Where Do the Plastic Bottles Go?

News Brief  by Kip Hansen – 14 October 2020

In an article in the New York Times, “Why ‘Biodegradable’ Isn’t What You Think”, the NY Times’ journalist, John Schwartz ,  makes several very good points about new products – new packaging options – being labelled “biodegradable” and “compostable”.

Primarily, as many of you already know, the labels “biodegradable” and “compostable” are for the most part simply marketing ploys — clever tactics used by marketers to drive more purchases of a specific product.  These labels don’t really mean that when you dispose of the empty biodegradable or compostable packaging that it will magically blend back into the natural environment, broken down into its basic elements.  It doesn’t mean that the biodegradable paper bottle or the compostable carryout fast food container will biodegrade or compost.

Corn Plastic

One example is the new “corn-based plastic” – PLA or polylactide.   Bottles made of this plastic look similar enough to PET plastic bottles [ polyethylene terephthalate ] (like those that soft drinks and bottled water come in)  to make separation in single-stream recycling impossible.  In reality, they are actually just another form of polyester – with a different source material.  The two materials, though similar, cannot be mixed in the recycling process as they contaminate one another. 

Schwartz tells us “The labels on PLA products often describe them as compostable. But that doesn’t mean you can just throw the stuff into your backyard compost pile, if you have one. To properly degrade, they have to be sent to commercial compost facilities.”

PLA bottles would have to be collected at point-of-sale and point-of-use locations, say an amusement park that only sells water and soda in PLA bottles so they can be sent to a specialized composting service.  Outside such use this means, of course, that if PLA soda or water bottles come into wide-spread use they cannot easily be recycled as they will be mixed and confused with and may prevent the recycling of the current PET bottles. 


Paper is mostly wood or other plant fibers and is both recyclable and compostable.    That is, if it is only paper.  But not the  new paper-based packaging, especially paper boxes and bottles intended to hold liquids, such as wine and juices.  These plastic containers are made of layers of paper and plastics and thus become neither compostable or recyclable.  They are then suitable to be landfilled or burned in trash-to-power plants only!



You may have been served part of a meal at a Chipotle restaurant made of pressed fibers.  

“Some fast-casual restaurants use bowls designed and marketed to be compostable. They are made from bagasse, a fiber produced as a byproduct from sugar cane mills.” Mr Schwartz tells us.

Luckily, fiber based bowls can be both recycled and composted – but recycled only if they haven’t actually been used and contaminated with food, in which case they must be sent to a composting service or a landfill.   In the landfill, they will eventually breakdown and mix with all the other “stuff’ buried there. [This paragraph updated 0800 14 Oct 2020 – kh ]

PHA – Bacteria Created Plastic

PHA, or Polyhydroxyalkanoates, are, you  guessed it, “polyesters produced in nature by numerous microorganisms, including through bacterial fermentation of sugars or lipids.”   Its primary virtue is that it is not made from petroleum.  Like many promising products,  “producing the material economically, however, has been a technical challenge.”   A company in Singapore has manufactured plastic straws from the material, and an American company hopes to produce bottles from the plastic. 

John Schwartz, the NY Times’ journalist, says this:

PHA, or polyhydroxyalkanoate, has been the next big thing in biodegradability for years. This bioplastic, which can be produced by bacteria, has promising properties: Research suggests it can break down in conventional landfills. In ocean water, it will degrade within a few years, a fraction of the 450 years that it takes standard plastic.”

Hurrah!  If they can find a way to make this new plastic affordably, research suggests that items made from it can breakdown in regular landfills. 

In ocean water, it will degrade within a few years, a fraction of the 450 years that it takes standard plastic.”

Oops—where did that last bit come from?  The “450 years that it takes standard plastic” to breakdown is a falsehood prominently promoted by NOAA.

Now, it is a serious matter to call information from NOAA a falsehood.  But this is the case.   How do we know?  NOAA tells us so  on this page, an interview transcript about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

DIANNA PARKER: A lot of people hear the word patch and they immediately think of almost like a blanket of trash that can easily be scooped up, but actually these areas are always moving and changing with the currents, and it’s mostly these tiny plastics that you can’t immediately see with the naked eye.

TROY KITCH: I noticed that you said garbage patch ‘areas.’ So the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is only one area in the ocean where marine debris concentrates?

DIANNA PARKER: There are garbage patches all over the world. These are areas where debris naturally accumulates. So there are garbage patches of all different sizes and shapes and compositions. The one that we know the most about is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which lies in an area between Hawaii and California. What we know about this area is that it’s made up of tiny micro plastics, almost akin to a peppery soup, with scattered larger items, fishing gear, those kind of items swirling around.

TROY KITCH: A peppery soup? Could you explain that again?

DIANNA PARKER: Well, imagine tiny, tiny micro plastics just swirling around, mixing in the water column from waves and wind, that’s always moving and changing with the currents. These are tiny plastics that you might not even see if you sailed through the middle of the garbage patch, they’re so small and mixed throughout the water column.

Here’s a photo of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch from The Ocean Cleanup project:

The Guardian claims that “480bn plastic drinking bottles were sold in 2016….most plastic bottles produced end up in landfill or in the ocean.” 

See all those floating millions of plastic bottles?  No? 

Why not?  Even when one goes to the areas of the oceans that concentrate floating pelagic plastic, the great oceanic gyres,  and searches diligently, with nets and sub-millimetric sieves, the millions of plastic bottles, claimed to take 450 years to breakdown, are not found.   They don’t even find very many bits of plastic large enough to pick up with your fingers.  Here’s what they found sieving the Great Garbage Patches of the world’s oceans:

Almost everything found was between 4 and 0.75 millimeters. Almost nothing over 10 mm – about 0.4 inches.   And under .075 mm (which is very small), the number of “bits” drops off rapidly approaching zero. 

If PET soda and water bottles really took 450 years to breakdown, at least some of the plastic bottles that have escaped into the wild and been washed into the ocean ought to be still floating around out there.   Why are they not found? 

