When it comes to disposable containers, no product gets as much flack as the infamous plastic water bottle. Criticized for the contents on the inside (which are often said to taste exactly like tap water) as well as for packaging on the outside, these portable bottles can cause quite a stir.
A growing wasteland
One of the most obvious impacts of plastic bottles is what happens after the water has been consumed.
Despite recycling infrastructure that exists in order to facilitate the recycling of these bottles, according to the Container Recycling Institute, 86% of plastic water bottles used in the US become garbage that ends up in landfills throughout the country. Considering that approximately 60 million plastic water bottles are used every day in the US, we can assume that nearly 18,834,000,000 end up in the landfill each year. Each bottle can take up to 700 years to decompose.
The landfill issue, however, is not limited to plastic bottles. According to recycleacrossamerica.org, more than 28 billion glass bottles and jars also end up in landfills each year. Even though consumers may think they are recycling, a study conducted by the Container Recycling Institute shows that 40% of all glass bottles put in single-stream recycling bins end up in the landfill and unlike plastic, glass that ends up in a landfill will never decompose.
According to National Geographic, if we take into consideration the energy required to manufacture, transport and dispose of plastic water bottles in the United States, between 15-17 million barrels of oil (enough to fuel more than 100,000 cars for an entire year) are used each year in order to meet consumer demands. To help put that into perspective, a study performed by the Pacific Institute in California suggests that producing bottled water (including all stages from manufacturing the plastic to chilling the bottles for use) takes approximately 2000 times the energy required to produce tap water.
This is where plastic bottles take a bit of a hit. Many studies show that polycarbonate plastic, a type of plastic used in many household and food products, gradually leaches a chemical called bisphenol-A (BPA) into foods and liquids that are stored in containers made from this material.
According to healthnews.org, the chemical compounds released by these plastics can alter hormones and have other potential human health effects. Animals, including more than 180 species of which have been documented to ingest plastic debris, are also affected by the chemicals and can be permanently injured or die as a result of the poison.
Recycling and reusing plastic bottles
The good news is that not every plastic water bottle ends up in the landfill. Plastic water bottles can be recycled and are, in fact, the third most recycled product in Canada after newspapers and aluminum. When these bottles are recycled, they are then used to make playground equipment, automobile parts, carpeting, clothing, sleeping bags, shoes, luggage and other plastic containers.
The same holds true for glass bottles. While glass is difficult to recycle because it has to be separated by colour and breaks easily, recycling just one glass jar saves enough electricity to light an 11W CFL bulb for 20 hours and cuts water pollution by 50%. Unlike plastic bottles however, glass jars and bottles can be reused without fear of emitting toxic chemicals and recycled and re-manufactured an infinite amount of times without wearing out.
Tips for Vendors and Consumers
- Try switching to glass bottles! Glass bottles are much easier to clean and will retain their clarity (without leaking toxic chemicals) after hundreds of washings. They also have no effect on the taste or smell of your drink! If you’re worried about having your glasses stolen, ask for a small deposit which is returned in exchange for the bottle after consumption.
- Offer up water from the Tap! If you’re a vendor in the fast-food industry, try supplying customers with the choice of bottled water or tap water. Yes, you might lose a buck or two in sales, but you will gain a large clientele who prefer to source their food from vendors who offer free, and chemical free, water, on the side.
- BYOB: Bring your own (refillable) bottle with you to work! Lugging around a light-weight refillable water bottle not only ensures that you can remain hydrated all day without having to purchase water, it also allows you to make a visible commitment to reducing landfill contributions and protect yourself from harmful chemicals.
- If you’re a fast food vendor selling plastic bottles, make sure you have adequate recycling facilities located in or near your shop! Recycling is everyone’s responsibility and you can help your customers make the move to recycle correctly by installing easy to find recycle bins throughout your establishment.