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Is Buying Recycled Plastic Eco-Friendly?

How To Recycle the Right Way

Last Updated on April 9, 2020

I have been getting some amazing questions from readers. This past week Meaghan emailed in with a question about recycled plastic.

“Even though I rarely purchase bottled water anymore, there’s a bottled water company that I still find myself purchasing from once in a while.

They’re probably the most ethical bottled water company to exist.

They donate a portion of their profits to water charities, they have sustainable practices in how they obtain their water, they have shipping policies that reduce their carbon footprint, and they only use recycled plastic for their bottles.

They’re not the only company I’ve come across lately that have good business practices, but use recycled plastic for their products. 

My question is, am I doing the right thing by supporting companies that only use recycled plastics? By buying from them, am I showing that there is a demand for recycled plastic, which would help increase the commodity price, and in turn make it more worthwhile for recycling companies?

Or by supporting them, am I just increasing the demand for plastic in general?

I’ve tried to research this myself, but I’m having trouble finding concrete answers. I was just curious what a fellow zero-waster’s opinion on this was.” 

This is a question I’ve also asked myself, and honestly there aren’t going to be any concrete answers. This is one of those very gray situations similar to the question about recycling Michael asked a couple of weeks ago. 

Now, I know this isn’t the question, but I’m really curious which company uses 100% recycled plastic for their bottles? I’ve been looking online, and I’m going to assume it’s Nika Water? 

I couldn’t find anything stating where they source their water, but if all of their information is true they seem like a really good company to support. 

According to the website they donate all of their profits which is certainly a noble cause. 

Bottled water in itself is not evil or bad. We really need bottled water in times of crisis, the problem is when it becomes an everyday accessory. 

I also don’t think plastic is bad. Plastic is amazing and has allowed us to make a lot of advancements as a society. The problem is how we’re using it. A material designed to last forever, shouldn’t be used for items that last only seconds. 

Obviously the best thing to do is to have your own bottle with you and then pop into a cafe, restaurant, or gas station to have it filled when you’re out. 

But, if that weren’t an option, I’d say supporting a company like this is a good thing. It’s much better than supporting Nestle. 

I also want to talk about this question at the larger scale. It is always better to buy products made with recycled plastic. 

Are you increasing the demand for plastic overall? Yes. 

But, you’re also increasing the demand for recycled plastic which is an important part of recycling. Are you really recycling if you don’t support companies that are making products from recycled materials? 

Right now the demand for recycled plastic is low like really, really low. 

Creating a demand in the US for recycled plastic might be able to help with the current recycling ban imposed by China. 

Environmental issues aside, plastic isn’t great for our health. I’m curious if the plastic is still a pure HDPE or LDPE or if it’s mixed? 

Most recycled plastics are mixed, plastic number 7, after they’re recycled, making them pretty much impossible to recycle. 

It’s a tough question to answer, that can really only be determined in a case by case basis. You have to go with the best solution in the moment. 

Being educated on the issues to make an informed decision is 90% of the battle. It sounds like you’re already there! 

On whole, I’d say recycled plastic is definitely better than virgin plastic. 

What do you think? Do you agree with me? 

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  1. I am still quite puzzled how most countries don’t have a Bottle returning system. In Finland (and Scandinavian countries) most bottled drinks have a tag that tells you if you return it to the store you get a deposit back (around 10-40 cents per bottle, depends on the size of it). All the crocery stores have a machine where you can return all the glass, plastic and aluminum cans and bottles. Then they get picked up and recycled. Over 90% of the returned bottles and cans get repurposed. Also the companies who add their products to the system get tax reliefs.
    I found this website in English to explain the system in more detail. Anyway I haven’t come across any better drinking bottle recycling system so far. In Finland I wouldn’t feel too bad buying a (plastic) bottled drinks. Still I usually choose not to buy bottled water here because the tap water is as fresh as can be.

      1. We have this in Michigan, and it always confuses me how other states don’t. It’s not perfect, since right now there is only a deposit for soda (not bottled water, tea, sparkling water or other beverages), but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t return their bottles or cans for their deposit back!

        1. As a kid I was confused by this. soda cans would have the information to return, but only if you lived in certain states. I wish my state had this system.

  2. I use bottled water for my infant’s formula. I through a case every two weeks. I recycle every bottle but this article inspires me to find a brand that uses recycled plastic.

    1. Most bottled water is just tap with lower regulations. I popped over to your blog and saw that you live in West Palm Beach. Here’s the report for you tap water.;?lang=en-US you should feel really confident just filtering your water. Berkey is an amazing water filter system, and will probably pay for itself after a couple of months. Just something to look into!

    2. You could try buying in glass or even better just filtering your tap water as it is probably completely safe (dependant on where you live of course) but the filtering often makes it taste better.

