Beverage industry, TRUSU discuss plastic bottles

Devan C. Tasa, News Editor Ω

TRUSU elected members Leif Douglass, arts, science and education representative, and Dylan Robinson, VP external, present at TRU's beverage container review oral presentation March 27. - PHOTO BY DEVAN C. TASA

TRUSU elected members Leif Douglass, arts, science and education representative, and Dylan Robinson, VP external, present at TRU’s beverage container review oral presentation Feb. 27. – PHOTO BY DEVAN C. TASA

The students union wants plastic bottles to be banned on campus, while the bottling industry wants them to remain.

TRUSU and the Canadian Beverage Association (CBA) made an oral presentation to the university’s beverage container review chaired by Tom Owen, TRU’s director of sustainability, on Feb. 27 in the students union’s boardroom. Each presentation discussed at length the plastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles used commonly in campus vending machines.

“PET material in these bottles can be easily recycled and re-used to create new PET bottles or create other consumer goods,” said Brandon Ashmore, the CBA’s communications co-ordinator. “We believe any sort of ban or restriction against plastic beverage containers would be unproductive in reaching our shared goal of increasing recycling rates at TRU – and across Canada – and improve environmental sustainability.”

Ashmore told the review that there was a well-established system that was effective in recovering PET bottles for recycling. According to the 2011 annual report of Encorp Pacific, a non-profit that manages beverage container recycling, 75.8 per cent of all PET bottles are recovered.

He added that PET bottles are light, take up less room than other containers and are hard to break.

“This means you can have more bottles per truck and less spoilage, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by fitting more containers on the trucks that ship our beverages around,” Ashmore said.

The CBA presentation also compared PET bottles with glass containers and reusable stainless steel water bottles. Ashmore told the review that a PET bottle used 42 per cent less energy to produce than a glass one and that a steel water bottle, when the impacts of production, shipping and dishwashing after every use were calculated, would have to be used 80 times before it produced less carbon dioxide than a PET container.

“A typical PET container, its carbon footprint is about 122 grams of CO2, while a typical stainless steel container has a carbon footprint of 590 grams of CO2,” he said.

Aluminum cans weren’t compared in the presentation.

The students union presentation said petroleum needed to create PET and what happened after the bottle was recycled needed to be considered.

“We are confident that when these impacts are taken into account, TRU will find that disposable plastic containers are less sustainable than other viable options,” said Dylan Robinson, TRUSU’s vice-president external.

While the students union agrees 75.8 per cent of PET bottles are recovered in recycling, when a new PET bottle is produced, it says less than 30 per cent of it will be made of recycled PET material. The PET not reused in bottles is used for fibre in clothes, carpets and strapping material.

As for aluminum cans, around 50 per cent of the can is made of recycled aluminium. Aluminum is also more likely to be recovered. According to Encorp Pacific, the recovery rate is 83.9 per cent. For glass, the recovery rate is 93.3 per cent.

“The data is pretty clear, said Nathan Lane, TRUSU’s executive director. “Plastic is not recycled as much as other materials.”

Besides holding oral presentations, the TRU review will also be looking at the scientific literature.

After Owen has considered all of the information from the presentations and literature he has gathered, he’ll present his recommendations to the university’s president, vice-presidents and the board of governors by the end of April.

“My job is to get to the truth, not anything else,” Owen told both sides.