If you ever want a sure way to rile me up, you have two safe bets for conversation topics: politics and water bottles. Thankfully, we won't be talking about politics here... but buckle in because curbing (and hopefully one day eliminating) the destructive habit of single-use plastic water bottles brings out all kinds of passion in me!
I often ask myself how we got to the point where we know water bottles are harmful to both the environment and us, yet we continue drinking water out of a container one time and then disposing of it? 1,500 plastic water bottles are being used every second in the United States alone and our country is the biggest bottled water market in the world. Clearly some general knowledge about why we shouldn't be using water bottles isn't doing much. I seems to me there are three culprits behind people continuing to choose single-use plastic over reusables:
The most clever marketing strategy ever. Seriously, the person behind water bottle marketing should get an award - not a good one, but an award nonetheless.
Convenience and the feeling that there aren't enough reusable options to suit different needs
Lack of knowledge about really how much of a lose-lose-LOSE habit it is
Unfortunately, there's nothing Mother Daughter Earth can do about #1. The clever marketing has been done and has created a multibillion dollar industry. Instead, we want to talk about reframing convenience and show you how many different options and alternatives there are to water bottles for all kinds of events and situations. We're also taking no prisoners and giving you the hard facts about water bottles you may not have heard of before. The bucket of sand in which many of us have been sticking our heads will be removed (and poured out on a lovely beach to hang out with other sand that has most likely seen many a water bottle litter its shores).
Good news, you've got options!
I had a gathering at my home and someone offered to bring water bottles. I politely answered that would not be necessary seeing as though I have glasses, running tap water, and even a Brita water filter that everyone is welcome to use. When we think of reusable water containers, it seems that most people only conjure up an image of a an individual-sized bottle that you would take on a hike or to the gym, but there's so much more!
I sometimes hear that it's just easier to grab a plastic water bottle and it doesn't require any planning ahead. I'd have to disagree! How much planning do you do over a lifetime of having to go buy those water bottles at the store every time you run out? I only have to purchase my reusable supplies once, and they're always perched and ready to go whenever I need them.
We wanted to give you a little inspiration and show you a range of options, so here's what we found in just one trip to Target. Of course, there's way more out there! Whether you're having a few people over to your home, are in charge of hydration at your kid's soccer game, or outside for a long day of gardening, there are so many options and something that's right for every occasion!
The hard truth: how much is sacrificed for our water bottle habit?
You may have thought that plastic littering our oceans is the only major issue with using water bottles. Plus, you recycle all of them so shouldn't you be in the clear? I'm sorry to say, but absolutely not! Litter is by no means the whole story when it comes to water bottles' harmful effects on the environment, and a big part of the damage happens before the bottles even reach the store shelves.
Plastic is a petroleum-based product, and the EPA estimates that the production of plastic products account for an estimated 8% of global oil production. According to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, drilling of oil and processing it into plastic releases harmful gas emissions into the environment including carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, ozone, benzene, and methane (a greenhouse gas that causes a greater warming effect than carbon dioxide). I want to highlight this last bit about methane and greenhouse gasses - it's important to remember that the production of plastic water bottles is contributing to climate change just like coal-fired power plants or gasoline cars.
Creating one plastic water bottle requires three times the amount of water needed to fill it. It's not just water that's being wasted, the water bottle manufacturing process is also extremely energy intensive and when you compare it to the energy required to provide you with the same amount of tap water, it's about 2000 times higher. Here's another mental image to visualize the resources that go into producing water bottles: if a quarter of a single-use plastic water bottle were filled with oil, that represents how much fossil fuel is required to produce it. So, a quarter of a bottle of oil and three bottles of water are needed to produce a product that we'll use one time and throw away... in what world does that seem smart?!
Recycling your water bottles doesn't fix the problem. Although recycling is very important and always preferred over sending something to the landfill, saying no to plastic water bottles to begin with is what we have to strive for. Just because you might be sending something to be recycled and reused as something else, doesn't mean we should skip step #1 which comes before recycling: reduce! Reduce, reuse, and then recycle!
The extent of water bottle waste
Water bottle waste and the littering it causes is the issue that many of us are most familiar with, but we would like to believe that people just don't know the extent of the problem yet. Here are some quick facts that will hopefully bring some clarity to just how bad the plastic waste problem is.
Sixty million plastic bottles are disposed of in one day in the Unites States alone with 80% of those bottles ending up overflowing landfills.
Each plastic bottle can take up to 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill.
The 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch' that we've all heard about (to which the plastic water bottle is a large contributor) is a massive floating island of plastic, now 3 times the size of France. According to a study published in Scientific Reports, this trash island contains at least 79,000 tons of discarded plastic, covering an area of about 617,800 square miles.
The concept of "throwing something away" is false -- your trash isn't going away, it's just going somewhere else. In the case of your plastic water bottle, that's the ocean or landfill for 1,000 years.
Do you actually know the quality of your bottled water?
Many people I know say they choose bottled water because it's cleaner. Wrong! Bottled water is tested for microbes and other pollutants 4 times less than tap water. Tap water in most big cities must be disinfected, filtered to remove pathogens, and tested for viruses; bottled water doesn't have these same requirements. Of course there are variations in tap water quality from city to city (just like you can also have variations in bottled water quality), but the difference is tap water is regulated much more strictly. According to the NRDC, 25% of that "purified" bottled water you're paying for is actually just bottled tap water!
After a four-year study of the bottled-water industry and its safety standards, the NRDC concluded that there is no assurance that bottled water is cleaner or safer than tap.
Dollar bills are in landfills and oceans also!
So, it takes 3x more water to create a bottle than the amount the bottle can hold, huge piles of indestructible plastic are ending up in oceans and landfills, and the water inside the bottles isn't guaranteed to be cleaner than tap. Okay, then is must at least be cheaper than tap water... this might be the biggest kicker of them all.
For the recommended amount of eight glasses of water a day, bottled water cost $1800 per year and is 3,675 times more expensive than tap water.
At this point, I'm sure the water bottle marketing companies are laughing because the joke is on us! If you're just not a fan of tap water, then get a filtered pitcher. Even with the additional cost of buying the pitcher and replacement filters, it comes out to about $70 a year (26 times less expensive than bottled water).
Long story short, if you ever want to have a lively conversation about water bottles and all of the smarter ways we could be consuming our water, you just let us know! Hopefully sometime very soon, we'll all come around to what a destructive product it is for the environment, ourselves, and our wallet!