We’re a bit behind the times on this issue, but it’s one that I think deserves a mention here. Twenty years ago, it was virtually unheard of to purchase water in a bottle, although there were some natural spring producers (few and far between). Now I go into my local convenience store and I can usually choose between 5 or 6 different “varieties” of… well, water. People love the convenience of grabbing that plastic bottle while “on the go” instead of something less healthy for them, like a Coke or Mountain Dew. I can buy that. It’s the argument that companies like Coca-Cola make to defend their sale of bottled water, which comes not from some fancy spring somewhere, but from a local municipal water supply. You know, the same thing you’ve got in your home — the tap.
This article from CNN’s Money brings you some idea of the extent of the latest backlash against bottled water. It seems like one of the concerns of activists like Think Outside the Bottle (aka Corporate Accountability International) is the negative effects this relatively-new packaging of municipal water is having on our ability to keep up with the supply of it. To me, that is largely a local issue that can be managed fairly well by both the local municipality that has a water bottling plant and the company bottling the water (since one is dependent upon the other, it does little good to disregard the symbiotic nature of the relationship).
Of greater concern to me is the millions upon billions of plastic bottles that get thrown into landfills. Before bottled water, if people wanted a drink of water, they took it from a very environmentally-friendly water fountain (some of which were operated solely by gravity — no electricity needed to get water from a tap).
Somewhere in the past generation or two, we’ve moved from accepting water from a water fountain to accepting the exact same or very similar water from a rarely-recycled plastic bottle. While the companies claim it’s simply consumers choosing a different type of beverage while in a store (e.g., instead of soda or juice), I think it’s more complicated than that.
We’re buying bottled water because it’s there and Americans are drawn to convenience (most bottled water sold is plain old tap water, not spring water or other specialty water). Having water at your side is more convenient than searching out a public water supply (unless, of course, you’re at home, work, or some other usual place — you have no reason to be grabbing a bottled water at any of these places unless your water supply has been contaminated by aliens).
But I believe that same convenience has also led to, dare I say it, laziness and complacency in terms of what this bottled-water buying frenzy means to our environment.
“Each year, people are drinking 30 billion throwaway bottles of water,” said the Sierra Club’s Ruth Caplan. “If you put them end to end, it would go around the world more than 150 times.”
Caplan said four out of five plastic water bottles end up in landfills, but even before they get there, they’ve taken a toll on the environment.
30 billion plastic bottles. Yeah, if you want to help the environment, we could all start right there. Here’s how:
- Start your own recycling program for bottled water right at home. As you go through your existing supply of bottled water, wash out the bottles in the dishwasher and reuse them, filling them with your tap or filtered water. Voila! The same convenience and less harm to the environment all in one.
- If you’re on the road and feel thirsty, know that most restaurants and fast food places will provide you iced tap water at absolutely no charge (assuming you’re buying something from them anyways).
- If you buy a bottled water on the road, save the bottle, bring it home, and put it in your recycling bin, not the first trash can you come across.
- Stop drinking bottled water in anyplace you visit frequently that has tap water freely available, such as your workplace, your home, or school. Use a re-usable container, fill it up with some nice cool tap water (or water from the fountain or filtered water from the refrigerator), and keep reusing the same container over and over again. It’s water. It doesn’t require the same amount of work in terms of cleaning the container any other beverage would take.
If everyone did only one of these things, we’d end up saving a lot of these plastic bottles going into our landfills.