IELTS Listening Online – Sample 11

Listen to the video and complete the summary below.

Then, scroll to the bottom of the page for the answers and a transcript of the recording.

The lifecycle of a plastic bottle

Complete the summary below.


Plastic bottles begin their life in an 1 ……………….. . Chemical processes create plastic pellets which manufacturers 2 ……………….. and form into the bottles. These are then filled with fizzy pop and sold. The liquid is drunk and the bottles are 3 ……………….. .

The first bottle goes to landfill where it can take 4 ……………….. years to decompose. The second bottle ends up in the ocean. Plastic particles are often eaten by marine creatures and this results in toxins being passed up the 5 ………………..

The third bottle is sent for recycling where it is turned into a 6 ……………….. that can be used to make new products.

Answers & transcript

Scroll down for the answers and recording transcript.


1.  oil refinery

2.  melt

3.  discarded

4.  1,000

5.  foodchain

6.  raw material


The lifecycle of a plastic bottle

This is the story of three plastic bottles, empty and discarded. Their journeys are about to diverge with outcomes that impact nothing less than the fate of the planet. But they weren't always this way.

To understand where these bottles end up, we must first explore their origins. The heroes of our story were conceived in this oil refinery. The plastic in their bodies was formed by chemically bonding oil and gas molecules together to make monomers. In turn, these monomers were bonded into long polymer chains to make plastic in the form of millions of pellets. Those were melted at manufacturing plants and reformed in moulds to create the resilient material that makes up the triplets' bodies.

Machines filled the bottles with sweet bubbly liquid and they were then wrapped, shipped, bought, opened, consumed and unceremoniously discarded. And now here they lie, poised at the edge of the unknown. Bottle one, like hundreds of millions of tons of his plastic brethren, ends up in a landfill. This huge dump expands each day as more trash comes in and continues to take up space. As plastics sit there being compressed amongst layers of other junk, rainwater flows through the waste and absorbs the water-soluble compounds it contains, and some of those are highly toxic. Together, they create a harmful stew called leachate, which can move into groundwater, soil and streams, poisoning ecosystems and harming wildlife. It can take bottle one an agonising 1,000 years to decompose.

Bottle two's journey is stranger but, unfortunately, no happier. He floats on a trickle that reaches a stream, a stream that flows into a river, and a river that reaches the ocean. After months lost at sea, he's slowly drawn into a massive vortex, where trash accumulates, a place known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Here the ocean's currents have trapped millions of pieces of plastic debris. This is one of five plastic-filled gyres in the world's seas. Places where the pollutants turn the water into a cloudy plastic soup.

Some animals, like seabirds, get entangled in the mess. They, and others, mistake the brightly coloured plastic bits for food. Plastic makes them feel full when they're not, so they starve to death and pass the toxins from the plastic up the food chain. For example, it's eaten by lanternfish, the lanternfish are eaten by squid, the squid are eaten by tuna, and the tuna are eaten by us. And most plastics don't biodegrade, which means they're destined to break down into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics, which might rotate in the sea eternally.

But bottle three is spared the cruel purgatories of his brothers. A truck brings him to a plant where he and his companions are squeezed flat and compressed into a block. Okay, this sounds pretty bad, too, but hang in there. It gets better. The blocks are shredded into tiny pieces, which are washed and melted, so they become the raw materials that can be used again. As if by magic, bottle three is now ready to be reborn as something completely new. For this bit of plastic with such humble origins, suddenly the sky is the limit.

Source: TED Ed – Created by Emma Bryce

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More IELTS Listening Practice Samples

Here are a few examples of the many practice activities I've created:

Sample 1 – The science of cotton

Sample 2 – Why perfect grades don’t matter

Sample 3 – The loathsome, lethal mosquito

Sample 4 – Will there ever be a mile-high skyscraper?

Sample 5 – The history of African-American social dance

Sample 6 – Families - The generation gap

Sample 7 – Greeting the world in peace

Sample 8 – How cigarettes affect the body

Sample 9 – How do oceans currents work?

Sample 10 – How to make red lentil fritters

To see the full list of practice samples, click this link:

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