Driving Up Costs and Pollution - Bottled Water and Its Impact on the Environment

Water is essential for humans, we need water in the air and on the planet, and our bodies are mostly made up of water. We must drink water to live and we have to stay hydrated for basic health. However, in recent decades, bottled water has risen in popularity across the world. While people should absolutely be drinking clean water, and convenience is important to achieve that, bottled water can have a negative impact on the environment.

Facts and Statistics

Bottled water is hugely popular. Last year, Americans used more than 150 bottles of water each. That is a lot of bottles that are rarely reused and mostly thrown away, but even more shocking is how much goes into making the bottles. Ban the Bottle notes that it takes 17 million barrels of oil, enough to power 1.3 million cars, every year to produce water bottles just for Americans. In addition, all of that bottled water takes immense effort and energy to bottle and transport.

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How Big is the Problem?

Bottled water isn’t just problematic during production and transport when huge amounts of energy are needed to load, move, cool, and unload bottled water. The problem is much larger than that. As many as 1 in 8 people around the world don’t have easy access to clean water, and the water used for bottled water isn’t helping. iIn fact, it’s increasing the environmental issues that lead to water scarcity.

To put things even more in perspective, it takes between 1.63 and 3 liters of water to make a single1-liter bottle of water. The water waste alone is staggering, especially when considering the number of people and animals in the world who are unable to find clean and easily available water. Approximately 1.1 billion people on the planet lack access to clean drinking water, and the continued use of bottled water is exacerbating that problem.

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Manufacturing Water Bottles

As mentioned, manufacturing bottled water is a laborious and wasteful process. Beyond the water waste, chemicals produced and used in the manufacture of water bottles is also bad for the environment, and may even be harmful to humans. Many plastic water bottles contain BPA, a chemical used to make water bottles hard and clear. However, BPA has been shown to have negative effects on humans, particularly on the endocrine system.

In addition, the actual manufacturing process is long and complicated, requiring many resources. Chemicals must be heated, formed, and then cooled before water can even be put into the bottles, and many of these chemicals make water bottles non-recyclable, resulting in the bottles being both wasteful and hard to disintegrate.

To learn more, visit One Green Planet: What the problem with plastic bottles?

The Environmental Impact of Bottled Water

Producing bottled water, including the use of harmful chemicals and the waste of water, is a huge drain on the environment, but there are several other points in a water bottle’s lifespan where it impacts the environment negatively. The bottled water must be cooled and transported, using even more fuel. Also, the water itself is often drawn from groundwater or underwater sources that are depleted or damaged when used too heavily or for commercial use.

After a bottle has been purchased, often for a significant markup on the cost of tap water, it then must be either reused or discarded. Most plastic water bottles are disposable, and few people reuse them. These discarded water bottles can sometimes be recycled, but more often end up in landfills. About 86% of bottled water bottles in the United States end up in a landfill, and landfills in turn are harmful to water supplies. Also, any bottles that are incinerated to remove them from landfills can release harmful chemicals back into the air, furthering environmental issues and health problems.

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Solutions and Alternatives

One easy solution for the growing disposable water bottle problem would be to stop using disposable bottles and instead use reusable bottles and containers, many of which can be made without harmful chemicals like BPA. Although more expensive of an investment on the front end, these bottles can be reused, reducing their cost per use and the manufacturing costs needed to produce disposable products.

Another solution could be promoting the safety and availability of tap water. Although not as fancy sounding as many bottled waters, most tap water is safe and almost identical to bottled water. Another potential solution is education, many campuses have campaigns to stop the use of disposable bottled water, and spreading the word about how harmful these bottles are can potentially have a huge impact on the issue.

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Additional Resources

It is clear that bottled water is harmful to the environment and to people and animals. Although we need to hydrate and drink water, bottled water is clearly not the solution. Using reusable containers, spreading the word about the dangers and damages of plastic water bottles, and encouraging others to learn more about these issues are great steps to take. Every small action counts!

To learn more about bottled water, its impact, and alternatives, check out these additional resources:

The Plastic Pollution Coalition talks about banning plastic bottles: The first American city to ban plastic water bottles.

NPR discusses America’s obsessions with bottled water: Why Americans are obsessed with bottled water.

Consumer Reports talks about the cost of bottled water: Bottled water: $346 per year. Tap water: 48 cents. Any questions?