Often when we are out on a trip, we buy bottled water for drinking in contrast to carrying our own reusable bottle. These mineral-water bottles are made up of plastic strongly recommended “for single-use only”. It therefore, bears an instruction “CRUSH THE BOTTLE AFTER USE!”
Image taken from twitter.com/cocacola
Now, the Government and all Environment-enthusiasts out there spot these bottles discarded everywhere other than in the waste bin. Fortunately, there exists a tiny population of tree-huggers who believes they are making a difference by crushing and dropping the bottle right into the blue bin (The one used to empty the dry or nonbiodegradable waste).
Once done, most of us assume that we made the world a better place by putting the so-called PET plastic, properly into the recycling loop. Else it could’ve found its place clogging the gutters, floating over the water bodies, or lying over the heaps of a landfill. But does recycling PET bottles a really good idea? Let’s find out!
Of all the different types of plastics that are produced, Polyethylene Terephthalate, in short, PET is the most recyclable plastic of all. Thus, it helps generate a good amount of revenue through recycling. It’s the reason, why rag-pickers chose to pick a PET bottle over a food wrapper littered over streets.
The Fabric that is basically a type of plastic!
Whether picked from a garbage bin or found littered over streets, these plastic bottles are collected and stored in a warehouse until it gets accumulated in the desired quantity.
Once the required volume is reached, all these plastic bottles are transferred to the nearby recycling centre, where these bottles go through a series of recycling steps till they are converted into thin strands of plastic fibres called polyester.
These polyester fibres are then spunned into yarn and finally made into fabric or textile. Its the same polyester fabric you must’ve seen on the labels of T-shirts.
Image by Carolyn Jenkins/Alamy Stock Photo
Now here is a downside to this story. These tiny plastic fibres, also known as microplastics, gets released when we wash our clothes, and enter the wastewater drainage system, in the form of microplastic contamination.
Microplastics are Potential Plastic Pollutants of Rivers and Oceans!
These microplastic particles, ranging in size from 1nm to 5mm, are posing a great threat to marine life. They are known to found everywhere, the tops of mountains, the bottom of the seas, in the air that we breathe, in rainwater, and of course in the wastewater running down the wastewater drainage system.
The wastewater entering into the drainage system is channelized towards the Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP).
“Should we rely on Wastewater treatment process for removing microplastics?”
Although Wastewater treatment Plants are made to remove solid debris, they aren’t designed to remove microplastics. These microplastics floating over the so-called treated water is released into water-bodies such as rivers and seas, eventually causing the microplastic pollution of fresh ecosystems as well as marine waters.
Experts in wastewater treatment process sampled effluent (Liquid waste or sewage discharged into a river or the sea) from different treatment plants to quantify the concentration of microplastics released. The study report suggested that the concentration of microplastics is though low, the actual amount ending up in the sea is quite significant.
As of now the amount of microplastics released from synthetic textiles during washing is estimated to be as low as 2,300 tonnes each year.
Apart from synthetic textiles, there are other potential sources as well that adds microplastics into the ocean.
Although It does sound a good idea to recycle PET bottles into Polyester, it is absolutely not considered as a suitable option in the sustainable fashion community.
Since the day the people, who care about the environment, learned that plastic is difficult to dispose of, they have been worried about what to do with the plastic that gets used up. It cannot be thrown away as it can take around 10-50 years for one plastic bottle to break down and get mixed with the soil by a process called Biodegradation. Of course, we can’t allow a plastic bottle to lay around for a thousand years.
So, the next idea was to bury the plastic bottles into the landfills. Although there are countries like Indonesia, India, etc. that hosts mountains of landfills, burying a plastic bottle especially PET bottle was a story of nowhere because these plastics were found to have high leachability (Leachability in terms of “plastic” means “Release of constituents into the surrounding such as soil, water, etc., causing soil and water pollution.”) values.
To solve the plastic menace the people worked together and came up with the recycling methods that could bring back the discarded plastic into new forms such as clothes, plastic toys, furniture, fences, containers, etc.
Now, if we just eye on PET bottles, it holds a good side where these plastic bottles are somehow gets collected, and sent to the recycling centres to make new products. But there is this bad side where the PET bottles when turned into plastic fibres, is leaving a deleterious effect on marine life due to microplastic pollution.
Incorporating some highly efficient filtration methods to remove microplastics during the wastewater treatment process could be a promising hope to prevent the marine ecosystem from getting polluted. But to make this thing a reality there must a widespread awareness about what are microplastics, and how they enter into our very own ecosystem.
At present, the problem is we are failing to manage the plastic waste that is visible to our naked eyes, then how do we expect to deal with something that is microscopic in nature!