You’re running late for work. You see your green ESF water bottle on the counter, but you grab a cold bottle of water out of the refrigerator instead. Maybe because it’s convenient to grab the bottle, twist the cap and go -- or maybe you prefer the taste of bottled water to that of the tap. Drinking water, whether it is from the tap or from a bottle, is important for hydration and is imperative to all living organisms. Though bottled water is tasty and convenient, it is damaging to our environment.
The Story of Bottled Water, released in March 2010, tells the story of the demand for bottled water in the United States. People in the U.S. buy more than half a billion bottles of water every week. The five-minute film investigates the bottled water industry’s attack on tap water that flows free from the faucet in every home. The film concludes with a call to action by viewers to avoid bottled water. The video and annotated script can be viewed via the Story of Stuff website.
The environmental effects of bottled water start with extraction and production processes where oil is used to make water bottles. Plastic water bottles are made of PET plastic, or polyethylene terephthalate, which is made from crude oil. According to the Story of Stuff, each year the making of plastic water bottles in the United States takes enough oil and energy to fuel over a million cars because of the amount of energy needed to produce the plastic. And according to the World Wide Fund for Nature, approximately 1.5 million tons of plastic are used to bottle 89 billion liters of water each year. That is just the beginning of the process.
According to the National Resources Defense Council, in 2006 approximately two billion half-liter bottles of water were shipped to the United States creating thousands of tons of air pollution. The Earth Policy Institute estimates that the energy used to pump, process, transport, and refrigerate bottled water is 50 million barrels of oil a year.
Though our bottled water comes from far away, most of the waste ends up close to home in local landfills. In 2005, two million tons of plastic water bottles ended up in landfills rather than being recycled, and according to the Container Recycling Institute, they take 450-1000 years to break down. Also, 4.4% of plastic ends up in water bodies and 40-60% end up as roadside litter.
In a report released by the Glass Packaging Institute, the use of plastic packaging has increased the volume of hazardous chemicals and waste in the environment; the chemicals released have been known to cause cancer and birth defects. For those of you who think you’re being ‘environmentally friendly’ by reusing your plastic bottles, you’re doing even more harm to your body. An article in National Geographic explains that if these plastic bottles are used more than once, they can leach chemicals such as DEHA, a human carcinogen, and BBP, a hormone disruptor.
So you may be asking yourself, is bottled water really better for you than tap water? Preconceived notions may tell you yes, but guess again. In the United States, tap water is federally regulated and screened for dangerous pollutants.
Divestment from the plastic water bottle industry is something you, as a consumer, can choose. A commitment to not purchase or drink bottled water starts with you. Often times, ‘pure glacial water’ or ‘spring’ water is just bottled tap water, so why not grab a glass, fill it with ice, and chug away? The environment is as necessary to our existence as water is, so take the extra step to separate our lives from the manufactured demand of plastic water bottles.