Plastic Water Bottles Causing Flood of Harm to Our Environment
Author: Norm SchrieverAuthor, humorist, cultural mad scientist, and enemy of the comfort zone.
I remember the first time I saw a bottle of water for sale, thinking it was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever encountered. Who the heck would actually PAY to drink water when they could get it for free at home? That’s just crazy! I drank out of the faucet every single day, or the garden hose in a pinch, and there was obviously nothing wrong with me (other than mentally). But there they were, plastic bottles of water lined up in a cooler next to the Fantas and Tabs, happily purchased by the same screwy people who were walking around yelling into those new huge Walkie Talkie things called “cellphones.” It was sometime in the 1980s, in the midst of a generation that was itself defined by ridiculousness — fads like the Rubik’s Cube, specialty Nike running shoes for a whopping $50, and Atari’s Miss Pacman, an introduction to the new religion of consumerism for its own sake.
Back then, even the most optimistic capitalist couldn’t have guessed where the water bottle industry was heading. Thirty years later it’s not just a luxury item for those driving Porsche 911s with their salmon-colored collars up, but a stalwart of regular American life. Yes, me too — I became one of those screwy people who bought bottled water by the case and yapped into his “cellphone” non -top (sometimes even when another person was on the line.)
But the damage from the bottled water industry isn’t just to our intelligence and our wallets; it’s also to the world we live in. Our environment is being impacted, not just the image of a nice sunny far-off meadow that word conjures but the actual surroundings that we depend on to sustain our lives. Our human fish tank is getting terrifically cloudy because of the plastic water bottles we buy and discard so thoughtlessly.
How big is the bottled water industry?
There are 50 billion water bottles consumed every year, about 30 billion of them in the US (which means we consume roughly 60 percent of the world’s water bottles, even though we’re about 4.5 percent of the world population).
There are 1,500 water bottles consumed per SECOND in the U.S.
2011 was a high point for bottle water sales, where 9.1 billion gallons were sold, or 29.1 gallons per person per year, the highest in sales and volume in history.
What does it take to manufacture the water bottles?
It takes three times the volume of water to manufacture one bottle of water than it does to fill it, and because of the chemical production of plastics that water is mostly unusable.
We use 17 million barrels of oil each year just to produce all of those water bottles.
To put it in perspective, that’s enough oil to keep a million cars fueled for a whole year! (Or your Hummer to Ikea and back.)
The Earth Policy Institute factors the energy used to pump, process, transport and refrigerate our bottled water as over 50 million barrels of oil every year. That’s an insane amount of resources for something that is a completely unneeded.
Another way to think of it: when you pick up a water bottle at the supermarket, hold it up and imagine it filled ¼ with oil. That’s how much in fossil fuels it took just to manufacture it!
Even the environmental impact of delivering all that bottled water is profound, both from overseas (Fiji Water, Pellegrino) and distribution to stores in the US. It takes a fleet of40,000 18-wheelers just to deliver our bottle water every week!
Water bottles are made of completely recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastics, butPETs don’t biodegrade they photodegrade, which means they break down into smaller fragments over time. Those fragments absorb toxins that pollute our waterways, contaminate our soil, and sicken animals (which we then eat). Plastic trash also absorbs organic pollutants like BPA and PCBs. They may take centuries to decompose while sitting in landfills, amounting to endless billions of little environmentally poisonous time bombs.
According to the Ocean Conservatory, plastic bottles and plastic bags are the most prevalent form of pollution found on our beaches and in our oceans — every square mile of the ocean has over 46,000 pieces of floating plastic in it.
Ten percent of the plastic manufactured worldwide ends up in the ocean, the majority of that settling on the ocean floor where it will never degrade.
But don’t we recycle?