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Why are refills better for the environment?

  • by Jacqueline Smith
  • 4 min read

Refill bottles on shelf

Recycling is fine and all but reusing and refilling are better.

In the UK 1.43 BILLION plastic toiletry and cleaning spray bottles are used every single year. This figure doesn’t even include water bottles!1 The vast majority of these 1.43 billion plastic bottles are single-use, so never get used again. So what happens to these bottles once we’ve used them just once?

Almost half, 43%, go into normal refuse which means they’ve got no hope of being recycled and are destined for landfill.2

Although 57% of these bottles go into the recycle bin, there are reports that as little as 10% of plastic actually gets recycled.3

Why is plastic ending up in landfill bad?

There is a whole heap of problems with landfills, including toxins leaching, microplastics, greenhouse gases and overspill into oceans.

The Microplastics Problem

If the plastic makes it to landfill it breaks down into smaller pieces called microplastics leaching into the environment and becoming a permanent pollutant and toxin. This process takes anywhere between 30 days and 1,000 years.4 

Microplastics are found in almost every compartment of the environment; in the air, food and drinking water, and get into our bodies by being digested or inhaled7. Microplastic pollution has been detected in human blood for the first time, with scientists finding the tiny particles in almost 80% of the people tested,6 and been found in the digestive system of all people tested as part of the study.7 Although the full impact on health is unknown, early research shows microplastic exposure does have an “adverse effect on cell viability”.7

The Problem with Plastic Incineration

Around 24% of plastic destined for landfill is incinerated in the UK,2 releasing CO2 and harmful toxins into the atmosphere and local communities. Incineration is ranked the second worst waste management process by The Waste Hierarchy (with landfill being the worst).5. Eunomia Research and Consulting quote that landfill and incineration of plastic bottles produce approximately 233,000 tonnes of CO2e emissions a year. Additionally, incineration plants are also disproportionately being built in low-income areas.

The Impact of Plastic on our Oceans

Up to 80% of all ocean plastic is thought to come from land overspill.8 million tonnes of plastic pollution enters our oceans each year and it’s estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish.13 More than 270 marine species are affected by marine debris through ingestion, entanglement and chemical contamination.13

Microplastics are also an issue in our oceans, its ingested by marine life, with the same risk to their health as to humans. Plus it's a source of microplastics to other animals and humans through the food chain.

Recycling Alone Isn't the Answer

Although 57% of plastic goes into the recycling bin, there are reports that only 10% of all plastic ends up being recycled.3

61% of our plastic recycling is sent abroad to be recycled,3 and what happens to it overseas is opaque. We know that plastic often ends up in the ocean during transport and there are multiple reports of it being illegally incinerated and dumped abroadaffecting the environment and health of local communities.8

Moreover recycled plastics are mostly downcycled, meaning that they’re recycled into products of lesser quality which are less likely to be further recycled

That said, if the bottle is recycled it can reduce the carbon footprint anywhere from 30% to 70%. Recycling a bottle requires much less energy than a new one9 and helps save some of our precious non-renewable resources. If we recycled all of the 1.43 BILLION plastic toiletry and cleaning spray bottles used in the UK every year, we could reduce our Carbon footprint by 118,000 tonnes– the equivalent of powering 15,000 homes for a year.10

The nookary Refill Impact

It's estimated that a single-use 500 ml plastic bottle has a total carbon footprint equal to 82.8 grams of carbon dioxide. This considers raw material mining, production, transport, and waste management.9 So every time you reuse a bottle you’re reducing your carbon footprint. On average a household in the UK uses 30 toiletries and cleaning bottles. If you use the same 6 bottles for a whole year, you’re reducing your impact by 80%. Plus, you’re stopping microplastics entering the environment, reducing plastic in the ocean and, harmful gases released during incineration.

At nookary, we’ve looked at how we can increase your impact even further.

Forever Bottles. Our Forever Bottles are glass and designed to be reused again and again. Well, forever really.

Multi-purpose products. Our products are multi-purpose so you need fewer bottles. Our refillable Probiotic All-Purpose, Probiotic Carpet & Upholstery and Probiotic Air Freshener replace the need for 8 single-use plastic bottles.11

Refill pouches as part of a circular economy. Our refill pouches are currently plastic but are designed to be returned to us for FREE. We have a recycling partner that recycles 100% of them when they are no longer usable.

Concentrated formulas. Our Probiotic All-Purpose Cleaner and Probiotic Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner are shipped concentrated to reduce the packaging requirement and transport weight.

If you switch to our full refillable Probiotic Cleaning range, you could reduce your home cleaning carbon footprint by 42% in the first year you and then 82% every year you stay with us.12

 References

  1. Recycling of Used Plastics Limited, 2017 RECOUP Household Collection Survey (June 2017)
  2. Plastic Bottle Waste in the UK
  3. Greenpeace & Unearthed - UK household plastics found in illegal dumps in Malaysia 
  4. Engineering & Technology - The problem with plastic
  5. The Waste Hierarchy
  6. The Guardian - Microplastics found in human blood for first time
  7. Science Direct -  rapid review and meta-regression analyses of the toxicological impacts of microplastic exposure in human cells
  8. The Guardian - 'Plastic recycling is a myth': what really happens to your rubbish?
  9. Science - What Is the Carbon Footprint of a Plastic Bottlve?
  10. Calculation based on data in Heatable - Average Carbon Footprint UK (By Household)
  11. The 8 products replaced: Bathroom Cleaner, Kitchen Cleaner, Multi-purpose spray, Mirror Cleaner, Fabric Spray, Carpet Cleaner, Upholstery Spot Cleaner and Air Freshener
  12. Based on like-for-like uses of single-use products, nookary’s 3 Forever bottles refilled and pouches being returned to nookary and recycled.
  13. UNESCO - Ocean plastic pollution an overview: data and statistics

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