You've probably noticed how much plastic surrounds our daily food: packaging, disposable plates, cups and utensils, lunch boxes, bagsâ€¦ it doesnâ€™t need to be so. Our challenge is simple, but perhaps not that easy: make your next lunch out plastic-free.
The U.S. book and newspaper industries combined necessitate the harvest of 125 million trees each year (30 million trees for the book industry and 95 million trees for the newspaper industry). Together, they emit more than 40 million metric tons of CO2 annually; that is the equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of 7.3 million cars.
As consumers, we are led to believe that the extra dollar we spend for our bottled water is for the better quality and taste. But according to the NRDC, 25 percent of bottled water is actually plain, municipal tap water, while some of the most â€œtrustworthyâ€ brands of bottled water, such as Crystal Geyser and Sparkletts, once contained contaminants exceeding safe drinking limits. The bottled water industry is directly linked to high CO2 emissions as well as water depletion and pollution. Find out how we are passively endorsing one of the largest environmental crimes facing us today, and how to put a stop to it.
The True Price of A Plastic Water Bottle
According to the Sierra Club, drinking bottled water costs 1,000 times more than drinking tap water. Yet, in spite of the cost, bottled water is the first choice for millions of Americans, making the bottled water industry worth over $11.7 billion. Those amazing numbers are possible thanks to advertising and marketing, selling us an untruthful image of a sexier, happier and healthier us. Â
However, our health is at stake. An NRDCâ€™s four year study on bottled water conducted in 1999 concluded that bottled water is no safer than tap water, sometimes far from it. More specifically, one third of all 103 water bottles tested, including big-name brands such as Alhambra and Dannon, tested for excessive bacterial and chemical contamination. In the past 18 years, over 100 bottled water recalls have been recorded, due to contamination with benzene, mold, styrene, fecal coliforms, chlorine, and more. The Sierra Club reports that, unlike municipal tap water systems, bottled water companies are NOT required to test local tap water for Cryptosporidium, Giardia, E. coli, phthalates, arsenic, synthetic organic chemicals, and other contaminants and bacteria.Â This shocking reality is explained by the fact that, under the FDAâ€™s food safety program, only ONE organization is in charge of bottled water regulation for the whole country. The FDAâ€™s justification for not monitoring more closely the contaminants in bottled water is that most bottled water companies have kept a good record of water quality, thus making bottled water inspection a low priority. Worse perhaps, the FDA regulations do not prevent bottling companies from drawing water next to industrial sites or dumps. In fact, some brands such as Cokeâ€™s Dasani and Pepsiâ€™s Aquafina fool consumers by selling tap water that actually comes from Queens, NY or Jacksonville, FL with some additional treatment.
The production and use of the plastic bottles themselves are also a danger to our health; the (petroleum-based) chemicals used to make the plastic can leach out into the water contained by the bottle. It is the case of bisphenol A (BPA), a toxin linked to breast and prostate cancer, diabetes and neurological and reproductive development. Even the bottles that display the pink breast cancer ribbon, such as Smartwater and Sparkletts, have been found to contain BPA chemicals, a nice example of pink washing.
The Cost to Our Environment
Manufacturing and producing plastic bottles and bottled water come with a high carbon footprint. According to estimations by the Pacific Institute:
producing the bottles for American consumption in 2007 required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including the energy for transportation;
bottling water produced more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide, hence contributing to global warming;
it took 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water
Furthermore, some companies such as Nestle, who received $9.6 million in tax breaks to site their Ice Mountain bottled water plants in Mecosta County, Michigan, pump water from underground aquifers, thereby depriving nearby lakes, wells, and farms, and all the wildlife that depends on it. Some companies, among which Coca Cola, are even destroying international ecosystems in order to manufacture their water and other soft and carbonated drinks. Â
Finally, 90% of the 30 billion plastic water bottles that are discarded every year is not recycled. These bottles end up in landfills, in developing countriesâ€™ backyards and into our open oceans, feeding the garbage patches that threaten our aquatic ecosystems while polluting them with human-made contaminants.
For a telling summary of these issues, watch Anne Leonardâ€™s The Story of Bottled Water:
What You Can Do
The best thing you can do is to NOT drink bottled water. In most cases, tap water is a safe, if not safer, alternative. If you do not know how safe your tap water is, do check with your water supplier and ask to see the annual water quality report. It is important to know that there are still areas in this country where tap water is not safe to drink, as Julia Robertsâ€™ famous movie Erin Brockovich illustrates. However, a water filter certified by NSF International should fix this issue. These filters remove contaminants that some bottled water companies do not have to test for or that flawed municipal water treatment misses. For more information, check out this guide to water filters provided by the NRDC. Â
Store your filtered tap water into a re-usable metal container, such as Klean Kanteen. Re-usable drinking containers not only reduce the amount of plastic polluting our environment, but they do not leach chemicals into the water like plastic bottles do. To further your commitment to a bottled water-free way of life, take the â€œThink Outside The Bottleâ€ pledge!
Besides drinking filtered tap water, you can:
Encourage local restaurants and stores to avoid/reduce their use and sale of bottled water. Write them a letter to show your support.
Write letters to famous people endorsing bottled water, such as Jennifer Aniston or Tom Brady for Smart Water, asking them to stop selling their image to advertize a lie and an environmental crime.
Citizensâ€™ mobilization does work: last year, after a 6-year battle, Nestle was defeated by the residents of McCloud, a Northern California town where the Nestle Waters North America wanted to erect a water bottling plant.
If you do choose to drink bottled water, please be sure to recycle your plastic bottles and to switch to a less environmentally offending water company. The Better World Shopper has conveniently established a report card and a letter grade to major bottled water companies, which you can see here.Â Every effort counts.