Naked Juice Transitioning To 100% Post-Consumer Recycled Plastic Bottles
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Naked Juice is planning to be the first nationally-distributed beverage brand to use 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles (the Naked reNewabottle) for all of its juices. Though this initiative sounds environmentally beneficial on the surface, the nature of recycling, and recycled content products, often times points to the contrary.
In a world in which the majority of what we consume in liquid form comes in a plastic container, it’s not surprising that the majority of these used containers end up in landfills, are incinerated, and/or join the millions of other plastic vessels floating in the huge plastic islands located throughout the world’s oceans. What’s even less surprising is that fact that a small percentage of these plastic containers, though recyclable, are ever recycled; and even fewer are comprised of recycled content in the first place.
Naked Is No Virgin
Naked Juice, now owned by Pepsi Co., is planning to be the first nationally-distributed beverage brand to use 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles (the Naked reNewabottle) for all of its juices. The transition to the new bottle has already begun for it’s 32 ounce bottles, but will be totally completed by 2010. This transition to a 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic, or PET (polyethylene terephthalate), bottle is aimed at reducing virgin plastic consumption by 8.1 million pounds per year as well as oil consumption.
Earth’s Arch Nemesis: The Oil Barrel
As most people now already know, oil is one of the primary components in the manufacture of virgin plastics. Manufacturers last year alone used around 17 million barrels of oil to produce about 29 billion water bottles, of which about 80% ended up in landfills, incinerators, or roadsides/oceans. That’s enough oil to fuel about 1 million cars for an entire year.
Naked’s 100% post-consumer recycled bottle initiative, according to Naked Juice, will:
“reduce virgin plastic consumption by 8.1 million pounds per year, saving 57,000 barrels of oil every year – the equivalent of taking 3,460 cars off of the road!”
Taking Other Steps
In addition to its efforts to reduce virgin plastic consumption, Naked Juice late last year announced a move to a new, state-of-the-art facility, designed to meet the criteria for LEED certification. The company also has begun working with the Rainforest Alliance, an organization that works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior in tropical locales, to help source some of the fruit (bananas) Naked uses in its juices.
The Misconception That “Recycling Is Always Good”
Many people, when they hear the word “recycle”, automatically assume that it’s something good and beneficial for the environment. While in a few situations this is indeed the case, most of the time the material being recycled is actually being downcycled into a material of lower quality and inferior properties compared to the “recycled original” from which it was made and the journey to landfill has merely been delayed. This ‘cradle to grave’ life-cycle is due in large part to the fact that most materials, particularly plastics, are not designed or created to be easily recycled or reused. Therefore, when these materials are ‘recycled’, they are done so in a ‘forceful’ way that often times requires more energy and chemical additives than would’ve been required if they had just been made from virgin materials.
Recycled PET Bottles: Not As Good As It Sounds
While 100% post-consumer recycled PET, a ‘number 1′ plastic, is the most easily recyclable plastic being manufactured and used today, it still is subject to the shortfalls and complexities related to plastic recycling listed above. Each time a virgin plastic or recycled content PET bottle is recycled, its material characteristics are degraded and its material quality is lessened. In order to make up for this, manufacturers must add chemical additives or blend virgin plastics with the recycled material in order to get the material back to a quality level that will be satisfactory for its intended use. Some of these chemical additives, which are known to interfere with estrogen and other reproductive hormones, can leach more easily from recycled content plastic due to the impure nature of the material makeup.
Aside from the possible effects of leached chemicals, the recycling process is almost always more energy intensive than the manufacture of virgin materials due to the fact there are many more steps involved in getting recycled material to a state in which it can be used. So while the use of recycled content plastic may prevent the usage of oil to manufacture plastic, some oil will still be used in the additional transport and sorting of material. The added emissions released from extra transportation and power plants supplying energy to additional industrial processes is another environmental detriment.
Also, recycled content PET bottles cannot be recycled forever into bottles. After a few cycles, the material is so degraded that it ceases to be viable for its intended use and is either downcycled into an inferior product (like a trash can, park bench, etc.) or is simply landfilled.
The Good: Naked is taking steps to try and be more sustainable both in its packaging and its facilities.
The Bad: Some of the ‘oil reducing’ gains made by using recycled post-consumer PET will be mitigated by the more energy intensive processes involving in manufacturing recycled content materials. Unknown chemical leaching may pose health risks for those sensitive to their effects. Plastic will eventually still end up being disposed of (landfill, incinerated, etc.)
The Bottom-Line: Naked’s intention in using recycled content bottles may be noble, and should save a fair amount of oil, but in terms of its actual environmental benefit, the positive gains made by such a move are somewhat minimized by the unintended and indirect environmental and health consequences associated with the recycling process as well as recycled content products.
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