Firstly, PET has a specific gravity of about 1.3.  That means it does not float once it is no longer a hollow container (like, say, a bottle with a bit of liquid in the bottom).  When still hollow, they float.  They are not found floating in the ocean because they rapidly breakdown from the effects of the sun and the waves, break apart, break apart again, and again, and then the bits sink.

As the NOAA spokesperson, Dianna Parker explains:

“Plastics never really go away. They just break down over and over and over again until they become smaller and smaller from sunlight and other environmental factors [like] waves, big storms, those kind of things.”

NOAA says they breakdown, into smaller and smaller pieces.  That part is true, but the idea that they “never really go away” is false. What happens to those little bits?

Microbes eat those little pieces.

Or if you prefer, here.

# # # # #

That Said:

Kindergarten rules apply at all stages and areas of life:

Pick up after yourself — clean up your own messes:

Put your trash in the trash bin. We need to do all we can to keep every sort of trash, including plastics,  contained and disposed of in a responsible manner – this keeps it out of the oceans and the rest of the natural environment.

Plastics are valuable and should be recycled whenever possible into useful and valuable commodities, such as replacements for lumber in decking, shipping pallets, etc.

# # # # #

Author’s Comment:

The whole recycling movement in the USA is a terrible mess.  Almost everything ends up in the landfill.

New plastics won’t solve the perceived problem.  Landfilled plastics are not really a problem anyway, certainly not any more of a problem than landfilled glass.   Not a problem, it is just a waste.

NOAA’s continuing anti-plastic campaign – some details of which are gross misinformation —  is a shame.

# # # # #

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October 14, 2020 2:18 am

Has no one appreciated the fact that the geological processes of our planet have been recycling everything for the last 4.6 billion years? Now some of the rates maybe slower than you like, and the occasional comet dump makes a really nasty mess (sorry dinosaurs) but somehow mother earth seems to cope. Just give her a helping hand and high temperature burn as much trash as you can. Got to somehow get those CO2 levels back to Cretaceous normal for the plants sake.

Reply to  Philip Mulholland
October 14, 2020 2:50 am

Could get some electrical power out of it, too.

Reply to  Philip Mulholland
October 14, 2020 7:07 am


It’s not like plastics are some giant mystery to the earth’s natural recycling processes. It’s been breaking down the components of plastics for billions of years. There is nothing magical about plastic. It will get broken down and repurposed just like everything else on the face of the earth.

Mark A Luhman
Reply to  Steve
October 14, 2020 9:16 am

Plastic are made out of hydrocarbon, all life on earth a carbon based, that carbon is in the form of hydrocarbon, plastic is what life on earth is made of. On a fool would not believe it would not end up being food for something.

October 14, 2020 2:29 am

Plastic bottle recycling is at a very high level in Germany, aided by a deposit scheme…

‘Almost ninety-nine percent of mandatory PET deposit bottles are collected for recycling in Germany according to the latest study, Aufkommen und Wiederverwertung von PET-Getränkeverpackungen in Deutschland (PET beverage packaging volume and recycling in Germany) published in 2016 by the German Society for Packaging Market Research (GVM); 93.5% of disposable and reusable bottles collected are recycled – and up to 98% for disposable deposit bottles. “The disposal bottle deposit in Germany has secured these high quotas,” according to Schmidt. This has proven to be a successful strategy in the fifteen years after its introduction.

Recycling takes priority with PET – 34% of the recycled material is processed into new PET bottles according to the GVM study. Other users include the film industry (27%), textile fibre manufacturers (23%) and other applications such as tape and cleaning agent container production (16%). Eighty percent is recycled within Germany, and the rest is mostly exported to destinations near Germany’s borders. PET material exports to China have seen a steady decrease, so restrictions on plastic waste exports from Germany to China only apply to a limited extent in the German PET industry.’

(Where is your source for this?) SUNMOD

Reply to  griff
October 14, 2020 2:52 am

Did you a point? To your life, not just this post.

Reply to  griff
October 14, 2020 3:14 am

Call me skeptical Griff …. China banned the importation of most waste and recycling material from any country in 2017.

So now go back to where you got all that quoted junk and tell us if it is still valid aka look at the date on what guardian article you took it from :-).

Patrick MJD
Reply to  griff
October 14, 2020 3:29 am

“griff October 14, 2020 at 2:29 am

…aided by a deposit scheme…”

You go find out how much that costs taxpayers. You will be surprised.

Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  Patrick MJD
October 14, 2020 11:25 pm

It’s also slow and irritating if it’s anything like Austria’s. You have to put each bottle into a machine, and it takes several seconds, and the bar code has to be intact. For someone who drinks as much beer and bottled water as me (no mains water) it’d take an hour each week at least.

In Oz we now have the same system, but you deposit in a central location where I am. Its fast, but even so I don’t bother to do the beer bottles any more because they are too heavy to carry too the station from the car park. I also don’t want to waste water washing them when I pay 3c per litre in the dry season. Water bottles I do once a month or so because I’m stubborn and hate to see the government make more money out of me.

I was putting it all in the recycling bin before that anyway, but they decided to punish me regardless.

John Adams
Reply to  Zig Zag Wanderer
October 15, 2020 2:18 pm

They just do it to show they can.
Later they will do it for something important and you’ll give in because you’ve been conditioned.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
October 15, 2020 1:13 pm

We have a deposit based scheme for ready to drink containers here in Alberta. Yes, most of it ends up at recycling collection centers (we call them Bottle Depots), but how much ends up actually being recycled, and how much does it cost tax payers?

Reply to  griff
October 14, 2020 3:31 am

I haven’t kept an links but I’ve read that plastic recycling only works through one, maybe two, cycles before the basic ingredients are too deteriorated to be useful again. I don’t know just what that means but the reports state that it is a major impediment to greater recycling.

As for
“fiber based bowls can be both recycled and composted – but only if they haven’t actually been used and contaminated with food”
That makes no sense for composting. Anything that can be used by an animal body – food – can be used by the fungi and bacteria in a compost pile.

Ben Vorlich
Reply to  AndyHce
October 14, 2020 4:45 am

I’ve noticed that snails and slugs will eat paper and cardboard. Not sure of its nutritional value for them.

