All living things need water to survive, and humans are no exception. In order to fuel our thirst, we have water piped to our homes so that we can have water on tap 24/7. When we are on the go, whether it be at the office, at the gym, or out for a walk, many of us have opted for the convenience of bottled water packaged in disposable plastic bottles. But how sustainable is this?
The reality is that out of all the methods of delivering drinking water to consumers ever invented, the packaging and distribution of bottled water is in fact the least efficient method of them all. This series of articles will explain why this is, and hopefully will encourage readers to refuse plastic bottles entirely and opt for a more sustainable alternative.
There are a number of steps that go into producing a bottle of water, and many natural resources are utilized throughout the manufacturing process.
One of the key components of plastic PET bottles is petroleum. In fact 17 million barrels of crude oil are used each year to manufacture plastic bottles used to supply bottled water in America alone — enough to run more than 1 million vehicles for a year.(1) This oil is extracted from deep within the earth by drilling wells after which it is pumped to the surface. It is then sent to a refinery to be cleaned, and once clean it gets sent to a plastics manufacturing plant where it is processed into plastic pellets which are moulded into plastic bottle pre-forms, which finally get heated and shaped into plastic bottles.
Even though water is such a precious resource, every year 16.4 billion gallons (60 billion litres) of water is used to manufacture plastic that is used for the production of plastic bottles.(2) Considering that the average American uses 183 gallons of water per day for washing, flushing, cooking and watering their garden(3), this water could sustain 89,617,486 people for a day.
During the production process, over 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide are emitted into the atmosphere,(2) contributing to atmospheric greenhouse gases that exacerbate global warming and climate change.
While plastic bottles can be recycled (some are, many are not), plastics used for manufacturing food and beverage containers is newly created plastic, as health and safety regulations stipulate that recycled plastics cannot be used.(2)
Then we need to consider the quality of the contents. Besides petroleum, a number of other chemical compounds are found in plastic bottles; some of these are associated with health risks.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical that is used to harden plastics and is often found in plastic bottles, including water bottles and bottles used to package bottled water and other consumer beverages. Over 90% of the human population is believed to have BPA in their bodies, most of it originating from food or beverages we have consumed that were packaged in containers that included BPA. BPA is a known hormone disruptor that is able to mimic or interfere with the body’s endocrine system. Considering that the endocrine system influences practically every cell, organ and bodily function within our bodies, the health implications are huge. BPA has been linked to a number of health issues, including hyperactivity, learning difficulties and aggression; abnormal sexual development and/or behaviour; changes to reproductive cycles and infertility in both men and women(4) and has also been associated with heart disease, and a higher risk of breast and prostrate cancer.(5)
Antimony is another chemical that is routinely used in the manufacturing of PET plastic bottles. Exposure to low doses of antimony can cause depression and dizziness, while exposure to larger doses of this chemical can result in nausea, vomiting, and even death. (1,6)
A Healthier Alternative
Now, lets consider that most municipal tap water is heavily regulated and routinely tested for a wide range of contaminants compared to bottled water which does not undergo such stringent testing and regulation. Consequently, water that flows from your tap is likely to be cleaner, healthier, and a whole lot cheaper than bottled water purchased from a store.