Hoarding reusable cups and bottles - Denis the Dustcart Blog
Published: 28 March 2022
In his regular feature, Denis the Dustcart talks about our hoarding of reusable cups and bottles.
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If you go to an event or a conference and a company attempts to prove their commitment to the planet by offering you a goody bag with their reusable cup or bottle in it, just say no.
Unless, that is, of course, you don’t have a reusable cup or bottle already.
How many times do you think the thirteen cups and bottles in the picture would need to be reused all together before their ecological and environmental footprint was reduced to that of thirteen single-use cups and bottles?
It would be in the thousands.
Packaging designed for single-use is a major problem, but so is using something designed for multiple reuses only once or twice before stowing it away in the back of a cupboard. There’s a fine balance to be found.
If you buy regular takeaway hot drinks, or if you like bringing them with you from home, then a reusable cup is obviously the way to go. But if you’re walking around town and you realise you’ve forgotten your reusable cup, and try as you might you just can’t avoid the temptation of a café coffee, and you don’t have time to drink it inside, then a single-use cup is going to be the better option – one that can be recycled at a café cup recycling point.
Takeaway cold drinks are best avoided by preparing your lunch at home, thus avoiding those lunchtime refrigerated meal deals – which will also save you a fortune.
In-store single-serving fresh-food refrigerators are a nightmare. Not only do they burn through energy like nobody’s business, but they encourage the convenience mind-set that drives consumerism – which, obviously, drives climate breakdown in turn.
(Not that I see how it might be considered more convenient for me to walk all the way to a shop during my lunchtime than to spend five minutes and less than half as much money preparing lunch at home. But anyway.)
So, what can we do if we have a hoard?
We can give them away, obviously, but it depends on whether or not the intended recipients have a reusable cup/bottle already and whether charity shops will receive them willingly or will end up having to pay to dispose of them along with other unsellable ‘donations’.
Can any of these reusables be recycled?
Steel bottles would need to go to the scrap metal bin in the recycling centre. Like saucepans and other sturdy metal items, they can’t be processed with regular, thinner steel cans by domestic recycling facilities.
Aluminium is incredibly valuable and can be recycled indefinitely, and mining raw bauxite for aluminium is among the most ecologically and environmentally harmful processes mankind has developed, but not all aluminium can be processed together. It isn’t possible, for instance, to jam a load of aluminium foil inside a can and recycle the whole lot together, since the foil and the can will smelt at different temperatures and the foil will simply burn up before it has a chance to become anything. Aluminium water bottles are thicker than cans, so again the two could not be processed together. Domestic recycling facilities are geared towards processing cans, so heavier items would need to be taken to a recycling centre and processed separately.
If any of these cups or bottles are made from mixed materials, like plastic and aluminium, then it’s extremely unlikely that any of the plastic would end up being recycled and it might be that the whole product is simply too difficult to process.
The plastic on its own isn’t straightforward, either. Most ‘squeezy’ water bottles are made from LDPE (low-density polyethylene, or plastic number 4), which, while recyclable, has a low value as it can only be processed with mixed pots, tubs and trays into products of limited quality and use.
The more rigid plastic bottles are not usually recyclable from home, but in Exeter we can put them through our granulator along with other problem plastics, which will produce a ‘granulate’ that we can sell to our regional partners who turn it into various composite products.
Bamboo cups can’t be recycled at all.
But the point isn’t to recycle reusable cups and bottles, anyway. It’s to reuse them – and who could possibly hope to use all of these enough times to render them ‘green’?
While reuse is better than recycling, reducing is better still and that includes the number of reusable bottles and cups we bring into our possession.
We can’t afford to leave thousands of reuses in the cupboard – reuses that will simply never be.