By Ben Schick ’17
This summer I was walking with a few friends along the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) canal that borders the Potomac River. Being from Potomac, Maryland, I have enjoyed the perks of living with a National Historic Park basically in my backyard for my entire life. The beauty of the Potomac River and the wildlife that freely inhabits the surrounding territory consistently drew my friends, family and myself to the canal during the Spring, Summer and Fall.
After finishing a trek along the Billy Goat Trail this summer, I was walking along the canal and noticed an alarming sight that I never seen in the canal. At one of the locks, or blockages where water is allowed to continue down the canal in small amounts, there was a large buildup of plastic water bottles. As I walked father along the canal, I noticed the same buildup of plastic water bottles at another lock. It struck me as surprising and sad that in an environment as protected and beautiful as a National Historic Park there could be a buildup of harmful plastic. When I got home later that night, the sad feeling I had earlier in the day turned into a slight outrage at how this could possibly happen in a place that is meant to preserve wildlife and allow people to appreciate nature. I decided to do some research to find out why people use plastic water bottles and the negative effects these bottles have on the environment.
Ever since plastic was first mass-produced in the 1950’s, humans have come to rely on plastics as an integral part of their daily lives. Plastics have brought about many societal, medical and technological advances that have helped shape the world that we live in today. (Jstor2)
Although plastic water bottles are seemingly more convenient and safer than tap water, they pose numerous negative effects on the environment. In 2006, Americans consumed 36 billion bottles of water. It is estimated that the creation of the plastic water bottles required 17 million barrels of oil, produced 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide and required an additional two liters of water for the production of every one liter bottle of water. These numbers do not include the energy required to transport the bottled water across the globe, and they are already incredibly high.
In addition to using vital resources in its production, bottled water poses catastrophic repercussions on the environment if disposed of improperly. Plastics that get into ecosystems entangle organisms and can limit their mobility to the point of death. Organisms also ingest small pieces of the plastic water bottles and die. In addition, chemicals that are used on plastic water bottles can get into the environment and have negative repercussions on both animal and human health. (Jstor2, Jstor1, Pacific Institute)
Reducing the negative effects of disposable plastic water bottles has a simple solution: drink tap water. Tap water tastes good, is easily accessible for most Americans, and costs next to nothing to drink. Constantly consuming plastic water bottles requires trips to the super market and costs money for every purchase. Drinking tap water requires no trips to the super market and only requires one purchase of a reusable water bottle. The switch to a reusable water bottle is easy to make and enables you to help the environment in a small but powerful way. It’s the small things that count.
- (jstor1) http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/29783716?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=plastic&searchText=water&searchText=bottles&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dplastic%2Bwater%2Bbottles%26amp%3Bprq%3Dplastic%2Bwatter%2Bbottles%26amp%3Bhp%3D25%26amp%3Bacc%3Don%26amp%3Bwc%3Doff%26amp%3Bfc%3Doff%26amp%3Bso%3Drel
- (jstor2) http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/40485988?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=plastic&searchText=environment&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dplastic%2Benvironment%26amp%3Bprq%3D%26amp%3Bhp%3D25%26amp%3Bacc%3Don%26amp%3Bwc%3Doff%26amp%3Bfc%3Doff%26amp%3Bso%3Drel
- (Pacific Institute) http://pacinst.org/publication/bottled-water-and-energy-a-fact-sheet/