Although disposable water bottles can be very convenient, that convenience comes at a high cost. Not only can disposable water bottles contain harmful chemicals such as Bisphenol A (BPA) that damage your health, but they also have highly negative impact on the environment.
According to research, it has been discovered that the environmental impacts of bottled water are 1,400 times higher than tap water. Also, the impact of bottled water on natural resources is 3,500 times higher than that of tap water, as discovered by scientists.
Bottled water is unnecessary for anyone with access to sanitary tap water.
Facts about Bottled Water in the Environment
- The entire life cycle of disposable water bottles uses fossil fuels, which contributes to global warming, and causes pollution.
- The water bottling process releases 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually.
- Disposable water bottle waste washes into the ocean and kills 1.1 million marine creatures each year.
- Bottled water is tested for microbes and other pollutants 4 times less than tap water.
- As you can see, producing disposable water bottles has already done a great amount of damage because 90% of bottled water’s cost comes from making the bottle.
Personally, the first problem with bottled water that comes to my mind is the plastic bottles that they are sold in. Although most if not all plastic bottles are made of a plastic called PET (polyethylene terephthalate), which is recyclable, most nations don’t recycle them.
For example, in Nigeria and some other developing countries of the world, probably 70 or 75 percent of the plastic water bottles that we buy and consume are never recycled. The industry likes to tell us that PET plastic is completely recyclable.
The United States and Mexico consume the most water bottle per capita, however, they are not the world’s biggest polluters. That award goes to China, though the United States is a close second, followed by Brazil, Indonesia, and Japan.
Globally, we go through one million plastic water bottles per minute. Of that figure, some countries are consuming significantly more water bottles than others. The United States, for example, goes through 1,500 plastic water bottles every second, whereas China consumes 2,156 bottles per second.
The glaring problem here is when you consider the respective populations: China is roughly 1.3 billion people, and the United States is only 350 million per capita, but the United States is consuming far more. In Mexico, because of poor tap water quality, they have the world’s largest bottled water consumption per capita, with an average of 61 gallons per person each year.
The question now is, what happens to the plastic bottles after the water inside has been consumed? I will be focusing mostly on the impacts of plastic bottles on the environment.
10 Environmental Impacts of Bottled water
1. Plastic Pollution
There’s a lot of information circulating about the plastic pollution epidemic, specifically, single-use disposable plastics.
Though plastic bottles are convenient and sometimes necessary for clean water in rural areas, a lack of government oversight has led to the proliferation of plastic disposables, which have become an industry that has produced over 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic in the last six decades, of which 6.3 billion tons have become plastic waste. It should come as no surprise that one of the most pressing environmental issues we face is plastic pollution.
“According to the Container Recycling Institute, 86 percent of plastic water bottles used in the United States become garbage or litter.”
This overconsumption of plastic has led to excessive waste caused by littering and poor recycling programs.
2. Resources Consumption
“It is another product we do not need. Bottled water companies are wasting resources. In 2016, we consumed 400 billion plastic water bottles around the globe, equivalent to 1 million plastic water bottles per minute, or 20,000 bottles per second.
This means that to make more bottles, they need more crude oil, the source of raw material to create plastics. In the United States alone, 17 million barrels of oil are needed to produce plastic to meet annual bottled water demand.
This amount of oil far exceeds the amount needed to power 100,000 for a year, which does not include fossil fuel and the emissions costs of greenhouse gases needed to transport the final product to market.
In addition, bottled water in the UK is at least 500 times more expensive than tap water. Therefore, an enormous amount of natural resources are lost in other to meet the global demand for plastic bottles.
For every six bottles people buy, only one is recycled. That leads to a big problem given the fact that water bottles do not biodegrade, but rather photo-degrade. This means that it takes at least 1,000 years for every single bottle to decompose, leaking harmful chemicals and pollutants into our soil and groundwater as it decomposes.
Studies show that the toxins decomposing bottles of water leach into our environment damaging the soil and groundwater which when exposed to it causes a variety of health issues, including reproductive problems and cancer.
4. Overflowing Landfill
80 percent of plastic water bottles end up in landfills. It takes up to 1,000 years for every single bottle to decompose. In 2016, we consumed 400 billion plastic water bottles around the globe, equivalent to 1 million plastic water bottles per minute, or 20,000 bottles per second.
Approximately only 9% of all plastic gets recycled, while the remaining 91% ends up in landfills. As a result, in the United States, for instance, landfills are overflowing with 2 million tons of discarded water bottles. We don’t recycle most of the materials that we use that could be recycled.