On the outer Barcoo
Reply to  Ben Vorlich
October 14, 2020 8:53 am

Many, many years ago I temporarily ‘adopted’ a red joey in outback Western Australia: it’s favorite snack was tissue paper.

Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  Ben Vorlich
October 14, 2020 11:29 pm

I think it is.

My dad had the great idea to build a wine cellar with breeze blocks (cinder blocks that have hollows). He put the blocks sideways for the walls and just put the wine bottles in the hollows.

Unfortunately, the snails ate every single label. We had ‘pot luck’ wine whenever we visited!

Reply to  griff
October 14, 2020 3:33 am

Never trust the Chinese Communists…never.

Rich Davis
Reply to  griff
October 14, 2020 3:34 am

What is your point griff?

Is it that the Chinese stopped dumping PET bottles into the ocean due to Germany no longer paying them to haul it away? And that’s why nothing can be found?

Of course Germany was the only source, and they must have gotten that recycling system up and running 450 years ago around 1570, since all the bottles have degraded by now?

Are your bosses paying you by the word?

Reply to  griff
October 14, 2020 4:30 am

Australia also has recycling depots near many supermarkets.

SA’s plastic recycling firm shut down because it couldn’t afford the electricity in South Australia.


Only about 9.4% of the plastic is actually recycled,

And the the local plastics recycling sector was now smaller than it was in 2005.


One thing we can agree on, we should be re-using much more. !

Reply to  fred250
October 14, 2020 3:52 pm

Fred250; single use plastic bags (every government hates these) are about the most re-used product ever invented.


Reply to  Speed
October 14, 2020 10:09 pm

So true !

And the most collected. 🙂

Plain Jane
Reply to  Speed
October 19, 2020 1:20 am

I have never had so much plastic around the house than since they got rid of the single use bags. I kept the single use bags and used for multiple uses. Now I have lots and lots of multiple use bags, which weigh much more and take more space. I use them for similar things and for about the same number of uses. I think the multiple use bags must be 4 or 5 times the weight of plastic at least.

Crispin in Waterloo
Reply to  griff
October 14, 2020 4:47 am


Plastic recycling in Germany has two components: cleaning and separation at source (homes) and after collection, the various destinations of the waste streams.

Here in Waterloo we have a very good system of separation at source and collection, sometimes using different (diesel powered) vehicles. The waste streams at the dump site are: garden compostibles to make top dressing (which is professionally done and free for collection at the dumpsite); glass; concrete, ceramic wash basins (etc) and bricks; wood; electronics including TV screens and power supplies etc; metal; cardboard; drywall; household waste; and finally, “construction”. Hazardous items are collected at a separate building: liquid paint, oil, things containing mercury etc.

In Germany there are rules for cleaning the plastic before it is put out for collection so people do it. Looking into what happens after that, an article I read maybe three years ago said about 85% of it is burned in incinerators, often all of it. This re-direction from “recycling” to “burning” is hidden from the public that does all the work of cleaning and separating because it is a PR exercise more than a recycling exercise.

Reply to  griff
October 14, 2020 8:07 am

GWPF addressed the back-slapping claims made about European ‘recycling’ in this paper:
the short version is that waste is recorded as being ‘recycled’ once it arrives at a collection depot. After that, since the waste is of such low value, it is cheaper to ship it off to be dumped, and in turn, it is cheaper for ship owner to dump much of it over the side. Even if the waste arrives in an Asian country for ‘recycling’ much of it leaks into the environment.
The best treatment is to incinerate in waste to energy/heat plants as is common in Sweden, but typically of ineptocracies, the EU is hostile to the idea that works most effectively (in this case on gullible warming pretenses) so they myth of a circular economy keeps being encouraged.

Reply to  griff
October 14, 2020 9:14 am

Clear plastic PET bottles cannot be recycled into a new clear plastic PET bottle, as the PET can be water-clear only once, so your 34% claim is dubious. Back that up for us, Griff, your source is someone who knows nothing about plastics…

Reply to  Michael Moon
October 15, 2020 4:10 am

Sorry Michael, as a Chemical Engineer who works for one of the largest producers of Polyester Plastics, PET can be recycled multiple times. Heat it back above its crystalline melting point and cool it rapidly below its peak temperature of rate of crystallization or strain crystallize and it will be clear.

Reply to  Buckeyebob
October 15, 2020 5:50 am

I love this place.

Reply to  Michael Moon
October 15, 2020 4:18 am

Yeah, and this dubious video is deceptive too:

Loren C. Wilson
Reply to  griff
October 14, 2020 11:31 am

The laws in the US of A require that recycled plastics not be used for food containers so using PET for bottles again is a non-starter. This is the same problem that recycled paper has – there is no market. In the old days, glass bottles had a deposit and most were collected and turned in. Due to sanitation concerns and the cost of cleaning the bottles for re-use, this is no longer economically viable. If recycling paid, it would pay. Recycling metals pays to do since I get paid for scrap steel, aluminum, and copper. If I have to pay to recycle, the recycling process actually consumes more energy and resources than just making the product in the first place. That said, I am perfectly happy to recycle toxic materials like my old ni-cad batteries, paint, fluorescent light bulbs, etc. and willing to pay to have these properly and safely disposed of. That is part of the cost of having these modern miracles. However, pushing recycling when it actually harms the environment more to do so is silly.

Reply to  Loren C. Wilson
October 14, 2020 2:42 pm

You know, I’m old enough to remember glass bottles of milk …and of them being delivered to the house… and I STILL believe milk tastes better from a glass jug than from plastic or cartons. I’d love to see a re-assessment of the “economics” of reusing glass bottles vs creating and using (and disposing of) plastic and “paper” cartons for so much stuff. I can’t imagine that with modern technology, maintaining proper sanitation can’t be so very uneconomical. Systems are still available for purchase: https://www.icfillingsystems.com/bottle-washing-and-rinsing-machines/recyclable-glass-bottle-washing-machines/(perhaps not of the correct scale?), and services are available as well: https://unitedbottles.com/services/bottle-washing.

