Think outside the bottle, ban the bottle and take back the tap

Written by: Giulia De Gregorio

How often have you heard that you should drink 2 liters of water per day? Surely many times: it’s no secret that staying hydrated during the day is essential and provides a lot of benefits for your body. Yes, drinking water is healthy, but using disposable plastic water bottles is not sustainable neither for the environment nor for your wallet.   
Who would actually pay to drink water when they could get it for free from their tap? That’s just crazy. Yet the water bottle industry is in expansion, benefits from consumerism and has become an essential item in an average person's life: more than 50 billion water bottles are sold globally every year, 1500 of them are used every second in the US alone. 

What are the resources incurred to manufacture water bottles?
The environmental impact and the amount of energy needed to make bottled water ready for consumption- from pumping and processing to transporting- are profound. Plastic bottles require about three times as much water for their production than they can actually hold. This means that for every liter of water that a bottle can hold, three liters are needed to make it. Every year 300 millions kg of CO2 are emitted in the atmosphere and 17 million barrels of oil are used just for the production of all the water bottles. To put it in scale, that’s an equivalent amount of oil to fuel a million cars for a whole year. Another way to think of it is to imagine the water bottle filled ¼ with oil: that’s the amount of fossil fuels necessary just to manufacture it. This is an insane amount of resources for something that is completely unneeded. It’s true that approximately 780 million people  around the world, more than twice the population of the US, don’t have access to clean and safe water supplies. In this case, as well as in emergency situations, bottled water plays a crucial role. But the point is that bottled water should be the exception rather than the rule since it’s entirely needless for anyone with access to potable tap water.

Is bottled water better than tap water?
Despite the fact that tap water is declared safe for consumption, there is a common perception that bottled water is cleaner and tastier than tap water. However there is no rational in believing so, as the majority of evidence shows that it’s actually worse for you. Plastic leaches into the water it holds and it has been linked to causing different health issues, from asthma and dizziness to more serious ones, such as reproductive problems. Harmful hormone-disrupting chemicals leach into the bottled water we drink after as little as two months and a half of storage, or much faster if the bottles are left in the sun, like in the car. The perception that bottled water has a better flavor is indeed just a popular belief as in blind taste test people are not able to differentiate between the two. The labels on bottled water often depict a beautiful mountain stream, but that doesn't mean the water inside is pure and unspoilt. Only some bottled water come from springs or groundwater sources: around 25% of bottled water is actually just repackaged tap water. These companies filter or radiate tap water with ultraviolet light before selling it, but is it enough to justify it being sold to you at several thousand times the cost of municipal tap water? Bottled water costs approximately 2000 times more than tap water, can you imagine paying 2000 times the price of anything else? How about a 10000 euros sandwich? I’m sure you would refuse to pay such a price, then why do you accept it in case of water?  

What’s their impact on the environment?

Water bottles are made of fully recyclable PET, but PET doesn’t biodegrade, rather it photodegrades, which means it breaks down into smaller plastic particles over time, the so called micro-plastics. They take centuries to decompose while sitting in landfills and they pollute waterways, contaminate soil, disrupt entire eco-systems and sicken animals, which could end up on our plates. It would be more accurate for bottled water companies to show on their labels the mountains of plastic waste, rather than picturing wonderful mountain peaks. Plastic bottles and plastic bags are the major responsible for polluting beaches and oceans: the majority of them will never degrade but will contribute to create garbage islands like the Pacific trash vortex, a giant collection of plastic and floating trash which extends over an area of more than 700.000 km². But aren’t plastic bottles recycled? 40% of them are discarded in landfills, instead of being introduced in the recycling stream, where they could be reformed to give life to a variety of novel products, such as new bottles and containers, playground equipment, carpeting and many others. Plastic drinking bottles could be made out of 100% recycled plastic, known as rPET but companies are hostile to use rPET for aesthetic reasons because they want their products in beautiful shiny and clear plastic. Additionally, while recycling the bottles surely helps the environment and limits their negative impact, it is far from being environmentally responsible as producing them has already done a great amount of damage.

What can we all do?
Pollution is quickly becoming the issue and the threat of our century, as the WHO estimates it to be one of the biggest causes of death around the world, killing about 7 million people, one in eight of total global deaths per year. The bottled water industry is an example of how manufactured demand pushes what we don’t need and destroys what we need the most. A cultural shift is needed because bottled water represents a high cost not only on a personal level scale but most importantly the greater cost comes to all of us as a society, country and interconnected world community. Following a simple reduce, reuse, recycle lifestyle means that you are actively saving the environment and you avoid pointless expenses. The first thing you should do is buy a reusable glass or stainless steel water bottle and refill it at home or at water fountains. Moreover, you can also go the extra mile and demand investments to improve water systems and ensure that clean tap water is available for everybody. Finally and most importantly, you can speak up and spread the voice among your friends and family on just how much plastic bottled water is negatively impacting the environment and convince them to adopt some simple but effective good practices.