And the stuff that isn’t recycled, goes to landfills. “And when it goes to landfills, it’s buried, and it lasts forever, effectively forever.”
5. Effect on Human Health
Plastic bottles contain Bisphenol A (BPA), the chemical used to make the plastic hard and clear. BPA is a hazardous chemical and endocrine disruptor that has been proven to be hazardous to human health.
However, according to the corporations that are bottling the water, they deny that their plastics contain BPA or any harmful chemicals.
This chemical enters the human body through exposure to plastics such as bottled drinks, cleaning products, and the consumption of contaminated marine life.
They have been strongly linked to a host of health problems, including certain types of cancer, neurological difficulties, early puberty in girls, reduced fertility in women, premature labor, and birth defects in newborn babies, just to name a few negative effects.
6. Waste Generation in the Environment
The overconsumption of plastic has led to an excessive and enormous amount of plastic waste being found in the environment, with a lack of adequate recycling programs in place.
Recycling is only feasible in limited circumstances because only PET bottles can be recycled. All other bottles are discarded. Only 1 out of 5 bottles are sent to the recycle bin.
7. Loss of Biodiversity
It can take over 400 years for plastic water bottles to biodegrade. Microplastics (tiny plastic particles) break down and embed themselves in our food chain as they are ingested by marine life-threatening larger ecosystems and, consequently, human health.
One million seabirds and 100,000 fish, sea mammals, and turtles die every year due to plastic pollution. Sea turtles currently consume twice as much plastic as they did 25 years ago.
One in three Laysan Albatrosses in the Midway Atoll is killed by consuming so much plastic that it fills their stomach, resulting in malnutrition, starvation, and death.
Entanglement, in which an animal becomes trapped by an object, is another major concern with plastic waste.
Plastic water bottles may act as an inadvertent trap or shelter for small fish and crustaceans. While larger animals may not get stuck inside the bottles, they do try to consume and break down anything that may contain prey.
Even if larger marine animals manage to avoid eating plastic, they’re often consuming animals that have already ingested micro-plastics.
These toxic elements eventually work their way up the food chain, damaging all forms of marine life. thereby leading to the loss of diverse species in the environment.
8. Pollution of Water
It is estimated that there are 5 trillion pieces of plastic are dumped and seen floating in our oceans. The ocean has been noted to be a major dumping ground for plastics around the world, spanning everything from plastic wrappers to micro-plastics that are millimeters in size.
Each year eight million tons of plastic gets dumped into our oceans, the equivalent of filling five grocery bags worth of plastic waste for each foot of coastline around the world.
But on the contrary, the Ocean Cleanup exercise has been launched by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat with a massive plastic cleaning device made of sections of floating plastic pipes and nets that will trap debris floating near the surface.
This ambitious, although controversial, project, has received criticism from scientists worried that it may harm marine life, however, there has been a debate and research by scientists on whether this type of surface sweeping is effective and if it could remain a long-term solution.
9. Climate Change
Climate Change is a major global environmental issue that cannot be overemphasized as it affects all life forms severely in the environment. Unlike tap water which is distributed through an energy-efficient infrastructure, producing bottled water involves burning vast quantities of fossil fuels.
Producing and transporting bottled water uses up to 2,000 times the energy required to produce and distribute tap waste. Raw materials like petroleum and gas have to be transported to plastic manufacturers to create the plastic resin, producing carbon emissions and expanding the water bottles’ carbon footprint in the process. In oil extraction, during the production process, greenhouse gases are released, which consequently leads to climate change.
10. Air Pollution
Bottles used to package water take over 1,000 years to biodegrade, and if incinerated, they produce toxic fumes. It is estimated that over 80% of all single-use water bottles used in the United States simply becomes “litter.”
In summary, you have heard of “Reduce, Reuse Recycle”, this is the best time to practice them. “Reduce” comes first. We should focus on that option before we give ourselves the excuse to buy new ones, telling ourselves “I’m gonna recycle it.” Reuse everything you can, for as long as you can try to minimize over consumption.
If I must buy a plastic water bottle, reuse it by filling it up with filtered tap water five or six times, and then make sure it ends up in the proper recycling container.
Very importantly, remind yourself this: Where tap water is drinkable, bottled water is entirely unnecessary.
After learning about all of the ways that plastic water bottles negatively impact the environment, You have to decide to minimize your usage of bottled water.
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Ahamefula Ascension is a Real Estate Consultant, Data Analyst, and Content writer. He is the founder of Hope Ablaze Foundation and a Graduate of Environmental Management in one of the prestigious colleges in the country. He is obsessed with Reading, Research and Writing.