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The Case for Glass Bottles

How realistic is it for glass bottles replace plastic ones? Alice Lele investigates.

Plastic is everywhere in packaging today; you would be hard-pressed to find someone in St Andrews who goes an entire day without using it. As an element of climate change, plastic packaging is especially problematic due to its widespread and normalised use in everyday life. However, while it is a part of daily life today, this has not always been the case. In fact, the addition of plastic in such a wide sense can only really be traced back to the 1950s, with the creation of high-density polyethylene, at which point plastic bottles became more affordable. Today however, when you weigh the costs and benefits of plastic bottles, and, more widely, plastic packaging (especially in the case of food), our habits of consumptive behaviour have a lot of flaws. In the instance of plastic bottles specifically, the environmental impact is easily seen, widely felt, and extremely costly. When addressing issues such as this, it is not a bad idea to look at how things were done before the mass introduction of plastic bottles.

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The glass bottle system in the US in the mid-twentieth century is definitely worth exploring. Its merits are extensive, and go beyond simply the straightforward goal of relieving strain on the environment. Essentially, when glass bottles became mass produced, the issue of a higher expense per bottle arose, especially as, at the turn of the nineteenth century, people were consuming more beverages at home. By adding in the cost of a ‘bottle deposit’ to the price of sodas or beers, there was a much higher incentive to return the bottle. By 1947, bottle losses were down to 3-4% because of material rationing. This being applied today could revolutionise the beverage industry, allowing for a more circular economy. According to Dennis Wyatt of the Turlock Journal, the best way to implement this today would be to raise the bottle deposit to a more substantial sum: one that will actually make a difference on grocery bills. A real-life example of how this works can be found in my own home. The milk that my mother buys uses this system, meaning once we are done with a bottle, we wash it and take it back to the grocery store. Each bottle gets you back about £1.50, so when we bring back 6 bottles, we would get about £9 off our shop. The initial cost is recouped when you bring the bottle back. You are also less likely to let that bottle break because of the cost to you, and the bottles are often made from thicker glass, so they are harder to break anyway.

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This system, I believe, could be partially reintroduced to combat the overpowering pollution and consumptive waste that currently surround beverages like soda, milk, and juice. Other positive outcomes, beyond those on the environment, could result from this: more available jobs stemming from cleaning the glasses, more local businesses involved in making these beverages on a smaller scale for efficiency, and discarded bottles could be reused, or taken in by anyone to be redeemed for store credit, allowing the needy to buy food or water.

Recycling is, as we know, very inefficient, and reusing plastic bottles is a harmful option, as the longer they sit out in the sun, the more chemicals are released into any liquid within them. Using glass bottles is one possible recourse that allows us to continue to enjoy the drinks we love. While big companies like Coca Cola are investing in recycling their old bottles to make new ones, people tend to disregard the huge dependence on plastic that this perpetuates. Coke produces 100 billion (billion) plastic bottles per year. Thus, trying to track down and reuse old bottles to create only a portion of that number might not be the most effective solution, as Simon Jack states in his BBC article. The plastic dependence that drinks companies maintain is ultimately consumptive and wasteful. It might be time for some more creative solutions.

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