PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic bottles have come to the forefront of our consciousness lately for two reasons – we are casually covering the surface of our planet with them in landfills even though it takes 700 years for them to start to decompose, and we are increasing the possibility of health issues by consuming water stored in them. Only one in five plastic water bottles are ultimately recycled, resulting in the rest traveling to the landfills. Why is this happening?
The environmental and health issues associated with the production and use of plastic bottles deserve our attention. Sales of bottled water, driven by intensive marketing campaigns from big players like Coca-Cola (Dasani), Pepsi (Aquafina) and Nestle, increased at a rate of 8.9 percent last year. This year Americans will spend a staggering 16 billon dollars on bottled water. We should also note that tap water can have off tastes and odors while still being healthy, so taste is another reason for the success of bottled water in the US.
The numbers are unbelievable – each year we put 38 billion plastic water bottles into landfills, and the number is growing. That is 38 billon with a "B"! And with a half-life (half the time it takes a plastic bottle to decompose completely) of up to 1,000 years, these bottles aren't going to just go away in our lifetimes, or those of our kids, or even those of our grandchildren.
Let's look at these key questions:
1) Do we really need to buy bottled water? Well, only if we believe what we are told in the marketing campaigns. The US is the largest bottled water market in the world, but are we getting what we are paying for? Numerous studies over the past decade have compared tap water to bottled and found no difference, or in the case of this recent study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) the findings suggest that tap water can actually be better in quality! [http://www.ewg.org/reports/bottledwater]. So the level of necessity depends on your tolerance for the alternatives – Drink tap water; get your water from flavored beverages; or filter your water at home with a quality whole-house or under counter system.
2) Do plastic water bottles pose a health concern? This is a controversial topic. However, it is a fact that bisphenol A (BPA), a common plastic binder found in many polycarbonate bottles, is making its way into our bodies. In 2003 and 2004, studies by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found BPA in the urine of 93% of children and adults tested. BPA mimics estrogens in the human bloodstream and studies on animals have demonstrated developmental toxicity, carcinogenic effects, and possible neurotoxicity at low doses. The amounts found recently in humans are higher than those in the animals tested by the CDC. This is enough to convince me that plastic water bottles are something we should try to avoid in our search for longevity.
We'll save the discussions of the energy required to make water bottles in the US for another time. The bottling industry uses the equivalent of nearly 100 million barrels of oil each year, excluding transportation, in bottle production. And it should be disconcerting that manufacturing plastic bottles causes greenhouse emissions and wastes about three liters of water to produce one liter of bottled water.
The Bottom Line: How can we stem the tide of plastic?
We can choose to take simple steps to reduce the problems plastic bottles create for our planet and the Human Race.
Step One: Reduce your use of bottles by purchasing a reliable filter and reusable stainless or non-leaching
plastic bottles, or just drink from the tap if the taste does not bother you.
Step Two: When you do use a plastic bottle, RECYCLE IT.
A bit of perspective: If we can affect the outcome of American Idol or Dancing with the Stars by simply texting a few numbers, can't we make a difference by choosing to reduce our reliance on plastic bottles and recycling them when we do use them?
See you at the recycling center – our planet and health for generations to come depend on it.