Environmental Awareness Leading to Environmental Change
By: Rachel Knight
Everyone knows how important it is to stay hydrated and drink water constantly, however many of us don’t think before we drink. I’m sure all of us, myself included, can admit to purchasing, drinking and reusing plastic water bottles. I have known for quite some time that plastic water bottles are “bad” but after doing some real research, I have found that water bottles aren’t only bad but they are capable of slowly killing us, ecosystems, animals, and ultimately our planet.
Plastic water bottles became popular for multiple reasons, some of the most significant ones including the fact that they are portable and convenient. You buy it, drink it, and then throw it away when you’re done. You don’t have to cart it around or wash it you just toss it. Sometimes you may reuse it because it’s convenient for you, but what its not convenient for is the quality of the water your placing in the bottle and then drinking. Plastic water bottle companies and marketing groups have convinced the public that bottled water is a better alternative to tap water because its cleaner, tastier and healthier for you. As a result, the average American consumers about 167 bottles of water each year.
Let’s Get Technical; Plastic Bottles are made of what?
Most plastic water bottles are made of #1 PET/PETE (polyethylene terephthalate). Studies are constantly done on this use of plastic and results are controversial. Some believe PET is the safest choice, while others claim the use of this plastic allows DEHA (a known carcinogen) to leach itself to the water within the bottle.
If you use plastic water bottles on the daily, and you don’t plan to stop using them anytime soon, at least learn to purchase and use the safest ones. When you purchase water bottles take a look at the recycling emblem found on the label of the bottle. Located right next to it will be a number, telling you what kind of plastic the bottle is made of.
The safest include: #2 HDPE (high density polyethylene- PET) or a #4 LDPE (Low density polyethylene-PET), or a #5 PP ( polypropylene) water bottle. If your bottle has a #1, which is by far the most common plastic used to make water bottles, it is meant for one time use only. DO NOT REFILL IT, or you will be drinking toxins.
Stay Away from BPA!
Additionally plastics numbered 3,6 or 7 are even worse than #1. This is because 3,6, and 7’s have been found to contain Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that mimics the female hormone estrogen and may have detrimental effects including cancer of the brain, breasts, and prostrate. The chemical BPA has also been linked to neurological problems in fetuses and behavioral problems in children, problems with immune systems of adults and the female reproductive system.
Plastic and Personal Health
Bottled water may seem purer and cleaner than tap water it but its not! All water must be tested and meet specific standards in order to be deemed “ safe”. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) actually has stricter rules for tap water than for bottled. Additionally, tap water is tested much more often. The Natural Resources Defense Council conducted a four-year study concerning the quality of drinking water and the FDAs role in safe production. It was found that of the 70% of bottled water produced and sold within the United States, 60% is exempt from having to meet agency bottled water standards. It was also discovered that roughly 22% of the water that was tested contained contaminant levels that exceeded strict state health limits.
Additionally, according to National Geographic, one study found that bottled water contained hormone-disrupting phthalates, which had leached into bottled water that had been stored for ten weeks! When we go to the store and buy a pack of water bottles, or run into the gas station to buy a bottle we think they are fresh and new. However, you must remember that water bottles can sit for months at a time in storage and in shipping. By the time you drink the water, it could have been sitting in the bottle for months, it could have been stored in hot areas that caused parts of the plastic to melt and contaminate the water with toxins.
Plastic Bottles and its Environmental Impact
Not only are plastic water bottles bad for you and me, but they are absolutely horrible for the environment. Plastic has the inability to biodegrade, meaning it does not break down as other materials do. Plastic can take up to 700 YEARS to begin decomposing. Due to the slow decay rate of plastic, the majority of all plastic products ever produced still exist somewhere today. According to the Container Recycling Institute 4 out of 5 bottles end up in landfills, and 86% of the bottles used in the United States become garbage or litter (aka never recycled or reused). The essay, “The Real Cost of Bottle Water” reports that more than one billion plastic water bottles end up in California trash each year alone.
You may think, “ well at least the plastic bottles are all sitting in a landfill where garbage belongs” but you are wrong. All garbage put into a landfill eventually is moved, burned, destroyed, etc. but plastic isn’t so easily destroyed. When landfills incinerate plastic bottles, toxins are released from the burning, melting plastic including chlorine gas and ash, which contain heavy metals. Some bottles are also never burned, but become buried deep in landfills and can take up to 1,000 years to decompose completely. Lastly, plastic bottles that do just sit in landfills leak toxic additives into our very own ground water as they eventually begin to break down.
1 out of 5 bottles that don’t make it to the landfill end up in waterways and eventually into our oceans. Currently, in the Pacific Ocean there is a floating patch of garbage the size of Texas. This huge amount of plastic waste in our ocean has caused mass devastation to marine life. Birds and other marine animals die when they mistake our garbage for food.
Another factor affecting the environment is the production of plastic water bottles and the accumulation of water used. Most bottled water plants are located in the middle of nowhere, which means when they are ready for transport a horrendous amount of fossil fuels are burned. Even worse, about a fourth of our bottled water comes from across national borders, emitting even more fossil fuels as they are transported to us.
The communities surrounding these plants are also greatly affected. When the plants extract water from surrounding areas the communities suffer disproportionate loss to their own water supply. For example, there are detrimental water shortages in Texas and Great Lake regions, both areas where bottled water plants exist. Pumping water and taking water disrupts ecosystems as well. Many of these plants suck water from underground aquifers, which serve as water sources for near by streams, wells, and farms.
If that isn’t enough to convince you of plastic and environmental impacts, think about this: Over 1.5 million tons of plastic goes into manufacturing plastic bottles for the global market. Through production and creation of each bottle, toxins are released into the air including nickel and ethyl benzene.
What a Waste!
40% of the bottled water we drink comes from municipal tap water (yes even ones with labels that state they use “spring water”), which means we are wasting money and resources to buy water we can just drink from our own faucets. Additionally, according to the Earth Policy Institute 1.5 million barrels of oil are used to make plastic bottles (that’s enough to fuel 100,000 cars for an entire year!). Oil is used because the plastic used, PET, derives from crude oil.
The National Resources Defense Council states that consumers spend 240 to 10,000 times more per gallon for bottled water then they typically do for tap; 90% of the price of a bottle of water is for the bottle alone. It has also been found that the price of one case of bottled water could supply a person in Africa with clean, safe, drinking water for five years.
So let’s get this straight. Not only do we pay more money for bottled water that is just as good as our tap water, but we also are using up ridiculous amounts of oil to produce them as well as energy sources to transport them around the country. And after we spend the money to buy tap water put in plastic bottles, we throw the bottles away. And even if we are considerate enough to toss it into the recycling, only about 13% of plastic ends up in recycling streams (used for fleece clothing, carpeting, decking, playground equipment, new containers, or bottles).
Solutions to Plastic Pandemonium
The best thing any of us can do is to stop drinking, purchasing and using plastic water bottles. If you don’t like the taste of tap water or you’re unsure of the quality of your tap water consider investing in a filter pitcher or a faucet filter, which will remove any trace chemicals or bacteria. The average cost of a water filter is about $0.13 per gallon compared to $1.27 for bottled water. Another great alternative is to purchase re-usable and recyclable stainless steel bottles, which can be found almost anywhere. Some brands that are highly rated include the “EcoCanteen”, “KleanKanteen”, and “Sigg”.
Another way you can help is to be smart when you do purchase bottled water. Look at the label and try and see if it tells you where the water is coming from. Then see what you can find out about the environment quality of the water and the environmental impact of pumping. If it seems fishy or not environmental friendly avoid purchasing products from that particular brand.