Steve Taylor
Reply to  Eugene
October 14, 2020 4:06 pm

We still use glass containers for our milk, bought in the local dairy and returned for cleaning and reuse. I agree on the taste from glass, and we are lucky to be able to buy raw milk which tastes better still.

Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  Steve Taylor
October 14, 2020 11:32 pm

Agreed on all. In the UK farmers can sell raw milk onsite, but not advertise it. We used to get gold top raw most of the time. Mmmmmmm!

PET Faithful
Reply to  Loren C. Wilson
October 15, 2020 4:37 pm

Sorry, Loren C. Wilson, you are wrong. The US FDA has issued 235 No Objection Letters, https://www.cfsanappsexternal.fda.gov/scripts/fdcc/index.cfm?, allowing use a specific post-consumer plastics in food packaging. The FDA specifies for which food group and filling condition the Letters are issued. A number of the letters include all food groups and the filling conditions for which the virgin plastic is allowed. 177 of the letters apply to PET. Today we have some bottled water in 100% postconsumer recycled content bottles, Ice River is one, and some with lesser amounts, such as Nestle products.

There is a robust market for postconsumer PET bottles and HDPE bottles. Used PET is used again to make new bottles, for textile fibers, for film and sheet, and for strapping. Used HDPE from bottles is used for pipe and to make new bottles. There is definitely a market.

The Materials Recovery Facilities, MRFs, have operational costs of about $90 to about $120/ton. PET bottle bales and HDPE bottle bales sell for more. Mixed paper, cardboard, and glass sell for less than the cost and make up the majority of the tons processed.

Numerous life cycle studies have shown less energy is required to make new packaging from recycled plastic than to make new packaging from virgin plastic precursors. Recycling plastic saves energy.

Recycling, properly done, conserves the environment and does not harm the environment.

spangled drongo
Reply to  griff
October 15, 2020 7:05 pm

Griffs source is Petnology, the people who promote the stuff. Oh dear!:


Ron Long
October 14, 2020 2:42 am

The various aspects of plastic chemistry aside, who is throwing garbage away/down/out? There is a cultural aspect to all of this pollution that suggests the problem of plastic debris in the oceans is only another manifestation of garbage all over the place. In my fairly extensive travels I’ve been around poor people who never contaminated, and around rich people that threw whatever out the window of their car. How to change the cultural aspect of littering? No idea. I have no doubt it is a big problem, however. Along comes marketing geniuses who add “biodegradable” or “re-cyclable” to a product, and the culture doesn’t change, but some persons buy it as a virtue-signal. Problem not solved.

Reply to  Ron Long
October 14, 2020 2:53 am

6 or 7 large rivers in Asia and Africa provide most of the oceanic plastic.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Ron Long
October 14, 2020 8:07 am

“In my fairly extensive travels I’ve been around poor people who never contaminated, and around rich people that threw whatever out the window of their car.”

The opposite is truer in my experience.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Ron Long
October 14, 2020 9:36 am

They are mum about the source of the plastics in the ocean patches. Starbucks ridiculously withdrew use of plastic straws over this bs although it’s pretty safe to say none of their straws made the journey. It virtually all comes from poorly placed garbage principally in countries like the Philippines. It is washed down streams and into the ocean by typhoons and other heavy rain storms. I suspect that it is even part of a plan. All countries seem to be short of space for landfill and this solves a costly problem for island nation particularly.

Doug Huffman(@doughuffman)
October 14, 2020 3:10 am

Everything, all material and all energy is renewable and recycled; some on short human timescales, some on longer geological time scales, and some on even longer time scales.

I see rank culturism above. I moved from filthy garbage dump roadsides to a community culture where roadside trash is a rarity, and we regularly patrol our property for tourist trash. A mono-culture community with a moat and ferryman’s tariff.

October 14, 2020 3:12 am

Microbial decomposition in landfill is anaerobic. Methane gas one of the main by product and it the alarmists are to be believed, methane gas is 21 to 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a green house gas. Non-biodegradable items are more environment friendly from GHG perspective.

Reply to  eo
October 14, 2020 4:11 am

Except that in the U. S., landfill gas is captured and either flared or, more and more commonly, considered a valuable resource and either cleaned up and piped out as natural gas or burned in an electric generating unit. A number of years ago, there was a flurry of competition for contracts for landfill gas. At the time, one investor in environmental technologies told me it was one of the very few “green” investments that actually made a profit. The anti-landfill enviros conveniently forget that just about anything organic eventually biologically degrades in a landfill to either harmless material or usable gas, especially if the landfill is designed properly.

Ron Long
Reply to  Pflashgordon
October 14, 2020 6:10 am

Pflashgordon, the highest topography in south Florida is heaped-up “landfills”, with plastic coverings and methane collection pipes coming out of them. The methane is utilized to power county vehicles. This is fairly close to quite reasonable conduct.

Tom in Florida
Reply to  Ron Long
October 14, 2020 12:45 pm

Sarasota County and Waste Management do this.
This thing about recycling is that all those plastic bottles must be cleaned and the cap put back on so they don’t get contaminated. Otherwise, they get discarded.
The real solution is to make large 1500 foot mini mountains and then make them into water slide parks. Trash gone, income for the city/town, fun for the people.

Reply to  Pflashgordon
October 14, 2020 2:51 pm

EPA standards for “Sanitary Landfills” have long been all about keeping water out of the landfill area, with synthetic and natural covers, not allowing trees with deep root systems to grow, etc. As a result, waste in landfills really didn’t decompose much; the only water available was what came with the waste, or what minimal liquid could be added to achieve a high degree of waste compaction. Some of that supported initial bacterial growth and degradation of the waste, and some went out as leachate to be hauled off and processed. After a couple of years, at most, gas production stalled. Studies were made of landfill waste decomposition and researchers routinely found newspapers from decades past that were still legible, as well as food and other wastes that had not decomposed.

It’s only been in the past decade or so that EPA and its state affiliates have allowed efforts to actively produce gas, which means a need to add water to support bacterial action. I see it as a great improvement in landfill management, after decades of locking up billions of yards/tons of garbage in the ground.

