Ask Eartha: Hasta la vista, bottled agua!
In appreciation of World Water Day (March 22), I think it’s relevant to talk about the social and environmental issues associated with plastic water bottles. Of course the bottled water companies are going to tell you fresh bottled spring water is way better for you than the dirty tap variety. But whether it’s shipped from springs across the country or packaged in wasteful plastic from the sink, the water bottle industry makes their living off the money you spend on … water!! That’s right: We’re talking about hundreds of dollars when you add up that bottled water you purchased after your morning run, in the vending machine, or when you gassed up your car.
Mother Nature Network clams the water bottle industry is making between $50 and $100 billion through water bottle sales. With each purchase and swipe of the credit card, you’re also contributing to the environmental and health costs that come with plastic waste and a plastic-dependent society.
Why do we buy bottled water in the first place? The first reason that comes to mind is convenience. It’s easy to find bottled water just about anywhere and sometimes impossible to find a drinking fountain. You can take bottled water with you, and here in the mountains, we’re always thirsty.
The second reason is usually the case of the mysterious tap. Since we can’t see where our water is coming from and there isn’t a label describing its journey, we’re often haunted by thoughts of the water smelling bad or carrying bacteria or pathogens.
The truth is, bottled water is as convenient as bringing your own reusable stainless steel bottle with one big difference: One purchase of a reusable bottle can save you hundreds of dollars in bottled water bills and keep hundreds of plastic bottles out of our landfills and oceans.
When it comes to what’s healthier, you’re better off drinking from the tap. Even though some companies spend the energy to ship bottled water across state lines, a good 70 percent is sold within the state, escaping FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulation.
Another health issue concerning bottled water is the constant reuse or refill of plastic bottles designed for one use. New American Dream’s Break the Bottled Water campaign stated, “The #1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is fine for a single use, but reuse can lead to bacterial growth and leaching of dangerous chemicals.”
There are higher standards for municipal water such as those upheld by the EPA. According to the New American Dream and “Tapped” (the movie), over 90 percent of water systems meet EPA’s standards for water quality. Both organizations also found that nearly 40 percent of bottled water comes from the tap anyway.
In addition to cost and regulations, two other major problems play a role in the production and consumption of bottled water:
North Pacific Garbage Patch: Some say it’s twice the size of Texas, the floating continent of plastic trash wreaks havoc between California and Hawaii. Like something out of a sci-fi movie, experts have found that in this plastic “soup” zone there are 46 times more man-made plastic than nature-made plankton. The only solution is to stop adding to the pile and cut back our single-use plastic habits.
Waste of oil and non-renewable resources: An estimated 17 million barrels of oil are wasted annually to produce the demand for bottled water in the United States. Even more alarming, the Pacific Institute found that “the entire energy costs of the life cycle of a bottle of water is equivalent, on average, to filling up a quarter of each bottle with oil.” It’s hard enough watching the price of gasoline inch closer to $5 a gallon. Why again are we wasting so much oil on plastic bags and bottles?
I’ve only scratched the surface of the real cost of bottled water. For more information or to take your pledge to say “Hasta la vista to bottled agua!” please visit http://www.highcountryconservation.org.
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