  3. What about clothes or other goods made from recycled plastic? I’m thinking of shoes a friend loved and recommended and I’m now seeing all over Facebook—Rothy’s. They seem super cute, and if they are also durable i might be tempted to purchase a pair…

    1. Great question! There are two problems with clothing made from recycled plastic, it shedding in the washing machine causing micro-plastic pollution, and that it’s not breathable. I got a pair of Rothy’s because I wasn’t planning on washing them in the washing machine, but man your feet cannot breathe. Of course, breathability is a personal preference.

  4. I would say if the choice is between that and say nestlé (bad business practises and virgin plastic) then yes. But we have to be careful of justifying our use of plastics or other harmful products just because they have been improved. For example, my local ice cream parlour just starting offering pints in compostable containers. I was over the moon and was getting a pint every week (sometimes more than once a week 🙂 shhhhh….). But I realized one day that I was still wasting materials as making that compostable material was very energy intensive and I was actually wasting MORE than if it had been in plastic because of the amount I was buying. So it is a very slippery slope. Don’t let it justify purchases you would have previously not made! Now I am back to just getting a cone every once and a while or if I need it for a recipe or something (I eat their vegan flavours most of the time BTW) I will ask them to put it in my own pint sized container. 🙂

    Hope this helps!

    1. That’s why upfront I said the best thing is to not use it at all, but we’re not going to be perfect all the time. So, it’s better to be aware of better options than just say "don’t do it."

  5. Recycling plastic when possible helps me feel better but I still don’t think it’s a good thing to buy plastic items where it can be avoided (bottled water for example). Sometimes I just wanna collect all the plastic packaged items I have bought in a month and send them back to the manufacturing companies that made them. especially cigs thrown on the streets. Send em a note and tell them to recycle what they’ve so easily and profusely put out.

    1. Do it! Make a statement send it back. Complain. Raise your voice – it’s not only an individual problem, it’s a problem for policy makers and companies too. Make your voice heard.

  6. I see that you’ve touched on the recycled plastic #7 going no further in the recycling process. I have not done any research but have heard this case stated. If you are going to consume plastic, apparently hard plastic is the best kind and most valuable for the recycling plants. However, as it gets recycled into other products I believe the quality degrades each time and eventually you are left with plastic destined for landfills or worse, in our rivers, lakes and oceans. I believe the solution is to consume as little as possible! Me and my partner have been 95% plastic free for nearly five months now. Still can’t find bottles of castille soap that’s not in plastic, any suggestions? You should cover an issue on hemp materials (over 5000 products), it seems to be a miracle plant, which hasn’t been ubiquitous since the 1960’s, any guesses why 😉 I like your blog!

    1. Congrats on being plastic free for 5 months! Yeah, castile soap is tricky, you can refill it from the gallon jugs at co-ops, but those jugs aren’t sent back to the company for refill, they’re just recycled. So, I’ve started buying the gallon jugs like the bulk store. I haven’t done a ton of research on hemp plastics, but that goes all the way back to Hearst and the cotton industry. 😉

  7. "Auara" is Spanish brand of bottled water that used 100% recicled PET and sources its water responsible. It donates all the profits to projects for making water available to everyone, in the bottle there’s a QR code that let you know these projects and it even has braille text for blind people.
    I don’t buy it because I don’t need to, but if/when I’d need to buy bottle water I’d certainly look for this brand.

  8. I just don’t buy plastic, recycled or not. I have been only using glass or wood, coconut shell kitchen ware, toothbrushes made from coconut shells.

  9. So confusing. I recently learned Patagonia uses recycled plastic bags to package their clothes before shipping. It feels icky to have to use plastic at all when it seems unnecessary but better recycled than not? We might as well continue to reuse the resources we’ve already produced

  10. I believe buying plastic products made from recycled plastic beats any plastic related issue, as long as there aren’t any big drawbacks of it.

  11. Hello,

    I know I am late to this discussion, but wanted to add my two cents. I totally agree that avoiding plastics is best, but in today’s society it is very hard to cut out plastic completely, though totally do-able as evidenced by inspiring zero wasters like Kathryn.

    One thought to consider is more than nine billion metric tons of plastic has been produced since 1950, the weight equivalent of 27,000 Empire State Buildings or more than a billion elephants (according to PBS News Hour and Roland Geyer at UC Santa Barbara). That plastic isn’t going anywhere for 400 years, so in theory, it’d be better to use it if there are environmentally appropriate ways for that.

    I think building demand for recycled plastic is a good thing, in concert w/ cutting out plastic where you can.

    Our family has been trying to live with only recycled plastic for the last few year, while also cutting it out as much as we can too. Zero waste aspirations, but recycled plastic on the way 😉