Reply to  eo
October 14, 2020 4:53 am

Methane is not a problem.
Bacteria eat it out of the atmosphere within 2 years.
CO2 is there to stay for 300 years.

Matthew Bergin
Reply to  Alex
October 14, 2020 5:19 am

CO2 is not a problem. CO2 is plant food and we need more of it not less.

Reply to  Alex
October 14, 2020 9:24 am

Is that bad Alex?

Reply to  Alex
October 14, 2020 12:08 pm

Alex, That’s completely wrong. CO2 does NOT stay in the atmosphere for 300 years. The atmosphere contains about 730 Gigatons of C (carbon, not carbon dioxide). Every year about 230 Gigatons of C are released to the atmosphere from both natural and anthropogenic sources but the atmospheric load of C rises by only ~3 GT. Why? Why isn’t it going up at 230 GT per year? It’s because C is absorbed by the oceans and plant life at almost the rate that it’s emitted. Of that 230 GT, only 6 to 7 GT is emitted by fossil fuel burning and other anthropogenic sources, the rest is emitted naturally. Anthropogenic C is now being absorbed by the oceans and plant life at 1/2 the rate that it’s emitted – about 3 to 4 GT of the human emissions per year is being absorbed.

The atmosphere is far from natural equilibrium at the current 410+ ppm atmospheric CO2 concentration so the absorption rate is very high. If we stopped emitting C, the oceans and plant life would continue to reduce the C mass in the atmosphere by that same 3 to 4 GT / year. Every single year of no C production would undo ~2 years of emissions. You wouldn’t have to wait 300 years for the CO2 concentration to drop, you would see a dramatic decrease in atmospheric concentration in only 30 years – enough of a decrease to get about ½ way back to pre-industrial levels. You’re off by a factor of 10 in the 1/2 life of CO2.

Reply to  Meab
October 14, 2020 2:58 pm

Could someone please explain the way we can trace “anthropogenic CO2”, that is, what makes it so different that we know it’s absorbed at what seems to be a different rate than naturally occurring C/CO2?

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Eugene
October 14, 2020 9:01 pm

As far as I know, certain anthropogenic sources of CO2 have a different isotope than “natural” CO2.

Reply to  Meab
October 15, 2020 12:57 am

Unfortunately, it is not that simple.
CO2 has not a single “lifetime” in the atmosphere, but many.
Some 30% of CO2 exchange within 4 years (single molecule residence time)
Some 50% have lifetime of 300 years
Other 20% have lifetime in kiloyears
The reason is, the CO2 is described by a higher order differential equation and everything depends on the initial conditions.

sky king
Reply to  Alex
October 16, 2020 4:23 pm

Total crap bafflegab.

“CO2 is described by a higher order differential equation”. Wow, must be calculus. You must be a genius or something.

Patrick MJD
October 14, 2020 3:30 am

Apparently the plastic garbage patch in the Pacific is the size of Texas. Can be seen from space. Funny yet, no-one has seen that patch, from space.

Flight Level
October 14, 2020 3:34 am

WW1+2 have sent countless souls, vessels, aircraft and much else ranging from plain toxic to extremely toxic to the bottom of the seas.

And ?

Nothing. A big fat nothing catastrophically bad has ensued.

Reply to  Flight Level
October 14, 2020 6:28 am

Well some bad stuff did nearly happen. Near the proposed bridge linking Scotland to N.Ireland it was revealed a major WWII munitions dump in the sea would be a bad idea to build upon.
Beaufort’s Dyke
Those Guardian WWII bombs , regularly dug up in building sites in Germany, are not from the deep sea though. Not sure if the royal Navy has dared sample the Beauford…

Flight Level
Reply to  bonbon
October 14, 2020 8:07 pm

Bonbon, now I understand the reports of giant mutant green octopuses crawling ashore at night to feed on buried unexploded ordnance.

Maybe the Guardian should also investigate ?

sky king
October 14, 2020 3:38 am

Here in the Philippines the purpose of typhoons is to wash the plastic into the ocean.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
October 14, 2020 8:53 am

Similar thing happens in CA when the rainy season begins.

Peta of Newark
October 14, 2020 3:43 am

I once made an ‘industrial size’ wild-bird feeder using a large clear PET bottle.

It lasted less than 3 weeks, totally crumbled under the intense sun one gets near Hadrian’s Wall in Cumbria UK ;-D

As a working peasant I priced some (recycled) plastic fence rails (as per Decking Lumber)
A single piece, 10ft long and 1″ by 4″ cost £35 (Thirty Five)
Its wood equivalent (12ft long) was priced at £3 (Three)

I (only) once tried some fence stakes made of recycled plastic.
They are *THE* most hideously dangerous things ever devised – they ‘twang’ when you attempt to hammer them in and if using a mechanical tractor mounted post-knocker are perfectly capable of breaking fingers, arms, legs, faces and bodies
Yet what are they made of, will they simply fall apart as fast as my attempted bird-feeder did?

I used to collect rainwater for my cows, they loved it.
I used 2nd hand plastic kerosene storage tanks (as per oil-fired home heating)
I once got a 3500 litre tank off a heating engineer.
He was gainfully employed, via Government edict, replacing oil fired systems witj ‘more efficient’ gas fired heating systems – either piped gas or propane.

He had a mountain of old plastic tanks when I met him. He was cutting them up, with a hand-held angle-grinder and putting the bits into a skip (next stop= landfill)
(Wearing no PPE at all. sigh)
I bought a tank off him for £25, about what the skip cost him = £180 with capacity for 7 or 8 sliced up tanks.

We are governed by clowns – viz – the orrible scary ones, NOT the haha funny ones

Reply to  Peta of Newark
October 14, 2020 4:19 am

“I used to collect rainwater for my cows, they loved it”
The soft rainwater or the chewy plastic?

Mark A Luhman
Reply to  Kip Hansen
October 14, 2020 9:26 am

PVC fittings also. Saw one throw away in the AZ desert it was half gone, by now I assume it all gone since it was ten years back. Plastic bags in my shed never seen the sun turn to powder just in the heat the same do plastic buckets the just shatter after a time in the heat. Rechargeable batters for power tools don’t last summer in the heat.

