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Message from a Bottle

By Sustainability Office on November 7, 2013

By Breanna Giovanniello ’16

We were raised on bottled water. Plastic bottles came with us to little league games and packed in our elementary school lunch boxes. Nowadays they’re waiting for us in meetings or lectures and can be found in everyone’s cup holder at the gym. Disposable plastic water bottles are a phenomenon of our generation. We have grown accustomed to the convenience and choose to ignore the costs, while becoming skeptical of our faucets and water fountains for no reason. We have bought into the manufactured idea of bottled water that it is pure and healthy. This, unfortunately, is all wrong. We must reconsider these preconceptions of water that we’ve grown up with. In order to do so, we must understand where the water comes from, how it got here, and what happens to the bottle after consumption. After learning a bit about the plastic water bottle industry, you may choose to take carelessness out of the equation and then find it hard to purchase that next water bottle at the vending machine.

In order to comprehend the true harm of bottled water, we must trace it back to the beginning. When we think of plastic bottles harming the environment, we typically assume the most harm is done after our consumption. However, there is a great deal of damage done in the process of getting the bottle into our hands. Plastic bottles are a petroleum product and it takes roughly 151 billion liters of oil to produce these bottles every year. This is enough oil to run 500,000 cars for one whole year. Water is also exploited in this process. Worldwide, it takes about 272 billion liters of water a year just to make the empty plastic bottles. The water industry then uses a further 1.7 billion liters of oil to distribute the water bottles throughout the United States (Fishman). These statistics all seem a bit ridiculous for a bottle that you’ll consume within three minutes and simply throw away.

According to the Watershed project, 1500 plastic water bottles are consumed every second in the United States (Koetting). Stacked, this amount of bottles could reach the top of the Statue of Liberty over six and a half times. According to the International Bottled Water Association, Americans drink more than 73 billion half-liter bottles of water a year. This creates enough plastic waste to circle the globe more than 370 times. Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only 29 percent of PET bottles and jars were recycled in 2011. This means that 71 percent of those bottles circling the globe over 370 times contributed to the plastic trash clogging up landfills and polluting waterways. One plastic bottle will take more than 450 years to completely break down. This means that the plastic water bottle you drank at lunch will be in its last stages of decomposition 25 generations later. These plastic bottles devastate our environment, however the negative impact of these bottles hardly stops there.

Bottled water is not only bad for the environment, but for you as well. PET plastic is the plastic used to make water bottles. This PET plastic contains countless chemical additives and impurities. You drink your water out of a container that includes formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, antimony, and various other contaminants. This plastic leaches toxins into the water, which have been linked to health problems sure as reproductive issues and cancer. Manufacturers do not reveal ingredients in their packaging (for good reason) and the FDA doesn’t require it leaving us as consumers to wonder what we are actually drinking. Is that pure and healthy water bottle really as genuine as you thought?

So we are left uncertain about the plastic containing our water, how sure are we about the quality of the water in the bottle?  In 2008, the Environmental Working Group found 38 pollutants in 10 brands of bottled water. These included disinfection byproducts, bacteria, radioactivity, and even industrial chemicals. Two of the brands were even found to be indistinguishably similar to the water straight from the tap. While water utilities are required to test their water regularly and provide results to consumers yearly, the bottled water industry rarely discloses the results of contaminant testing it conducts. Bottled water is not held to any health standards proving tap to be the safer option.

While bottled water is appearing less attractive by the minute we must not forget to factor price into consideration. Bottled water costs 1,900 times the cost of tap water. This outrageous price may deceive consumers into believing that bottled water is purer when you have seen how it is, in fact, quite the opposite. We pay good money for a product we have always gotten, and can still get, for free from taps in our home. To get more for your money, invest in a water filter for your tap or a filtered pitcher.

Now that you are conscious of the environmental and health effects of plastic, informed of the quality of the water that is bottled, and aware of the inflated price, I hope you can see the obvious choice: tap water. In 2004, the recycling rate for all beverage containers was 33.5 percent. If it reached 80 percent, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions would be the equivalent of removing 2.4 million cars from the road for a year (Fishman). When you compare tap to bottled water, tap wins every time. Invest in a safer and more earth-friendly stainless steel, glass water bottle, or BPA-free and phthalate-free reusable plastic water bottle. Switching to tap will help the environment, better your health, and save you money! The initial switch to reusable bottles may seem inconvenient, but next time you reach for that bottle of Poland Spring you should ask yourself if your actions are really worth the impact they are about to leave behind.

 

Citations:

Claudio, Luz. “Plastics and the Environment.” SafeBottles. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Oct. 2013. <http://www.safebottles.co.nz/News/Plastics+and+the+Environment.html>

Fishman, Charles. “Message in a Bottle.” Fast Company. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Oct. 2013. <http://www.fastcompany.com/59971/message-bottle>.

Hogan, Chris. “U.S. Consumption of Bottled Water Shows Continued Growth, Increasing 6.2 Percent in 2012; Sales up 6.7 Percent.” International Bottled Water Association. IBWA, 25 Apr. 2013. Web. 2 Oct. 2013. <http://www.bottledwater.org/us-consumption-bottled-water-shows-continued-growth-increasing-62-percent-2012-sales-67-percent>.

Koetting, Sheri L.. “Watershed, a New MSLK Eco-Installation.” MSLK Reactions. MSLK, n.d. Web. 2 Oct. 2013. <http://mslk.com/reactions/watershed-a-new-mslk-eco-installation/>.

“No Waste Wednesday: Be Part of the Plastics Pollution Solution.” Environmental Working Group. EWG, 22 Sept. 2013. Web. 2 Oct. 2013. <http://www.ewg.org/research/ewgs-water-week/no-waste-wednesday-be-part-plastics-pollution-solution>.

“The US Consumes 1500 Plastic Water Bottles Every Second, a fact by Watershed : TreeHugger.” TreeHugger | Your source for green design & living news, commentary and advice. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Oct. 2013. <http://www.treehugger.com/clean-water/the-us-consumes-1500-plastic-water-bottles-every-second-a-fact-by-watershed.html>.


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