Part II: Why Bottled Water is Bad for the Environment
Welcome to Part II of the series Bottled Water: Why It’s Bad for You, the Environment, and Water. In Part I I talked about why bottled water is bad for you, and now in Part II I’ll be talking about why bottled water is bad for the environment. There was a great response to Part I, and thank you to everyone that commented on it. If you missed Part I you can read it here. Now let’s get educated on why bottled water is bad for the environment.
- It Uses a lot of Oil: 17 million barrels of oil are used in the production of plastic water bottles per year IN THE US ONLY. This is enough oil to fuel 1 million cars for a year. When you take into consideration everything that goes into getting bottled water to market this number can jump as high as 54 million barrels.
- Tons of Waste: Only 1 out of 5 plastic water bottles are recycled contributing to the 3 billion pounds (1,500,000 tons) of plastic bottle waste per year (c’mon people. Who doesn’t recycle nowadays???). As a comparison, the Golden Gate Bridge here in San Francisco weighs 887,000 tons, so there’s almost 2x the weight of the bridge in plastic waste per year. Further, the PET 1 bottles cannot be cleaned properly and over time can leech plastic components into the water so it is not recommended that they be reused. Oh, and PET bottles never really biodegrade, and if they’re incinerated instead they release toxic fumes. Other types of plastics can biodegrade, but it takes anywhere from 450-1000 years.
- There are alternatives, the most popular being plastic made out of corn, but I have to ask; Is it really any better to use water to grow food to make bottles to put water into? Especially when there are so many hungry people in the world.
- Plastic is Killing the Ocean and its Inhabitants: Ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (also called the Eastern Garbage Patch)? It’s a patch of trash in the Pacific Ocean that is about 2x the size of Texas (some say it may be as big as the US and be 100ft deep). The patch is made up mostly of plastics of various types and sizes since most of the other trash biodegrades or breaks up over time. This plastic pollutes the ocean as well as animals in the ocean. In 2009, researchers from Nihon University in Chiba, Japan, found that plastic in warm ocean water can degrade in as little as a year (not PET). Those small bits of plastic are toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA) and PS oligomer that end up in the guts of animals or wash up on shorelines, where humans are most likely to come into direct contact with the toxins. And guess what happens when animals eat plastic? They die. It has been estimated that over a million sea-birds and one hundred thousand marine mammals and sea turtles are killed each year by ingestion of plastics or entanglement according to Greenpeace. (sorry if I disgust anyone with the picture below, but it’s something that needs to be seen. See all those bottle tops? And I’m sure there are a bunch of little pieces of plastic we can’t make out)
- There’s also a Western Garbage Patch that floats around somewhere between Japan and Hawaii.
- Transporting to Market: Once you bottle and pack up all that water it needs to be transported, adding to pollution and global warming. When you think about where some of the water comes from, say Fiji water that comes from…wait for it…Fiji, and is then flown or shipped around the world you can start to see how much pollution can be attributed to bottled water transport.
- Just found this information on TreeHugger.com: “…let’s look at the trip to the US. The distance from Fiji to San Francisco is 8,700km. But this time the bottles will be full, so they will have a mass of 1.025kg each. This gives us a much larger value of 9.8tkm ( (1.025kg / 1t/1000kg) x 8,700km = 8.9tkm) which I will round up to 9tkm (tkm = that’s metric tons carried x distance traveled)). So, 81g of fossil fuels, 720g of water, and 153g of GHGs (greenhouse gas) per bottle delivered to the US from Fiji.”
- Tons of Carbon Dioxide: A 2006 Earth Policy Institute study found that the British bottled water industry annually generates about 30,000 tons of carbon dioxide, which equals the energy consumption of 6,000 homes a year. Guess what? The US drinks more bottled water, so our numbers are higher. Every ton of PET produces about 3 tons of carbon dioxide. So if we take the figure from before of 1,500,000 tons of plastic waste (and remember, this is just the waste and doesn’t include what’s recycled) that’s 4,500,000 tons of carbon dioxide. So that would equal the energy consumption of 900,000 homes.
- Uses a lot of Energy: According to the European plastics industry it takes 3.4 megajoules of energy to make a 1 liter plastic bottle. In 2011 in the US 9.1 billion gallons of bottled water was bought. 9.1 billion gallons equals approximately 34,447,247,234.4 liters, which means that about 117 billion megajoules were spent due to bottled water consumption in the US. What does this mean? I’m not sure, but it’s a lot. Can anyone explain how much energy this is in a way us normal folks can understand? But as a comparison, to get a liter of tap water you only need 0.005 megajoules.
- Litter Everywhere: I couldn’t find any figures on how much water bottle litter there is, but if you ever go outside of your house you know that there are empty water bottles everywhere; the streets, the beach, in the ocean, in your car from your stupid friends…
On the other hand tap water doesn’t use plastic, and therefore there is no waste or litter, it uses a fraction of the energy/oil and doesn’t have to be transported by plane, ship or truck and therefore only causes a fraction of the pollution that bottled water does, and, well, let’s just say “no animals were harmed in the making of this tap water”.
So what can you do? Put down the bottled water, buy a reusable bottle, a water filter if needed, and drink tap water. Doing this will save countless animals as well as having a positive impact on the environment. What else? Share this with everyone you know or talk to them about it. Most people are oblivious to this information and have no idea that bottled water is bad. Let them know.
Did I miss anything? If I did please let me know. Education is key, and if there’s something I don’t know about I always like to hear about it. As always, thanks for reading. Can’t wait to read your comments. Come back for Part III where I’ll be talking about why bottled water is bad for water.
The Ripple Effect – The Fate of Freshwater in the Twenty-First Century by Alex Prud’homme