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What is a creative way to reduce the generation of non-biodegradable wastes?

Image credit: Photo by himanshu Chaudhary on Unsplash

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Oguntola Tobi
Oguntola Tobi Sep 20, 2021
I live in Nigeria and waste disposal around here - especially of non-biodegradable materials - is a massive problem. It is common to walk on the street and find drainages clogged with plastic bags, bottles, and the likes. It has resulted in horrible roads, flooding, and more.

That got me thinking on how to solve the problem and I came up with this idea:

A vast majority of people drink Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and the likes. And from personal experience, most people would rather buy these drinks in PET bottles than the glass bottles equivalent.

Imagine if we could get more people to buy these drinks in glass bottles? It would certainly lead to less waste on the streets.

So, how do we accomplish this?
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Creative contributions

The German system of recycling glass bottles

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Manel Lladó Santaeularia
Manel Lladó Santaeularia Sep 21, 2021
Germans have found an interesting solution to this problem, at least in part.

First of all, PET bottles are almost not present there, which basically forces you to buy the drinks in glass bottles. Included in the price of the drink is also the cost of the bottle, with is 0,10€. So you're actually paying more for the drink. The trick here is that there are plenty of machines where you can bring those glass bottles. For each bottle you give back, the machine gives you 0,10€.
This accomplishes several things:
  • Instead of throwing bottles away, people know they have a value and are more prone to recycle them.
  • If people don't recycle the bottles, the government keeps 10 cents for each bottle which are destined to cleaning and recycling efforts in the city.
  • Homeless people can collect abandoned glass bottles throughout the street as a means to getting some money in a safe way and without begging on the street. That helps the homeless people while keeping the streets clean
I think this system is great and pretty easy to implement basically anywhere. Can we think of good ways to implement it or publicize it for a place like Nigeria?
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Povilas S
Povilas Sa month ago
The system is not only implemented in Germany. In Lithuania too. And in Scandinavian countries (at least Sweden) as well. There are probably quite a few countries with similar systems, but those are the ones that I know from experience. Also, in Lithuania (and Sweden at least) they not only accept glass bottles with the deposit, but plastic ones as well, also cans, the deposit price is the same for all of them. Maybe the German case is better, cause it forces to use less plastic in the first place.
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Manel Lladó Santaeularia
Manel Lladó Santaeularia25 days ago
Povilas S I didn't know that, thanks for your contribution. I talked about Germany because I've seen it in person, as my sister used to live there. It's cool that it's a more widespread system.

Can we think of potential reasons why that could fail in Nigeria? Maybe Oguntola Tobi can help us. That way we could target such problems and try to find solutions
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Oguntola Tobi
Oguntola Tobia month ago
I really really like this idea. To be honest, it is something I would implement if I had the power.

As for implementation, I don't think we are there yet technologically. Also, our cleaning and recycling efforts are nothing to write home about.

Make people aware of the Bisphenol-A contamination from PET and polycarbonate bottles

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Sep 24, 2021
Bisphenol A(BPA) is an industrial chemical that produces adverse effects on the reproduction system due to its potent estrogenic endocrine disruptive activity.

Launch campaigns that make people aware of the Bisphenol-A contamination problem from PET bottles and the associated consequences.

[1]Cooper, James E et al. “Assessment of bisphenol A released from reusable plastic, aluminium and stainless steel water bottles.” Chemosphere vol. 85,6 (2011): 943-7. doi:10.1016/j.chemosphere.2011.06.060

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Oguntola Tobi
Oguntola Tobi22 days ago
I didn't know about this. And when I think of it, it has a lot of potential. People do love being able to reproduce, after all. The fear factor can do the job.

Invest into making good quality biodegradable plastic

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Povilas S
Povilas S Oct 01, 2021
Plastic is the main concern when it comes to waste pollution. The main reason plastic products are so popular is that it's convenient and cheap. Hence plastic use is universal and widespread. To eliminate or at least significantly reduce the number of plastic products by replacing them with more environmentally friendly materials like metal, glass, etc. is infeasible at this point, instead, introducing materials that have the same properties/convenience but are biodegradable would be the best option.

The problem with biodegradable plastic is that it's more difficult to make compared to ordinary one and the production is more costly. There's an (in)famous comparison that the cost of resources required to wash a single item of metal cutlery is higher than the cost for making a single item of plastic cutlery, therefore it's cheaper to use plastic cutlery and discard it afterwards. That's how cheap ordinary plastic is. However, we have a strong motivating factor in place - pollution and it's getting stronger and stronger, so investing time, money, and efforts into developing good quality biodegradable plastics should be our top priority.

The companies producing plastic products could be incentivized to replace them with biodegradable plastic. The companies making biodegradable plastic should be highly financed by the governments to perfect their products and make them as environmentally friendly and at the same time as convenient customer-wise as possible.

The notion that biodegradable plastics are no better than ordinary ones because they don't fully biodegrade is misleading. It's true that most plastics labeled biodegradable today are not fully biodegradable, but biodegradable to an extent is still better than non-biodegradable at all. Thin polyethylene-like supermarket bags labeled "compostable" might be truly fully compostable, the level of compostability will depend on the type of the bag and the conditions that you'll compost them at. The products requiring thicker layers of plastic can be made from vegetable starch, those are usually around 70 percent biodegradable.

