Current information which is circulating about plastic pollution, specifically disposable single-use plastic is shaping our understanding of the impact that plastic water bottles, presumably the most popular disposable plastic item worldwide, has on our planet.
The global water bottle market is expected to reach $280 billion this year. In the US alone, 50 billion plastic water bottles are discarded per year. Worldwide, an estimated 1 million plastic water bottles are being consumed per minute or roughly 20,000 bottles per second.
Below are a few of the staggering effects of plastic water bottle pollution on the planet according to waterproject.org:
- Bottles used to package water take 400 – 1,000 years to biodegrade and when incinerated, produce toxic fumes.
While it may be too far into the future for us to worry, the negative repercussions begin now. Ultimately, the degradation of plastic into micro-plastic particles threatens the eco system along with human health. The toxic particles present in the soil and waterways are then ingested by animal, plant, and marine-life, thus embedded in the food chain. One research (washingtonpost.com) review published in June calculated that just by eating, drinking, and breathing, Americans ingest at least 74,000 micro-plastic particles each year and another recent study commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund estimated that people consume about 5 grams of plastic a week, roughly the equivalent of a credit card.
- Recycling these water bottles is only feasible in limited circumstances mostly because only Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) bottles can be recycled because the rest are considered to be too highly toxic due to varying chemical compositions.
Although, everyone’s quick fix is to recycle, research shows that approximately 9% of all plastic actually gets recycled. The primary issue is the lack of recycling infrastructure as it’s less expensive for companies to manufacture new plastic water bottles than it is to recycle used ones. Current trends should be thwarted, as 81 % of water bottles we buy end up in landfills and 10% in our lakes and oceans.
- In The US alone, landfills are overflowing with 2 million tons of discarded water bottles and that number doesn’t take into account how many are in landfills worldwide or the percentage that are in our rivers and streams, as well as our lakes and oceans. A widely reported study by the World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation determined that by the year 2050, the ocean will contain more plastic than fish.
After learning of these alarming effects, I zeroed in our Queen City on the Lake, which sits pretty on the shores of Lake Erie and is nestled in among the Buffalo and Niagara River waterways to uncover regional information of how plastic water bottles are contributing to the plastic crisis right here at home.
According to cleveland.com, Lake Erie contains the second-most plastic of the Great Lakes. Lake Michigan has the most debris, with 11 million pounds, and Lake Erie has about 5.5 million. Ecowatch.com published a North American study last year stating that 22 million pounds of plastic goes into the waters of the Great Lakes each year. The researchers from Rochester Institute of Technology said that in Lake Michigan there is an equivalent of 100 Olympic-sized pools full of plastic bottles that get dumped into the lake every year. Just like in the oceans, the plastic trash in the Great Lakes and our waterways breaks down into micro-plastics which are consumed by fish and other aquatic life while moving up the food chain and making its way to us.
- The production of bottled water uses 17 million barrels of oil a year. That’s slightly more than it would take to fill one million cars a year with fuel.
If a plastic water bottle was 25% full, that’s about how much oil it would take to make that one bottle. This does not include fossil fuel and emissions costs of greenhouse gases needed to transport the final product either.
- Moreover, it takes almost 2,000 times the energy to manufacture a bottle of water than it does to produce tap water. It’s estimated that actually 3 liters of water is used to package 1 liter of bottled water.
The average American drinks an average of more than 30 gallons of water each year, meaning, it would take 90 gallons of water for one person who drinks bottled water. In a world where 783 million people don’t have access to clean drinking water, it would be more ethical to drink from the tap, according to Ecowatch.com.
- Bottled water isn’t just more expensive than tap water – it’s a lot more expensive.
The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) states the average cost per gallon of bottled water, not counting imported or sparkling waters, is $1.21 verses $2 for tap water per every thousand gallons. This means that bottled water priced by the gallon is more than 600 times more expensive than tap water. The bottled water industry profits not only at the expense of depleting our groundwater, but by leaving behind a colossal environmental footprint.
What can we do to help? A community or a cultural shift in the right direction can have a positive impact:
- Toss the single-use water bottle habit for good and use the tap. Use a safe reusable water bottle instead made from bamboo, stainless steel, copper, or other sustainable material as long as it is not made of plastic.
- Purchase a water filter if safe water is an issue.
- Find alternatives to all plastic when you can. Don’t just replace your plastic water bottle. Replace household items in your home that are made from plastic or come in plastic containers such as soap, shampoo, lotion and cleaning supplies. Swap those out with products made with environmentally-friendly packaging.
- Reduce, reuse, and recycle. If you do purchase a PET bottle or if you see an empty water bottle sitting around someplace, pick it up and recycle it.
- Use water fountains: Ask your local representative if your county can install more water fountains so people in your community can refill reusable bottles more easily.
- Raise awareness. Tell friends and family about the impact bottled water is having on our environment and our health.
- Set an example and educate children about how to make eco-friendly choices that will benefit their health and the environment.
A Final Thought:
Single-use bottles are emblematic of the world’s obsession with convenience. But the message is clear, without being mindful of our choices, the plastic waste crisis will only get worse. Americans are extremely lucky to have water as easily accessible as it is, especially at the turn of the tap. The time has come to rethink single-use plastic. Your wallet and planet will thank you for it.
Lead image: Photo by Brian Yurasits