End coloured drinks bottles to help save seas, says scientist

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Colourful plastic drinks bottles should be abolished, a Devon scientist says.

Richard Thompson, professor of marine biology at Plymouth University, is calling on industry to rethink the design of plastic bottles to stop them ending up in the sea.

And he wants drinks bottles to be made out of clear plastic, which is five times as valuable to recycling companies as pigmented bottles are.

“The irony is that if most of these materials were better designed, they could be better recycled. We need to change the way we do this.”

Most drinks bottles are made out of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which makes up 7% of the plastics produced in Europe, and 40% of the single-yuse plastic.

It’s not enough for people to recycle, Prof Thompson said. Unless the product itself is correctly designed, there is a good chance it will end up in landfill or an incinerator – or the sea.

Thousands of tonnes of plastics find their way into the ocean where they break up into ever smaller pieces and can be swallowed by marine animals.

The plastic eventually works its way up the food chain until it ends up on our dinner plates.

Professor Thompson briefed science journalists in London on plastics and microplastics last week.

He said he had been speaking to trade organisations, suggesting that they introduce a code of good practice, along with labelling on bottles to alert consumers to the difference between clear and coloured plastics.

The Japanese are already ahead of European manufacturers.

“Some brands which come in green bottles here are in clear bottles in Japan,” Prof Thompson said. “Recycling rates are up there, and they have proved it can be done.

“Bottles are coloured mainly for marketing reasons. Only beer needs to be in a coloured bottle, to protect it from light.

“We have had 60 years of a throwaway society, and 60 years to condition ourselves,” he said. “It’s hard to break the habits of a lifetime.”

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