Reply to  Peta of Newark
October 16, 2020 9:04 pm

Late reply and not being in England I cannot tell you specifically what the lifespan of said “plastic lumber” is there. I can tell you the life expectancy in Canada though based on our products that are roughly similar. That lifespan is about 20-25 years. Or roughly the same as pressure treated lumber. The latter actually being truly biodegradable in a relatively short time span.

Mark - Helsinki
October 14, 2020 4:27 am

“plastic bottle recycling”

We do that here too, kids scour the place for bottles too, as its free money for them.

But lets be honest, those bottles are dirty and it takes more energy to clean them and recycle them instead of just making new ones

also, they cannot use recycled bottles to make new bottles even if they wanted to, the plastic is degraded and they use the recycled plastic to make lower grade plastic products which are NOT recycled, as you get only 1 recycle for plastic

Reply to  Mark - Helsinki
October 14, 2020 4:33 am

Some plastic furniture, garden edging etc is made from re-cycled plastic.

There are uses, probably not enough though.

PET Faithful
Reply to  Mark - Helsinki
October 15, 2020 4:56 pm

Mark, published Life Cycle Assessment reports, https://plasticsrecycling.org/resources/life-cycle-study , teach that “Using recycled plastic reduced total energy consumption by 79% for PET, 88% for HDPE, and 88% for PP”. Sorry, you are wrong. It does not take more energy to clean used bottles for recycling than to ‘just make new ones’.

As for “cannot use recycled bottles to make new bottles” the 2018 United States National Postconsumer Plastic Bottle Recycling Report, https://plasticsrecycling.org/images/pdf/resources/reports/Rate-Reports/National-Postconsumer-Plastics-Bottle-Recycling-Rate-Reports/2018_UNITED_STATES_NATIONAL_POSTCONSUMER_PLASTIC_BOTTLE_RECYCLING_REPORT.pdf, tells us that 37.4% of recycled HDPE bottles went into the next bottle. About 1/3 of the recycled PET was used to make new bottles, both food-grade and non-food grade. And, those PET and HDPE bottles with recycled content are recycled again and into new bottles.

October 14, 2020 4:50 am

What is not biodegradable?
I spent a number of years sailing around New Guinea & the Solomon Islands among others. There were some huge bases in these islands during WW11. As an ex Oz navy flyer I was interested in exploring some of these.

One was Green island, an atoll between Bouganville & New Ireland, a major base confining the Japs at Rabaul, after it had been bypassed. At it’s peal there were 19,999 service men on this small atoll, servicing a fighter & 2 bomber air strips, a huge Catalina sea plane base, & a black cats base, & a base with up to 6 squadrons of patrol boats. At it’s peak it required 10,000 gallons of high octane petrol a day to supply the planes & boats.

In 1976 I could find no part of the fuel tank farm anywhere, no sine of the patrol boat facility, & only some cement hard stand of the sea plane base, with 60Ft high trees growing through it. The only remains of the 3 air strips was a 2000 ft part of the fighter strip, now used as the airport for the light planes servicing the area.

I visited many such places, & so little remains, just 30 years after the war, it brought home to me that it is mans constructions that ate vulnerable & fragile. The last thing you can call nature is fragile. It will quickly consume anything not protected from it.

You know, I never found a garbage patch, or dump in any of these places.

Reply to  Hasbeen
October 14, 2020 5:38 am

Yes, any homeowner can testify to the fragility of man’s constructions…

October 14, 2020 4:57 am

Biodegradable plastic is a VERY good thing. Unfortunately, expensive.
I do like the German way.
Any plastic bottle costs you 25 cent.
You get these 25 cent back when you (or anybody who finds the bottle) bring it to a (really any!) recycling point.
After this simple rule was implemented, you do not find any single bottle thrown away!

Reply to  Alex
October 14, 2020 6:53 am

In the US before plastic, soda, beer et al came in glass bottles that included a small deposit which was refunded when the bottle returned to the retailer and most bottles were returned, cleaned and refilled. These were eventually replaced with “no deposit, no return” bottles which is the standard today.

A couple of decades ago, some states required vendors (again) to add a deposit (five or ten cents from memory) to each bottle sold and refund it when bottles were returned. I believe that the scheme has been discontinued in all states.

Jim Whelan
Reply to  Speed
October 14, 2020 8:10 am

Still doing it in Taxifornia.

Kevin Terrill
Reply to  Speed
October 14, 2020 1:57 pm

We’ve been doing it in Michigan since 1976, 10 cent deposit on cans, glass bottles, and plastic bottles (Think soda and beer). Returns are done at the store where you purchased from. Machines laser scan the UPC labels to determine if it’s a legit return (bottles from Ohio won’t work). They spit out a receipt to take to the cashier when you are done. Pretty easy system here in Michigan.

Reply to  Kevin Terrill
October 14, 2020 3:10 pm

Speed: Read your next beer bottle label (or if you don’t drink, look at one in the grocery), still lots of bottles labeled for deposits. I’m visiting family in New York State — up in the pretty portions between the Finger Lakes and Lake Ontario, where it’s not been totally polluted and corrupted by the yo-yo politicians in Albany (it’s just been plundered to support the current and past governors’ largess to “downstate”). My label says: CT-HI-IA-MA-ME-NY-VT 5cents MI-OR 10 cents. (That’s a glass bottle; plastic one had far fewer states listed.) And, that’s a bottle from from our neighbors to the north, Canada.

Reply to  Kevin Terrill
October 15, 2020 3:24 am

Interesting. Back in the 1976 era I visited Michigan frequently and heard all the bottle-return complaints. My most striking memories are of large trailers full of empties in grocery store parking lots and management complaints that they had to sort all the bottles to get them back to the right vendors. I guess automation driven by UPC labels solves most of that.

My father, rather than returning bottles put them out with the garbage — the garbage men (not part of their job) returned them for the deposit.

