Environmental Impact of Single-Use Plastic Bottles and How You Can Reduce It

The planet is currently in crisis.

Brought about by humanity’s bad habits, climate change is already wreaking havoc in many corners of the globe. The phenomenon has disrupted, and at times even completely upended, the way of life for many animals and plants. We are not immune from its effects as well, with extreme weather dealing damage to numerous cities.

What’s truly frightening is that the worst has yet to come with regards to the ongoing environmental crisis.

The time to act on the planet’s environmental problems is now and you do not have to be in a position of power to bring about positive change. Even doing something as simple as understanding what humanity’s reliance on single-use plastic bottles has done to the environment and reacting accordingly to it can be helpful.

How Single-Use Plastic Water Bottles Impact the Environment

Greenhouse Gases Aplenty

Let’s start by taking a broader perspective on plastic products as a whole. As convenient and affordable as they are, it’s important to highlight just how damaging they can be to the environment.

And to be clear, plastic products are not just harmful when they end up in the garbage.

Per this article from The Guardian, all stages of a plastic product’s lifecycle are harmful to the environment because they produce greenhouse gases. The article further notes that carbon dioxide emissions produced as a result of the continued creation, usage, and disposal of plastic items could skyrocket to 2.75 million tons by 2050.

If that number is surprising, it’s important to keep in mind that along with the emissions that come from producing and disposing plastic, simply transporting them has an environmental impact as well.

A Drain on Resources

According to this fact sheet compiled by EarthDay.org, people purchase around 1 million plastic bottles every minute. Setting aside for now how much waste is produced from that kind of consumption, it’s important to highlight just how costly the process of making a single-use plastic bottle is.

single use plastic bottles

National Geographic notes that the energy needed to create a single-use plastic bottle is 2000 times greater than what is required for simply producing tap water. It is easy to see how manufacturing single-use plastic bottles can still be costly for the world at large, even if companies can save money by primarily using them.

Incinerating Plastic Is Not Helping

Once a plastic bottle has been used, it is handled in one of three ways. It may either be recycled, incinerated, or simply discarded.

Ideally, all plastic waste will be recycled, but this report from Reuters points out that only 20 percent of them are handled that way. The remaining 55 percent are discarded while 25 percent are sent off to be incinerated.

In recent years, incineration has emerged as a more popular method for dealing with plastic waste thanks to the emergence of waste-to-energy plants. The heat and steam that come from the process of incinerating plastic are being used to generate power.

The issue though with those waste-to-energy plants though is that not all of them are operated or regulated properly. Many are still producing carbon dioxide emissions at an alarming rate.

This article from National Geographic highlights the fact that incinerators in the United States released around 12 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2016 and the majority of that came from burning plastic.

Relics of Waste

Obviously, plastic bottles should not just be thrown around anywhere and left alone. They can harm bodies of water that way.

Once they get to the water, they will also remain there for a long time. According to Postconsumers, the average time it takes a plastic water bottle to completely degrade is 450 years.

Take note that 450 years is the average wait time. Some of the plastic bottles that fall into the water may stay there for up to 1000 years.

How to Reduce the Environment Impact of Single-Use Plastic Water Bottles

Develop a Habit of Relying on Reusable Water Bottles

Since single-use plastic water bottles are what many of us often reach for when we need to replenish ourselves so it only makes sense to find something else that can take their place. In this case, there’s already an obvious replacement for the single-use plastic bottle and that’s the reusable water bottle.

Some are hesitant to rely on reusable water bottles due to convenience and safety concerns of public water fountains. However, ABC news studies shows that bottle water is no safer than tap water.

You probably unaware that some modern water bottles do integrated a compact filter which provides extra protection. It could provide safe drinking water and reduce the usage of single-use plastic bottles.

Even so, the environmental benefits of forgoing single-use bottles for their reusable counterparts are too great to ignore. Furthermore, you can save more money over the long haul if you stick with reusable bottles instead of always buying bottled water at the supermarket or convenience store.

Devote Some Time to Picking Up Plastic Bottles

Along with relying on more reusable water bottles, you can also help reduce the environmental impact of single-use bottles by volunteering for cleanup initiatives or organizing them yourself.

Head over to a nearby beach or any other location where plastic bottles are known to pile up and get to work. Cleaning up plastic bottles can be a thankless activity, but it is something that can benefit the planet immensely if more people get involved.


We are now in the midst of a full-blown global crisis and there is no more time to waste. Helping out does not require you to do anything drastic. Something as simple as using a different container for your drinks can already help. You can do more by participating in cleanup efforts and recycling whenever possible.

The planet needs our help and we can start by doing something about our over-reliance on single-use plastic water bottles.