Embracing a more natural and sustainable life one step at a time
Bottled water and its burden on the planet
Bottled water and its burden on the planet
How many times have you been out running some errands or maybe having a nice day trip and suddenly you start feeling thirsty? I have certainly been in that situation. And when we are thirsty we really crave some water and quickly!
More often than no the quick fix to this basic need is to buy a bottle of pure pristine spring water which is conveniently available everywhere even vending machines.
These bottles which are often made of plastic not only cost way too much (more than we are even aware) they cause serious harm to the environment. Let’s explore some of this information in today’s post.
Let’s start facing the obvious, most bottled water comes in plastic. Majority are made of PolyEthylene Terephthalate (PET) or plastic #1, and similar to other plastic products (like plastic bags) require non-renewable resources (like oil and natural gas) to be produced, which means after we are done with the bottle, unless is recycled, these finite resources are gone forever.
Plastic bottle littering
Positive change has been happening, some companies are even starting to produce 100% recycled water bottles, but this seems to be more the exception than the norm.
Many of these bottles end up in landfill where they contaminate the environment for years and years as this plastic doesn’t biodegrade and only breaks down in smaller pieces (or micro-plastics) and continue polluting the environment. The story is not that different when these bottles reach the oceans killing animals and poisoning fish.
I like this short TED video, it gives you a clearer picture of what happens with these bottles once they are thrown away:
It would great if all these disposable water bottles were recycled but the reality is only a modest percentage seems to end up in the right bin. According to The Balance:
Every year, 2.4 million tons of PET plastic discarded in the U.S. and 26 percent to 41 percent of this is water bottles.
Additionally, these bottles require a lot of resources to be manufactured, once the PET plastic has been processed, the production of the bottle starts. These processes use massive amounts of energy to heat, blow and cool the product. This NatGeo video can give you an idea on how energy intensive these processes are.
The cap and extra packaging also need to be added into the equation. And it is not only energy, water is used in this process too, according to Pacific Institute the production of a bottle requires twice as much water than the content we are buying.
All this energy translates into CO2 released into the environment, Pacific Institute estimated that in 2006 more than 2.5 million tons of CO2 were released by the bottled water industry.
If we also consider the fact that these bottles have to be filled, transported around the world, to the warehouses and then to the stores to later be recycled or disposed the toll on the environment is very heavy.
The worst part is: we drink this water in a very short period of time, sometimes even minutes and then to the bin (best case scenario to the recycling one), all those resources are wasted at a very high rate. According to The Guardian:
A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute and the number will jump another 20% by 2021, creating an environmental crisis some campaigners predict will be as serious as climate change
Why do we buy it then? Are there alternatives?
In countries where is safe to drink tap water, I think these are the main reasons why we buy bottled water:
Fear of tap water/Don’t like the taste
Who haven’t heard news about excessive chlorine, heavy metals and many other unwanted elements in tap water? probably most of us, and many of these claims can be truth, but the reality is in most places (where this water safe to drink) tap water is tested and regulated.
Australia has its own Drinking Water Guidelines and here in Melbourne you can find a Water Quality Annual Report where you can see what’s going on in the different sources of water, the treatment processes they have undertaken and any added substances. It doesn’t mean the water is perfect but it is monitored and that’s a good thing.
On the other hand, when we see the marketing ads for bottled water they usually show us beautiful crystal clear spring water, untreated, pristine and of course way better than tap water, well, that doesn’t seem 100% accurate, according to Waterlogic Australia
Major bottled water companies get about 55% of their water from natural springs but the rest is essentially tap water that is treated in their plants and filtration systems.
Even recently a friend of mine shared this news with me: after studying 259 bottles from 19 locations in 9 countries across 11 different brands they found an average of 325 plastic particles for every litre of water being sold, twice as many plastic pieces compared with a similar study done previously on tap water.
When it comes to taste well that’s very subjective and it depends on where you live, but the bottom line is, bottled water is not necessarily always better than tap water.
If you don’t trust tap water you could get a good quality water filter at home, there are many options in the market. Some people additionally boil the water, I personally don’t like it that much but you can give it a go. Coming from Venezuela in South America, I am no stranger to boiled water, in Venezuela tap water is not safe and sometimes this process is the best available option.
If you don’t like the taste of tap water, in some cases chlorine is the culprit. It seems it helps letting the water sits overnight before drinking it because chlorine dissipates.
And sometimes it is a matter of challenging what you believe and be willing to try it. Watch this short ABC News clip to see why:
It doesn’t seem to be another option
How many times have you attended to an event and first thing they tell you before getting in is: empty your bottle! Agrr so frustrating! And often inside there are not water fountains to refill it and the only alternative is to buy bottled water/drinks.
Few weeks ago I went to a Bruno Mars concert and this time they sent me an email before hand saying I couldn’t even get in with an “empty bottle”, bottles of any kind were prohibited and inside they only provided drinks (even water) in paper cups with a plastic lid and of course a straw!
This is a common scenario when you go to the airport too, before passing the security check no liquids are allowed.
Airports nowadays are quite good. Yes, it is true you have to empty your bottle but once you are inside there are drinking water stations where you can refill the bottle or simply drink water from the fountain.
Judging by the amount of people I see buying bottled water in airports, I would say most people don’t know there are water fountains available. And if you have bought bottled water in an airport you know how ridiculously expensive it is. It is not only bad for the planet but also our pocket!
For other events unfortunately there is no way around. However you can send an email to the organiser/venue and confirm if they’ll offer a refill station inside and if not, suggest they give customers that option, the more people request it, the better the chances of getting one. A couple of months ago I went to another concert and to my surprise I found a water dispenser inside (“I should have asked” I thought!).
We are generally busy, rushing everywhere and the fact that bottled water is always there for us, it just seems to be the easiest choice. We don’t need to plan ahead or prepare in advance, if we are thirsty there is a always a bottle of water around to fix the problem.
This is a no-brainer: A reusable water bottle!
Several years ago we used to reuse plastic water bottles that for some reason we had bought, we had different sizes and kept using them on regular basis. One day we decided to stop after reading so many concerns about traces of BPA (chemical classified as an endocrine disruptor) in food/drinks stored in plastic, especially when heat is involved (like leaving your bottle inside the car).
For that reason our water bottles are all made from stainless steel and we love them!
Stainless steel water bottles
As everything carrying a water bottle with you all the time is a new habit to develop and at first is a bit hard to remember, but clues and repetition are key. At the beginning I always left the bottle near the keys or my hand bag, that was my reminder. After a while, it became so natural that nowadays I very rarely forget to bring water with me.
This is a great habit to develop because in my experience bringing my water bottle always translates in drinking more water. And let’s face it some days is just hard to drink a decent amount of water, so this to me is an added benefit (and also consider the money, we all know buying bottled water is very expensive)
The more people see us with our reusable bags and water bottles, the more normal those those things will become. Peer pressure works. We can use it for good or evil – Beth Terry
These days there are a couple of tools you can use to find places to refill your bottle. These are some of the main ones but check in your city what other initiatives you can find:
Refill App lists participating cafes, bars, restaurants, banks, museums and many business which are happy to refill your water bottle for free.
Canada and other locations:
Tap App similar to Refill they list participating businesses that are happy to refill your bottle.
Spread the word and let’s make these plastic water bottles something from the past! Tell me in the comments below: Do you still use plastic bottles on regular basis? If so Why? Or maybe you already use a reusable water bottle, Any tip?
These are my social media accounts for more tips about Green living
I am Diana. I write about my journey trying to live a greener lifestyle and how we collectively can make a difference revisiting our beliefs and daily habits, learning more about the environment and being an active participant.