Drinking Bottled Water

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Does your family buy a case of bottled water when they go to the grocery store? Do you buy a bottle of water from a vending machine or convenience store when you are away from home? The good news is that we are making healthier beverage choices and drinking more water than ever before. Large soda corporations have bought up bottled water companies because water is the biggest area of growth in the beverage industry worldwide. The bad news is that many of the plastic bottles that contained water are ending up in landfills. These plastic bottles can take many centuries to biodegrade. Do we need to change our habits, or are environmental groups making water bottles an undeserved villain? Consider these points of view from an environmental group and a bottled water company:

Environmental Group spokesperson: Plastic bottles are recyclable. They are commonly reused to make new bottles or containers, carpet, fleece clothing, and construction material for decks and playgrounds. But many more water bottles are thrown away than are recycled. Only about one out of every six bottles makes it to a recycling plant. Think of your habits and the habits of your family and friends. Even if we recycle at home, we often throw our water bottles away in the trash if recycling is not readily available at the park, school, or other public place.

It is not just the landfills that are impacted by water bottles. Plastic bottles are lightweight and often end up along our roadsides, in streams and lakes, and ultimately as marine debris in our oceans. Plastics are made with petroleum and it takes a lot of energy to make, fill, cap, and ship the bottles around the world. One study found that filling a water bottle one-quarter of the way full with oil demonstrates how much fuel it takes to bring that bottle of water to a consumer. Petroleum is a limited, nonrenewable resource and producing water bottles is an unnecessary use of energy by big companies just out to make money. Drilling for oil and the inevitable spills and leaks of that industry also harm the environment. When oil is used to produce energy, it contributes to air pollution, greenhouse gas production, and global climate change.

Bottled water is also a big rip-off for consumers. Although almost every place in the United States has safe municipal tap water to drink for about 0.00002 cents per ounce, we pay 1000-4000 times more for water that is shipped from far-flung places such as small tropical islands or European countries like France. These places may rank high in tourism but that does not mean they have superior water. Some of it is even from municipal water supplies in our own backyards. Even though some people might have the perception that bottled water tastes better than tap, scientific studies have shown otherwise. At a blind taste test at one college campus, tap water was chosen over bottled water by the majority of people four out of five times.

Bottled water is not even the healthiest choice in most cases. Tap water has higher standards of quality than bottled water. For instance, bottled water is not held to the same fecal matter standards that tap water is. Bottled water that has been stored on shelves for a few weeks can leach chemicals from the plastic into the water, including endocrine-disrupting phthalates that have been linked to cancers and infertility. People need to carry water with them in reusable bottles and stop buying water in plastic bottles. There should also be a national bottle deposit law so that people have an incentive to recycle water bottles.

Bottled water company spokesperson: Plastic water bottles are unfairly targeted by environmentalists. They represent only a small fraction of the amount of waste in landfills and an even tinier fraction of the amount of petroleum used every day. There are many other plastic containers in people’s refrigerators that should be recycled yet water bottles have gotten all of the bad press. Plastic bottle production is responsible for only one third of a percent of the energy consumption in the United States. If the bottles were recycled properly, there would be less petroleum consumed in making water bottles.

There are many more benefits to using plastic water bottles than there are disadvantages. They are lightweight and reduce shipping costs of beverages that were formerly contained in glass bottles. The plastics industry is constantly working on making plastics that are even lighter weight and biodegradable. Some beverage companies are now using recycled plastics in making the new bottles and have introduced innovations such as being able to make the bottles more compact for easier recycling.

Water bottles end up in landfills simply because there are limited recycling opportunities in communities. People buy bottled water because it is a healthy choice when they are on the go. The real issue is getting the water bottles to recycling centers. Many recycling centers in the United States have a shortage of the plastic materials they could use to make so many other products. Recycling bins need to be placed in parks and schools and people need to get in the habit of taking their water bottles home to recycle when recycling bins are not available. It does not make sense to force a bottled-water deposit law on people because it just means people will end up paying more for their bottled water.

We should be celebrating the fact that people are making health-conscious decisions. We are reducing caffeine and sugar in our diets. Some people prefer the taste of a particular brand of bottled water over tap water and they should be able to have that choice. Other people do not have safe water to drink from their taps. We need to continue to make healthy choices as convenient for people as possible.

Questions:

1. What points did you agree on that the environmental spokesman made? Disagree?

2. What points did you agree on that the water bottle industry spokesman made? Disagree?

3. Do you think any laws should be enacted to reduce the number of plastic water bottles in landfills? Explain.

4. Are there any changes in habit that you or your family could make to reduce the number of water bottles that are thrown away? Explain.

More to Explore

Container Recycling Institute: Bottled Water
Bottle Bill Resource Guide