THE REAL COST OF PLASTIC BOTTLES
HOW A CONVENIENCE BECAME A CALAMITY.
Water is essential to our bodily health. Most people can only last three days without water. But what is the real cost of using plastic bottles to hydrate ourselves?
Let’s take a quick look at the history of the bottled water craze in our modern world and the consequences of this choice. Early in the 19th century, several spas around the world began selling their waters for their supposed healing powers. New York’s Saratoga Springs is one of the most well-known. The water was marketed as a cure for all manner of things, including hangovers, liver complaints, cancer, diabetes, and even the “weakness of women.”
The French elite first enjoyed the mineral waters sold by Perrier in 1898, and the fad quickly spread to England, which regarded anything French as chic and upwardly mobile. But the real change in terms of environmental impact came in 1973 when the chemical company Dupont patented PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles. Much lighter to transport and consequently selling at a lower price, PET has all but replaced glass as the container of choice and become a game-changer for the beverage world.
During the 1990s, soda giants PepsiCo and Coca-Cola entered the water market as soda sales declined. Fortunately for them, people had already adopted the habit of buying bottled drinks to go (note how much space bottled beverages occupy in convenience stores). Aquafina (PepsiCo) and Dasani (Coca-Cola) water bottles are filled with filtered tap water from their existing bottling plants. By 2001, 115 billion liters of bottled water were being sold a year worldwide. Municipal water professionals rued the sad irony of selling residents’ own water back to them. These lightweight plastic containers would plague our oceans and contribute to global warming. Many of us remember drinking most of our water at home, and when out on the road, stopping for a pointy paper cone of water at the gas station. Most cars didn’t have cup holders.
These days, people in industrialized nations can afford to “buy” water as a bottled beverage, but much of the world still struggles to access safe drinking water. And the environmental consequences of using plastic bottles are long-lasting for our shared planet. We may think that recycling these lightweight containers evens the score, but the tally is not close: Producing each 1.0-liter water bottle consumes 7.1 gallons of water, 2,000 percent more energy than municipal water, and emits 1.2 pounds of greenhouse gases. Further, PET plastic is made from petroleum.
By the end of 2021, 1.6 billion beverage bottles will be produced each day worldwide or 1.1 million plastic bottles each minute, most for industrialized countries. The plastic that is not recycled can last in the environment for 450 years or more, and as we know, plastic is now found inside most creatures who live in the ocean. The cost is truly too high when our local solution lies right up the road. We have a safe source of drinking water here in Austerlitz and so many freshwater wells in our town. If we can pick up (or renew) the practice of drinking water at home or carrying it with us in a reusable glass or metal water bottle, we are doing something good for all living beings on earth.