New technologies might soon make plastic fully biodegradable, recent scientific findings are promising in that regard, embedding enzymes that break down plastic into plastic products might be the key to creating a new generation of plastics with programmed biodegradation. Scientific discoveries can skyrocket when there's an urge and financial support from the government, covid vaccine development process is a good example of this.


[1]https://treadingmyownpath.com/2018/03/22/biodegradable-plastic-is-it-really-eco-friendly/

[2]https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/retailers/facts-about-compostable-bags

[3]https://www.ecoproducts.com/plant_starch.html

Use viral marketing tactics

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Oguntola Tobi
Oguntola Tobi Sep 20, 2021
I think a viral campaign aimed at making it cool to buy these drinks in glass bottles rather than PET and aluminum cans is viable.

The idea is to bring brands together and have them collaborate on a universal campaign involving celebrities: social media influencers, actors, musicians, athletes, footballers, etc.

And instead of a message that focuses on the harmful effect of these materials on the environment, which everybody knows by now, the campaign's message should focus on how cool it is to drink beverages from glass bottles.

If this campaign is successful, I see it resulting in a massive drop in PET wastes.
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Samuel Bello
Samuel Belloa month ago
The glass bottles that they will be marketing are not biodegradable either. People prefer pet bottles because of the convenience that comes with them. When glass bottles are used, they usually have to return the bottles to where they bought their drinks from and most people will not want to return them. Another reason for the adoption of plastic bottles is that they are lighter and they do not break easily. Plastic bottles are the more practical option in this case where the waste is sure to end up on the streets. I also believe that plastic bottles are easier to recycle into other forms than glass bottles.

What is needed here is a system that collects the non-biodegradable waste and ensures that they are recycled or put to use in other creative ways. If a price tag was attached to each plastic bottle or nonbiodegradable wastes in general, as suggested by Manel Lladó Santaeularia, then people will collect the recyclable waste to get paid.
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Oguntola Tobi
Oguntola Tobia month ago
1. While glass bottles are also non-biodegradable, they are hardly ever tossed around.

2. Usually, when you purchase a drink in a glass bottle, you will deposit extra money which will be returned to you when you return the bottle. That way, glass bottles almost always return to the retailers who then return them to the suppliers in exchange for new drinks. It is pretty efficient. So, no - glass bottles have little to no possibility of ending on the streets as waste.

3. I agree with the need for a system, though. That would be the best option.
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Manel Lladó Santaeularia
Manel Lladó Santaeulariaa month ago
Samuel Bello The thing with glass bottles is you don't need to biodegrade them. You can simply wash, fill and label them again, and just use them again exactly the way they are. Additionally, if you were to recycle the material of the bottle (the glass) to generate something else, that is way easier with glass than with plastic. Glass you just have to melt and you can shape it however you want. Plastic is made of complex carbon chains that are normally altered in some processes, that's why some plastic types are transformed in other plastic types during recycling.

To your point about returning the bottles: of course some people won't want to do it. That's why there is an economic incentive to that. And if some people don't want to do it, other people will. In Germany homeless people search for them in the trash, which is not ideal but still a better option than doing nothing or begging on the street for pennies. If people are nice, they just put all glass bottles in a bag and bring them to a homeless person, instead of giving them money directly.

My point is there are definitely ways of making this work.

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General comments

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Darko Savic
Darko Savica month ago
Hi Oguntola Tobi, welcome:)

A solid problem to take on.

Plastic bottles are cheaper to manufacture and easier to transport. Are the same drinks even available in glass bottles over there?

I drink only water and strictly from glass bottles. In some parts of the world, I had a difficult time finding anything in glass. A few times I was forced to drink from PET for a day or two before I was able to locate at least carbonated mineral water in glass.
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Oguntola Tobi
Oguntola Tobia month ago
Thanks, Darko Savic, I'm happy to be here.

I understand the economics that underpins the use of plastic bottles. However, I think humanity is at a stage where we need to balance economics and environmental health. Prioritizing profit above all else does more harm than good, in my opinion.

And yes, we do have those drinks in glass bottles. Both PepsiCo and The Coca Cola Company's products are available in glass bottles.
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Manel Lladó Santaeularia
Manel Lladó Santaeulariaa month ago
Oguntola Tobi the funny part is that most drinks tend to taste better in glass than in PET. One thing I think makes a difference for a lot of people is the fact that PET bottles have a screw-on cap while glass bottles tend not to. And I find that so stupid. It shouldn't be very difficult to add screw-on caps to the glass bottles to make them more user-friendly. Obviously the other problem is the increased weight of the glass bottles, which limits transportability. Is there any way we could come up with a better, lighter design that uses recyclable materials?
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Oguntola Tobi
Oguntola Tobia month ago
Manel Lladó Santaeularia YES!! I feel very validated right now. Drinks in glass bottles absolutely taste better than those in PET.

Also, yes to the screw-on caps and yes to better, lighter design. In short, yes to everything.

Thanks for taking this forward.
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni25 days ago
Manel Lladó Santaeularia Yes, screw-on caps will make things easier. I have seen a few versions of a screw-on cap (probably made of tin or some metallic compound) on a glass bottle. They fit well and are leak-proof. They also have a tin seal that can be easily broken by hand.