Thirsty Californians

Appeared in

  • Vall-E-Vents, the San Fernanado Valley Sierra Club Newsletter, Nov-Dec., 2005.

Thirsty Californians Trash the State
(#5 Plastic Plague Series)
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

We all need to kick the bottled water habit and see it for the environmental hazard that it really is. Illustration by Willis Simms.

We all need to kick the bottled water habit and see it for the environmental hazard that it really is. Illustration by Willis Simms.

Is bottled water earth-friendly?

Single-serve bottled water comes in #1 PETE (or PET) plastic bottles, whereas the 1-gallon containers are #2 HDPE plastic. The five-gallon jugs at the office are yet a different plastic, #7 polycarbonate. All three are made from petroleum or natural gas, do not biodegrade, and are thought to last at least a hundred years in the environment. Plastic bottles harm the environment throughout their life cycle.

We all know that petroleum/ natural gas extraction is environmentally costly. Also, toxic chemicals are used or produced in the manufacture of plastic bottles. For example, Bisphenol-A (BPA), a building block of polycarbonate plastics, is known to mimic estrogen and cause reproductive abnormalities when lab animals are exposed as fetuses. Migration of BPA from bottles into water has been documented, and BPA has built up in the environment to the extent that elevated levels are measured in seafood as well as human tissues.

Californians’ thirst for bottled water has contributed heavily to an overall decline in beverage container recycling, down from 70% in 1990 to 55% in 2003. A paltry 16% of #1 PET water bottlessold in CA get recycled, even though they are covered by our state’s cash refund recycling program. The rest, 3 million each day, are littered or land-filled. Across the US, 93 billion water bottles were land-filled in 2002 alone. Placed end-to-end, that is enough to reach the moon and back 38 times. And those bottles that are recycled are not reborn as another water bottle – they are made into something like polar fleece that is not recyclable. All that plastic we drink from is forever mounting up around us.

What are we paying for bottled water?
A 16-to-24 oz bottle of water sells for roughly $1, about 1,000 times the cost of tap water. Since one gallon equals 128 fluid oz, that adds up to about $6/gallon. Comparing this to the price of gasoline should nudge us to think more honestly about what we are getting for our money. If bottled water is not necessarily safer for us (see Is Bottled Water Safe? ), and is certainly harmful to the environment, then maybe what we have really been paying for is just convenience (and laziness). We have perhaps a 15-minute relationship with that drink bottle and then toss it away. The earth is left with it for a hundred years or more to come. The solution is obvious. . .we all need to kick the bottled water habit and see it for the environmental hazard that it really is.

To participate in a California-based statewide plastics reduction campaign, contact Earth Resource Foundation or call (949) 645-5163.

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