Plastic Problems Part 2: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Julie Slavet
Feb 11, 2015

By TTF Intern, Mary Satterthwaite

In Part 1: Bottles, we looked at the after — or consumption side — of pollution.

In Part 2, we look at the production side of plastic bottles, plastic bags, and such. This is where most of the problem exists! 

The life cycle of plastic is vicious. Plastic is made with an exorbitant amount of water and in many cases, eventually ends up polluting our waterways. Here’s how much goes into making these one-time use items:

TTF volunteer holds a plastic bottle found along Tacony Creek.

Plastic Bottles

Estimates (2006) say that Americans drink over 31.2 billion liters of water from plastic bottles each year. Making these bottles required 17 million barrels of oil, producing 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide. That was nine years ago — imagine the numbers now!


In addition using lots of energy, the production of plastic requires water…and lots of it.

3 liters of water are used to make every 1 liter plastic bottle! We’re not only paying for the same water that we can get for free…but wasting even more water making the plastic bottle itself.

Plastic Bags

Like plastic water bottles, plastic bags are another commodity that aren’t necessary..but Americans and people around the world use plastic bags excessively each day.

1 trillion bags a year are used every year! The United Nations Environmental Program reported (2006) that there are 46,000 pieces of plastic litter in each square mile of our ocean. The majority of that litter comes from plastic bags.

Plastic bags not only have a large carbon foot print due to how many are produced, but cost retailers billions of dollars each year. In 2006, retailers spent 4 billion dollars on plastic bags alone.

All this plastic can be recycled, right? If only that were true! Even more energy is required to turn plastic into a new product.

We must Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! The best solution is for us to reduce consumption. We must do more than recycle! Recycling saves plastic from going into landfills, but it doesn’t significantly slow the use of energy and pollution produced in the production of plastics.

For more information, visit the Plastic Pollution Coalition and the Pacific Institute

A coalition of environmental organizations have been working to develop support for single plastic bag fee legislation in Philadelphia. TTF will support this effort. Watch for news about legislation to be introduced in Philadelphia City Council sometime in the coming months.

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