If you consider every plastic soda, water, or juice bottle you've ever used, you might assume that because the label says it's a recyclable bottle that the bottle itself is made of recycled plastic too. But this is hardly ever true.
Coca-Cola sources just 7% of its plastic from recycled materials, the company told BuzzFeed News.
Nestlé Waters North America said 6% of its bottles are made from recycled plastic. PepsiCo declined to share a percentage, saying only that it grew to 139 million pounds in 2015. A recent Greenpeace report found six of the largest soft drinks companies, excluding Coca-Cola, use a combined average of just 6.6% recycled plastic globally.
Rather than being recycled into new bottles, the vast majority of beverage bottles are exported to plastic manufacturers in emerging markets and used to make synthetic fabrics for clothing — demand has been helped along by the athleisure boom — as well as carpeting, bags, packaging, and straps for shipping boxes.
That means nearly every drink we buy is packaged in new plastic, a trend aided by the recent drop in oil prices — plastic is made from petroleum — making new plastic cheaper than recycled material. Environmentalists worry that for beverage companies, future growth relies on producing more disposable bottles that, in the current system, only feeds a growing volume of plastic junk across the world.