How Much Is That Bottle of Water?

January 26, 2010


By Lorraine Cyr

It is estimated that Americans paid over $10 billion dollars on over 8 billion gallons of bottled water. This translates to over 22 billion empty plastic bottles per year in the landfill. Of these 22 billion plastic bottles it is estimated that only 10% were recycled last year.  We throw away our milk bottles, soda bottles, water bottles, trash bags, grocery bags, product packaging, and more every day without giving it a second thought. Plastic makes up much of the street side litter found in cities and throughout the countryside, and it’s rapidly filling up our landfills as well.

A new movement to BAN THE BOTTLE has gained support. Last year San Francisco banned the city government from using city funds to buy bottled water and insisted on use of tap water for all government workers. NYC started an ad campaign asking residents to boycott bottled water and ask for tap water and even upscale restaurants have taken bottled water from the menu. Bottled water costs a thousand times more than tap water drop for drop. It is often no different than the water from your tap. The water that comes from the tap is just as safe as bottled water and is tested more frequently to ensure the quality. Bottled water has less government quality controls and the spring water that you are paying extra for could be water from a tap.

If you set aside the actual cost of the water and deal with just the plastic bottle. The plastic container can pose a threat because of the #1 polyethylene terephthalate (PETE) used in most bottles. This only becomes an issue if you reuse the plastic bottle. A lot of people thought that they would help reduce the amount of waste in the landfills by reusing bottles. Friends would buy the gallon bottles of water and then pour this water into the smaller bottles and freeze them for work. Not only does this allow for the possible transfer of chemicals such as DEHA and BBP (benzyl buly phthalate) which can be a potential hormone disruptor but reusing plastic bottles can also spread bacteria. If you want to freeze or repackage your water purchase a good quality stainless steel bottle which will last longer and not promote the spread of bacteria.

Studies suggest that between 7% and 8% of the world’s fossil fuels are used in producing new plastics. This doesn’t sound like a great amount, but it accounts for millions of tons of fuels per year. Recycling could preserve these fuels and reuse them in other markets. One ton of fuel oil equals 6.5 barrels of oil. Today’s price of oil was $77 dollars per barrel.

If you estimate that 2 million tons of oil were used to produce plastic in 2009 this is equals 13 million barrels at the cost of $77 each or over $1 billion dollars used to make plastic. 

Because only 10% of plastic is recycled the remaining 90% take up space in landfills. Reports show that landfills are closing at a rate of around two per day. The landfill-space crisis is especially problematic in cities, where inner-city trash dumps are often filled to capacity, and surrounding communities are unwilling to allow new landfills to come to their neighborhoods. Many coastal cities use the ocean as a dumping ground, resulting in depleted fish stock, polluted beaches, and other health issues for the inhabitants. Plastic bottles make up approximately 11% of the contents of landfills. Incinerating plastic contributes to greenhouse gases. To save space at landfills, plastics are often burned in incinerators. When this is done, chemicals, petroleum, and fossil fuels used in the manufacturing process are released into the atmosphere, adding to greenhouse gas emissions.

A lot of plastic is found in the oceans. Plastic in the oceans is responsible for the deaths of millions of sea animals. Plastic bottles floating on the surface of the oceans can look like food to larger sea life often with fatal consequences. In addition, fish, sea birds, and other ocean creatures often get caught in plastic rings that strangle them or constrict their throats so that they cannot swallow.

If you or your building are not recycling your plastic bottles please call Lorraine Cyr Management group to see how to start recycling in your building and then promote its use. Even now after years of public ad campaigns and DC laws requiring recycling to have the recycling rate are only 10 to 15% is a dismal failure on our parts.

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