Flight Level
Reply to  Alex
October 15, 2020 2:08 am

EMM, easy money matters.
Germany, my department. Non-returned or refused (bought in Aldi, refused by LIDL p.ex.) bottles are a nice side gain opportunity. Idem the bags. We got them for free once, now the small skimpier not reusable one costs 5 cents. The roll of 1’000 bags bought for less than 2 bucks will bring in 50 bucks of easy cash.

John Bell
October 14, 2020 5:23 am

Can’t we make railroad ties from dirty old plastic?

Reply to  Anonymoose
October 14, 2020 3:16 pm

Interesting. I would have thought they would not last long. Time will tell. Can’t imagine they’ll be less expensive. I wonder how they compare to concrete ties. I still see it as another solution to an earlier “solution-turned-problem.”

We’re seeing the same thing again with plastic grocery bags: anyone else remember the “paper or plastic” debate? Grocers most likely will just see it as a way to diversify revenues by charging a nickle for this, 10 cents for that, $150 for the “reusable” bag (that’s impossible to clean if something leaks in it).

October 14, 2020 5:39 am

I have a Windex spray bottle labeled, “100% Ocean Bound Plastic.”

I can imagine how many hours were spent working on the wording for that. I guess it means that the plastic that was used to make the bottle would have been dumped into an ocean if not for Windex (or its supplier) rescuing it from the waste stream and converting it into a new bottle.

October 14, 2020 5:41 am

Low Density Polyethylene and Polypropylene (.94 and .9 specific gravities respectively) will float. Being aliphatic polymers, they generally have good UV resistance and do not biodegrade. That being said, they would still be caught up in the plastic fishing nets.

October 14, 2020 6:24 am

Milk/Juice/Wine cartons are recyclable! They are put in paper mills that separate paper from the plastic and aluminum. Paper is then recycled as usually. Plastic and aluminum may or may not be further processed.

Mark A Luhman
Reply to  Recycler
October 14, 2020 9:31 am

Paper every time it is recycled end up with shorter fibers, there a limit how much you can recycle paper of any kind. Each the recycle fibers are mixed with new fibers, so much for the label 100% recycled paper, that a lie.

Robert MacLellan
Reply to  Mark A Luhman
October 14, 2020 2:57 pm

You are referring to the recovery rate. A maximum of 80% recovery if starting with virgin softwood fiber, lower if it has a hardwood fiber content. The 100% recycled fiber label implies but does not state that the recycled fiber is post consumer… often it is rejected mill fiber, i.e. low grade waste.

Robert MacLellan
Reply to  Recycler
October 14, 2020 2:51 pm

No, sorry. The plastic cannot be separated from the fiber sufficiently for the fiber to be reused. Recycling wood fiber( paper) is a very specialized operation and requires relatively clean inputs. When it began even some inks were enough to contaminate the processes.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
October 15, 2020 1:55 am

Here you are:
Scroll down to “How Does Carton Recycling Work?”.
It might be just an eco propaganda though – I am not an expert.

Robert MacLellan
Reply to  Recycler
October 15, 2020 2:22 am

A good article but deceptive. The true fact was hinted at when references the poly-al being used for energy i.e. burned. No paper mill would dare use the separated fiber for paper as any plastic missed would do massive damage to the rollers on the paper machine. The only use of recycled cartons I have heard of was shredding for animal bedding where it is mixed with other materials like sawmill shavings.

Reply to  Robert MacLellan
October 15, 2020 3:17 am

I also found this video:
While it may be somewhat deceptive too, I believe that milk cartons are at least partially recyclable.

October 14, 2020 6:33 am

Something odd happened on the way to Brexit, or rather from.

London commissioned a Polish, yes, an EU country, to produce the new shiny proudly British passports, from polycarbonate.
Now all those, made to last, passports will be dumped on the beaches by the remoaners, calling untold post-Brexit environmental damage.

October 14, 2020 8:10 am

Plastics – derived from Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels – natural, organic and bio-degradable.

October 14, 2020 8:38 am

The dominant source of ocean plastic is asia and africa.

Pat from Kerbob
October 14, 2020 9:11 am

Here in canada something like 8% of plastics is recycled, the rest goes to the dump.
Utter waste of time separating unless we just burn it all.

Or transmute it into gold, or cheerios.

Paul Johnson
October 14, 2020 9:12 am

As Kip has noted here and elsewhere, plastic debris smaller than 1mm is quickly consumed by ocean microbes. Isn’t the logical solution to grind the plastic bottles down to 1mm bits and fertilize the ocean with it?

Paul Johnson
Reply to  Kip Hansen
October 14, 2020 9:51 pm

Kip – Ideally so, but rivers and harbors in Asia seem to show that’s not economically viable.
“Grind and release” may not be free, but it’s a simple, scalable, permanent solution that doesn’t require infrastructure for transport, sorting, processing, marketing and delivery.

October 14, 2020 9:22 am

Waste to energy-burning garbage probably makes the best sense. Including a coarse preliminary sort gathering up metals and glass, which can be repurposed. Glass is just sand so recycling that probably doesn’t make sense, other than washing and reusing. Just gather it up, crush it and use it for road fill when constructing a new highway. All the metals have a value, so recycling that makes sense. The rest can be burnt, and if hot enough, can be safely combusted right in a city, such as the Burnaby waste to energy plant right in the city limits. Even some of the biomass plants can safely burn creosote railway ties, as when the temperature is high enough, all the various chemicals in creosote are safely combusted. That has been tested at Environmental Appeal Boards, and the science is clear on high temperature combustion, that it is safe. Keep the garbage out of our rivers, ditches and oceans. That is a no brainer although bad habits are hard to break.


Reply to  Earthling2
October 14, 2020 1:33 pm

The guy living 2 doors down from me is an electrician.

Every couple of months he stacks old fridges, washing machines etc out on the kerbside.

They are then picked up by the metal recyclers, who strip it down to be added to newly made metal.


Great recycling. 🙂

October 14, 2020 10:43 am

So I was with a group of people attending a week long function in Hong Kong a couple of weeks back. We had a little time going in a and a couple of days at the tail end to do some sight seeing.

