June 16, 2017
June 21st marks Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. The other half of our planet will move into winter then, but for those who share my half, we’ve already had proof that we’re headed to heat. (E.g., In mid-June Oman’s highest temperature for the day touched 49 ˚C —120 ˚F — in the capital.)
However, this blog is not about heat, nor about climate change, nor about the refugees it causes due to droughts and floods — though please note that June 20th is World Refugee Day. This blog is about bottled water. (Statistics vary; I did my best to use generally accepted numbers.)
First let’s rethink the value of water — the gift that dates to the stars and required billions of years to accumulate on our planet. All life (that we know about) started and survived because of it. Presumably, all future humans and species will depend on it. Water plays a key role in religious rituals such as baptisms. Water is essential for growing crops, providing beauty and renewal; it cools us …. Sister Water merits our respect and care!
About Plastic Water Bottles
In 1973, a DuPont engineer patented polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, the first to be used for bottling water. Its light weight and resistance to breaking seemed advantageous. But would people buy a free product? Indeed they have, and while it’s sometimes necessary, the rest seems to be nothing but clever advertising and dependence on convenience. What follows applies to all plastic bottles, but focuses on water because there are easy alternatives.
Even Pope Francis has asked us to reduce use of both plastic and water. From Laudato Si’:
There is a nobility to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle. Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption ….. (par. 211)
Here are eight reasons to rethink the use of plastic water bottles:
1. You testify that drinking water is a human right, not a for-profit commodity —
Water is absolutely essential in maintaining human life, and nothing can substitute for it. On 28 July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights. ( Resolution 64/292)
2. You save the water used to make plastic bottles —
For a true water footprint, consider all freshwater used in production: water used for drilling the petroleum for the plastic, water used in production, water used making packaging. It takes a minimum of 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water, but amounts could be up to six or seven times greater when everything is considered.
3. You save the water put into the bottles —
Activists throughout the world strongly object to having their water bottled and sold back to them. The damage to their loved locales cannot be repaired. Companies take scarce water and sacred water. It’s a matter of justice! There are 50 billion water bottles consumed every year, about 30 billion of them in the U.S. Do the math.
4. You save the energy used to make and transport plastic bottles —
Producing, packaging and transporting a liter of bottled water requires between 1,100 and 2,000 times more energy on average than treating and delivering the same amount of tap water, according to the Pacific Institute. Scientists of the Pacific Institute estimate that just producing the plastic bottles for bottled-water consumption worldwide uses 50 million barrels of oil annually—enough to supply total U.S. oil demand for 2.5 days. We all know how fossil fuels damage our climate.
If you imagine that every bottle of water you drink is about three-quarters water and one-quarter oil, you’ll have a pretty accurate picture of how much energy it takes to put that bottle of water in your hand.
5. You prevent pollution from bottles which, even if recycled, take years to disintegrate —
There is no “away” to throw things to. About 13 percent of empty bottles are recycled, where they are turned into products like fleece clothing, carpeting, decking, playground equipment and new containers and bottles. (Three cheers for the companies that do this!)
The bottles not properly recycled end in landfills or in the ocean. Those fragments absorb toxins that pollute our waterways, contaminate our soil, and sicken animals. 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.
Plastic bottles and plastic bags that break down into smaller fragments over time 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! Millions of pieces of plastic debris float in five large subtropical gyres in the world’s oceans. But even more plastic might be on the oceans’ floor, doing damage we can’t yet study.
“Besides providing food and raw materials, the oceans provide various essential environmental benefits such as air purification, a significant role in the global carbon cycle, climate regulation, waste management, the maintenance of food chains and habitats that are critical to life on earth.” (from Cardinal Turkson’s recent statement to the United Nations)
6. You protect fish, birds, and humans from effects of plastic pollution —
Birds and their young die from eating and being strangled by plastic debris in oceans and on land strewn with plastic pollution. These ingested chemicals can then affect humans when we eat contaminated fish. Not only are we severely harming the land, air and water around us, but the rest of the world has to pay the price for our thoughtless over-consumption. Our children and generations to come will be dealing with the problems we caused.
7. You avoid the toxins that can leach from plastic bottles —
A thorough study by CertiChem found that more than 95 percent of the 450 plastic items tested proved positive for estrogen after undergoing sunlight, dishwashing, and microwaving. Even BPA-free products tested positive for released chemicals having estrogenic activity.
8. You save lots of money!
Where safe drinking water is not available due to scarcity or pollution, plastic water bottles are needed. Otherwise, to protect the future of our beloved (and only) planet, our water and food supply, our climate, our oceans — use a thermos with tap water. Many varieties of faucet filters and pitcher filters exist. Group events can supply pitchers of water and glasses — or drinking stations with compostable cups. Some cities, universities, stores (e.g., Selfridges) and tourist areas (e.g., the Grand Canyon) have banned the sale of bottled water; some supplied drinking stations. Alert those who are unaware. To quote Pope Francis again: There is a nobility to care for creation through little daily actions.