There are plastics in bottled water

Plastic bottle production and disposal

Plastic bottles have become one of our most important companions in everyday life. We take them with us to sport, to work or to a picnic in the park. It is well known that drinking a lot is important - and PET bottles make it easy for us to adhere to them: They are light, inexpensive and can be bought in all shapes and sizes. Using PET bottles every now and then is not at all objectionable. The problem: We use them too much without thinking about it and, above all, without realizing how many resources are in a single PET bottle. We show the surprisingly complex and elaborate life story of this seemingly simple everyday object.

Fracking for the plastic bottle

It has long been known that oil is becoming scarce. Getting on your bike more often instead of taking the car is a good idea to use less oil. But mineral oil is not only used in the tanks of our cars - on the contrary, there are far more products than we realize. Plastic bottles are one of them - and they are made almost 100% of the raw material. Just two liters of oil are required to produce a crate of water with 12 bottles each with a volume of one liter.

Since the natural deposits of mineral oil are becoming scarce, the controversial fracking process, which extracts oil from oil sands, has been increasingly used for several years. Here, oil is pumped out of the ground with the use of vast amounts of water and separated from the sand. In order to get to the oil, large areas of forest are often cleared. This method is currently being pursued, especially in Canada.

Whether extracted in Canada or other oil-producing countries - in order to be processed into plastic bottles, the oil usually has to travel a long way - for example to us in Germany, many thousands of kilometers across the sea.

From oil to bottle

Once in Germany, the oil is processed in a refinery. It contains hydrocarbons, which are the basis for making plastic. In a very complex process, polymers - i.e. plastics - are produced from the hydrocarbon. These are first formed into small spheres, which are then melted down and, in the next step, shaped into uniform plastic bottles and sent to the respective end producers. These then ultimately shape the bottles into their individual shapes, fill them with water and deliver them to the supermarkets, where we can then buy them as consumers.

Back across the ocean?

Our time together with the water bottle is usually quite short. If the bottle is empty, we have fulfilled our should: we have done something good for ourselves and had enough to drink. And to feel a little better, we bring the empty bottle to the next deposit machine. Our contact with the bottle is over here, we have tidied it up and it is out of sight and out of mind. But the bottle's journey is far from over.

Correctly disposed of returnable bottles are first sorted according to reusable and disposable. Disposable bottles now make up the majority of the PET bottles sold in Germany. They can be recognized by the symbol with the bottle and the can on the curved arrow. The disposable bottles cannot be filled a second time. Although they are mostly recycled and, for example, processed into foils or, under certain circumstances, even into new bottles, this method is extremely resource-intensive and energy-intensive.
Reusable bottles are more environmentally friendly. They can be refilled from PET up to 25 times. Only then are they also put into the recycling cycle.

According to official information, around 80% of bottles are recycled in Germany. However, it only measures how many bottles are delivered to the recycling facilities. What exactly happens to them there is not counted. A considerable part that is not recycled in Germany begins its journey across the ocean, for example to China. What exactly happens to him there cannot be proven. Whether the bottles are prepared for recycling, incinerated or disposed of in the sea is not transparent. When burned, however, the climate-damaging gas CO2 is produced and plastic waste in the sea can have fatal consequences for the entire ecosystem (read more about the dangers of plastic for the oceans here).

With this background knowledge, it is easier to decide against buying a PET bottle and using a permanently usable drinking bottle. In Germany, tap water is usually even cleaner than bottled water. In addition, it does not have to cover long transport routes. Filled in a stainless steel bottle, it is the ideal companion and replacement for water from a PET bottle.