y’all think? Is banning single-use
plastic bottles a good idea? Let us know in the comments below. Also there’s a new show I
want y’all to check out, Say It Loud. The series celebrates black
history, culture, and context. The show explores black
identity and finds joy in the many ways black folks
have influenced American life. Check it out. If you’re a middle or high school teacher, you can get your students
talking about plastic bottles on KQED Learn which should
be right over here somewhere. Again, I’m your host Miles Best. Thanks for watching and
we’ll see you guys next time. Bye.

37 thoughts on “Would Banning Plastic Bottles Help or Hurt the Planet?”

  1. We all know there are too many plastic bottles out there in landfills and our oceans…but what do YOU think is the best solution? Banning them? Switching to alternatives? Watch our video to hear some of the pros and cons of different potential solutions and let us know what YOU would do.

  2. Plastic bottles should be like abortions: legal, but only needed in rare special circumstances. The go-to solution should be tap water in reusable flask. Plastic bottles only for the rare situations when you lose or forget your flask. And all of these plastic bottles should be recyclable/multi-use.

  3. Great video! Although I did feel at one point you mentioned recycling is NOT enough because "most of it ends in landfills or the ocean" without ever citing a statistic of how much of recycled plastic bottles are 'recycled'. It could very well just be me, but it somewhat seemed like that was a point made based on a disjoint fact.

    If (ideally, albeit) ALL plastic bottles were recycled, would that be enough?

  4. What about cardboard containers? Similar to milk cartons or juice boxes. I know they may not be as durable or work well with vending machines, but I'm curious about why they are not a good alternative.

  5. What about hemp based bottles? Would they have the same down side as corn based or are there other issues that would come along with it?

  6. I've been using the same plastic water bottles for many years, and the same mesh "grocery bag" since 1989. If you live in the First World, you have (almost) no excuse. I hope that those unfortunate people whose tap water is contaminated at least recycle the containers of water that they receive.

  7. I love/hate the topic of plastic, I just completed microplastic research in the gulf of Mexico last month. I'm by no means trying to discount the harm of so many plastic bottles being used, but just to compare the macro plastic problem with the micro plastic one; initially the biggest plastic pollutant (for microplastics) we found was fibers, most likely from washing machines. However when we went back to our samples to try and solve the case of the mysterious clear strands that looked like plastics, acted like plastics, but couldn't be IDed, we finally determined they were from cigarette butts…..and boy were there a lot of them. So much so that we initially discounted them in our data before realizing what they were. The most prolific and shocking form of microplastic pollution was the filters in cigarettes, and you're eating them if you eat seafood. Again this isn't to say single use bottles aren't a major problem, just that it's so much more than just single use plastics that are destroying our oceans. Love this channel and your content, please keep it up! ☺️

  8. So when we make cans with new aluminum it damages the enviroment, but not when they get recycle, am i getting it right? So, theoretically, if we can have enough aluminum and we recycle the 99,99% of them, we may limit the pollution at minimum. Is this correct?

  9. Your thing on clean drinking water being from plastic water bottles is nonsensical as a solution to accessibility in poor countries. From my experience with friends who have worked in NGOs on this, the lack of bottled water is not the problem. Again your Flint example is also a false dichotomy. While I commend you actually researching the issue somewhat, your logic is fundamentally flawed.

  10. Well, here in my city (Argentina) we've a lot of botting plants, they make big can of PVC of 5,10 and 20lts of pure water, using delivery trucks to reach safe water to your house. The prices are similar or cheaper to buying plastic bottles. The best thing, the can are reusable, so there is no plastic contamination. I think that this is a great idea, perhaps banning is an utopian idea but making plastic bottles or another recipent more expensive is an interesting option. Obviously is a matter of time. I hope goberments take to help our planet.
    Nice videos guys, i love the animation. Nice beard myles 🔥🔥🔥🔥

  11. We switched to plastic because it was cheaper, particularly when you factor in shipping and breakage. It's recyclable, but recycling isn't free or environmentally perfect. Public drinking fountains are less numerous than decades ago, so that "free drinking water" is only safe and "everyplace" when you're in the nicest part of town. So the solution is carrying our water with us in canteens like soldiers left over from WWII. These plastic bans are just nanny-state government looking for an easier and cheaper solution than improving their recycling programs.

  12. Unfortunately, recycling plastic bottles is currently not as profitable as recycling aluminum cans. This is due to China cutting off imports of recyclable waste and the amount of plastic per bottle has shrunk over the past few decades. Another complicating factor is that people wish-cycle, i.e. giving waste to recycling centers in the hope that it will be recycled but it cannot be recycled or processed. Wish-cycling adds additional complexity to sorting out waste for recyclables. Some centers may dump loads in landfills if they even lightly contaminated.

  13. Another great balanced video. The one thing that I was surprised that you didn't cover is the management of plastic. Where the US does produce and consume a lot of plastic, it is really good at managing it (making sure it doesn't end up in the wild). A good indication for this by looking at mismanaged plastic (such as ocean plastic). I have seen it reported that East Asia is responsible for >2/3 of Ocean plastic where the US contributes < 1%. I have seen this reported in several places. One example is the Oxford OWiD https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution.
    Let me know what you think. Did I get it right? Did I stay Above The Noise?

  14. I don't drink anything from plastic because it's gross. I stopped buying Snapple when they stopped using glass bottles.

  15. Reusing things will always still be better then recycling whether it is plastic, aluminum or paper.
    Personally I buy fresh orange juice every two weeks and simply reuse the bottle as a flask before finally throwing it into the plastic bin.

    And yes, that doesn't work well with those flimsy one-time use bottles.

  16. We have amazing tap water yet people still prefer to buy it in plastic bottles because they believe it is better 🤦🤦🤦

  17. Germany has stupid high tap drinking water quality. The quality is even governed by law.
    So yes, banning single use water bottles by law in this country would be a very very very good idea.
    But they won't. But there is a network of really deep and highly complex reasons why not.

    Please someone correct me if I'm wrong, but are the plastic Coca Cola bottles not designed to be washed, relabeled, refilled and reused?

  18. the plastic bottles themselves isnt the problem. the problem is recycling them. if we recycled 100% of them there wouldn't be a problem.

  19. I know the alternatives aren't perfect, but aluminum is by far the best one

    Now you can have an excuse when people ask you why you drink so much soda

  20. Give recycling responsibility back to manufacturers. That should be part of their costs (and by extension, the consumers of their products) not the public’s how many single use plastic bottles would go to landfills if they could be returned for a quarter? Levy taxes on manufacturers based on there recycling rates.

  21. Point of service water purification systems are available for consumer use, and are more economical than a palette of water, even at Costco, much more so if you are buying at the grocer or quick shop. One of the bizarre developments in relief drives is donors sending bottled water to distressed areas, at great expense for shipping alone, when a few purification systems would provide much more water and much lower costs.

  22. I think bans just make people mad and want to do the opposite. At least in thr United states because we're all still 15 at heart. I know education is difficult, but I really think that's the best way. In the past, ecoactivism had pointed out the damage to the environment. People want to know how it damages themselves. And they aren't good at connecting the dots themselves either. You have to explicitly tell them how they are harming themselves and their children right now in order for them to listen. Humans are selfish.

  23. Bottle container materials have tough requirements: On the one hand they should have a long shelf life with often corrosive beverages and then decompose quickly without corrosion help.

  24. There are ways to recycle PET plastic bottles into 3D printer filament. A relatively tiny market at present, but at least it's something. Hope it becomes popular!

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