The Hidden Greenwashing Behind Single Use Plastic Water Bottles: the dirty side of looking green

Greenwashing is the manipulative marketing practice of using “green” imagery and deceptive claims to conceal ecologically harmful practices. It’s probably best known for its use by big corporate polluters in a variety of industries.

Though, more often than not, greenwashing is employed more subtly in places much closer to home. You might have even already been exposed to the concept from the supposedly “eco-friendly” promises on the labeling of laundry detergent or meat products. In reality, neither of these items are as eco-friendly as they claim.

But would it surprise you to learn that single use plastic water bottles also employ this technique in even more subtle ways? Consider this: when faced with a choice of beverage, how likely are you to choose a plastic water bottle… it doesn’t seem very harmful. After all, it’s recyclable at least, right?

Or is it…?

How Recyclable Are Single Use Plastics, Really?

To be fair, it is true that, of the seven classifications of plastic (#1-#7), the #1 type of plastic (also called PET or polyethylene terephthalate) used in single use water bottles is technically the most recyclable.[1] That said, however, PET water bottles are only the most recyclable IF they are actually recycled, and even when they are recycled they are still not particularly efficient.

Unlike metals (including the aluminum used in our Cycle Water cans), plastic cannot be recycled infinitely because the recycling process continually downgrades the plastic’s quality, eventually to the point that it can no longer be used at all.[1] The recycling process itself is also complicated, expensive, and reaps unclear carbon-reduction results.[3]

So while it is technically true that recycling plastic water bottles is better than not recycling them, using them to begin with is hardly the impact-conscious choice.

This fact is part of the reason why the greenwashing is so subtle — it works beneath the surface. You are led to believe that throwing something like a used bottle into the blue bin means that bottle will be reused to make a new bottle, but that’s not actually the case more often than not, especially because…

Most Single Use Water Bottles Are Never Recycled

The “if” in “if plastic water bottles are recycled” is an easily overlooked keyword. For one, most people simply do not actually recycle their plastic. In all, the world has produced 8.3 billion tonnes of original plastic but recycled only 9% of it.[3]

While recycling used bottles is definitely the right choice, their presence on store shelves at all will inevitably result in many of them ending up in landfills and oceans. There, they will take hundreds of years to degrade, and even then only into smaller plastics which already kill over 100,000 marine animals and one million seabirds per year.[2]

Canada specifically also doesn’t have the necessary infrastructure to process a lot of our plastic waste. That means other countries, previously China and more recently the countries of Southeast Asia, are constantly receiving shipments of tens of thousands of tonnes of trash every month to be recycled on our behalf.[5]

In reality, the most impact-conscious choice is not just recycling single use plastic water bottles. It’s about taking small steps towards eliminating the need for them to be made in the first place. And that’s why…

We’re Creating Sustainable Product Life Cycles, On-The-Go Canned Water That’s Here To Stay

Here at Cycle Water, we knew that there had to be a way for people who couldn’t bring a reusable bottle with them to access high quality spring water that was sustainably sourced and packaged. There had to be a middle ground, a stepping stone of sorts for us to wean ourselves off our dependence on the convenience of single use plastics.

After much research and development, we introduced the revolutionary resealable and infinitely recyclable aluminum can we use today to package our alkaline and mineral rich premium spring water. But we know that Cycle Water’s contribution is only one step forward on this journey towards a zero waste world.

Sourced in small batches, uses aluminum, and is infinitely recyclable check off the majority of important boxes for anything impact conscious and environmentally friendly. Though we too are against greenwashing and recognize that no matter how sustainably produced anything is, it will still have some impact on the planet, and that includes Cycle Water’s canned water. Change doesn’t happen overnight, which is why our goal is to offer a slightly better alternative to what currently exists. Something that has a proven, smaller, and more impact conscious environmental footprint. It also helps that our natural spring water is rich in alkaline and glacial sediment minerals to hydrate your body. But if you want the most sustainable option and have access to it, drink from the tap.

Our own path to sustainability isn’t sugar coated with greenwashed branding and celebration, its grounded in the never-ending hard work necessary to progress towards a zero waste world. There is always more we can do, and more that we will continue to try.

In our modern fast paced world it is often hard to zoom out and understand the entire life cycle of a product. That’s why we embody and promote sustainable lifestyles through everything we do — because together we can enact lasting positive change, one small choice (and sip) at a time. Join us on our journey.







Cycle Water

December 2, 2019