The group had heard of a Buddhist shrine on the island of Hung Shing Ye. The group took a ferry from Hong Kong to the island and there was an interesting sight as we approached the island. From about 1 mile out of the ferry dock the ferry was entering into a floating garbage heap. By the time we docked at the terminal the ferry was pushing through over three to four feet of floating plastic and garbage of every description. The amount of plastic bottles, waste Styrofoam and plastics of every type it was mind boggling. The total disregard for the environment by these people is staggering.
So tell me again how banning single use plastics and drinking straws here in North America is going to stop the great garbage patch in the Pacific ocean.

Reply to  Boris
October 14, 2020 8:29 pm

New York City used to have barges dump NYC trash out at sea.

The barges were supposed to drive out to deep water, tens of miles East.
Only the barge captains figured it was the same if they went just out of sight over the horizon, 13 nautical miles. And dump the trash there in much shallower water, drink beer, putt around for awhile, then return to port.

An especially advantageous plan during the Atlantic’s frequent foul weather.

Then NYC discovered from divers that their trash was creeping back inshore; what wasn’t floating back with the tide that is.
All of a sudden, NYC sought and found ‘other’ places to send their trash. Some in landfills and some to trash burning facilities.

Peter Fraser
October 14, 2020 11:45 am

NOAH’s “How Long Items Remain in the Environment” picture shows aluminium cans remaining 200 years. In a seawater environment cans would not last five years

Reply to  Kip Hansen
October 15, 2020 1:29 am

yes, they breakdown into small plastic fragments which get eaten/absorbed by marine life (if that marine life hasn’t strangled from plastic or filled its gut with little bits of plastic and died)

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  griff
October 15, 2020 10:00 am

Since there aren’t hordes of dead marine life washing ashore all over the world, or even anywhere, due to plastic gut, I’m guessing this is a non-problem.

Reply to  Peter Fraser
October 17, 2020 3:44 am

We havent had aluminium cans for 200 years.

October 14, 2020 5:05 pm

…”Tell me lies
Tell me sweet little lies”…

October 14, 2020 8:19 pm

“Oops—where did that last bit come from? The “450 years that it takes standard plastic” to breakdown is a falsehood prominently promoted by NOAA.”

I do a lot of gardening, in pots. And I raise orchids.

Plastic pots, that is, plastic degrades quickly in sunlight.
There is a reason, commercial growers use black, brown and dark green pots. The colorant absorbs Ultraviolet light and slows the plastic degradation.

So instead of the plastic getting brittle within a year or two, it might take five to ten years.

Personally, I like clear plastic pots for my orchids so the roots also get light. Many orchids are epiphytes and exposed roots are normal.
Meaning that I have to purchase clear plastic pots with specially formulated UV protection in the plastic, or they only last one year at best.

Right now, those clear plastic pots purchased within five years are now getting brittle and I have to replace them. Remember, the plant pot companies are not in the business of making their pots last decades.

I sometimes use clear soda bottles. Drill, (or melt), some holes for drainage and clear 2L bottles make good plant starters for trees. Shame they don’t last for long, but they will make a year.
The 16 and 20 ounce clear bottles are good for starting tomatoes, peppers, whatever.

I did prefer the bottles with plastic support bottoms, but the bottles without that extra plastic bottom work almost as well.
Leave the plastic too long in the sun and one can literally crumble the plastic into dust.

I once read about some researchers were digging into a landfill to see how well things decomposed. They wrote several paragraphs about a somewhat fresh looking hotdog they found. The newspaper wrote a whole article mostly about that hotdog.
I’ll finish by pointing out that our local landfill installed vents and collectors. The landfill’s electrical needs are supplied by using collected landfill methane.

October 14, 2020 8:54 pm

Good article, Kip!

“One example is the new “corn-based plastic” – PLA or polylactide. …
In reality, they are actually just another form of polyester”

I had a friend who was a green nut. He got all excited about plant derived some epoxy he purchased and promises of plant derived plastic.

He didn’t take it well when I pointed out that all epoxies and plastics are derived from plants and animals.
No! No! No! he claimed.

Well, he had already purchased the plant derived epoxy at five times the cost of regular epoxy and had it at hand.
I suggested that he smell the epoxy. It smelled like epoxy.

I then asked if the epoxy had any health warnings, which it had in plenty.

I then told him about the first billiard ball replacement material for ivory; celluloid or cellulose nitrate.
A compound which happens to be cellulose based. i.e. Nitrated wood or cotton fiber.

Later, an American scientist developed a material which was produced by mixing camphor with nitrocellulose. The camphor dissolved the nitrocellulose, but also affected the structure of the product and performed as a plasticizer. This development was ultimately successful and became trademarked as Celluloid”

Since he didn’t get the point, I pointed out that converting plant products into resins and plastics commercially is not the green enterprise he was fantasizing. Same types of factories, same types of products, same smells and health dangers.

October 14, 2020 9:00 pm

These guys in Namibia, post videos every day of the seal rescues they do. They have cut fishing lines off of 500 seals so far. Not much weight in the plastic lines that injure the seals. Its their shape that is the downfall of the seal, they swim thru the loops and get caught.

October 15, 2020 5:06 am

This article attracted ad pitch for a reusable replacement for a cotton swab. I can’t wait for my physician switch and fight the scourge of disposable swabs. https://discover.lastobject.com/cotton-qtips-and-swabs

Reply to  Tmitsss
October 15, 2020 6:29 am

It’s bad enough wondering how “clean” the tools are at the dentist office or barber.
If the doctor comes at you with a used swab, why bother with hand washing or gloves.

October 15, 2020 9:10 am

Re: Compostable plastics. In the UK there are quite a number of plastic items that claim to be compostable at home. Many say they are made from potato starch. Examples include; bags for loose fruit & veg at the supermarket, clear windows in cardboard food boxes, bags for loose tea, mailing wrappers for magazines.

My understanding is that the manufacturers are supposed to have carried out tests to make sure that these will compost down withing 12 months in a home setting. As opposed to a commercial setting which will run at higher temperatures.

University College (part of London University) is carrying out a citizen science experiment to see if these items really do compost in a home setting within 12 months.

More details here: https://www.bigcompostexperiment.org.uk/

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