This post is by my daughter, Julia, who graduated High School yesterday. Julia belongs to the generation who will next inherit this planet, so sorely damaged by ours. Please read her words and reconsider how cavalier you are about buying bottled water.
Water Water Everywhere, But What’s the Price to Drink?
Bottled water, something almost every single person on the planet has come in contact with one time or another in their life. Bottled water has become a staple of convenience in the lives of Americans, it is easy to just pay a few dollars for a bottle of water, that is one of the reasons we do it. However, there is a price to convenience, and no, the price I am speaking of is not just two dollars. The price is the quality of air we breathe, the quality of life for not only human beings but animals as well, and the enormous overall economic cost of disposable plastic water bottles. Convenience comes at a price we most often do not think about.
Annie Leonard is an environmental activist who studied at Barnard and Cornell and was recently named executive director of Greenpeace, Greenpeace is a non-government operated environmental organization. Leonard takes a moment to write about the effects of bottled water on the world in many aspects the analysis The Story of Bottled Water: A Footnoted and Annotated Script. She speaks on the economic and environmental effect plastic bottle production has on the world. Leonard states “Bottled water costs about 2,000 times more than tap water” (Leonard 201). Which is further supported by the foot note on the consumer advocacy group approximating a gallon of tap water costing $0.002 per gallon where bottled water costs from $0.89 to $8.25 per gallon (qtd. In Leonard 204). That is a staggering amount of money in a comparative view to what is almost free, 0.002 is a fraction of a penny! Why would someone ever pay so much for water? With the single exception of the inability to gain access to clean and safe drinking water. Leonard also takes a moment to talk about the environment, she said “ Eighty percent end up in landfills, where they will sit for thousands of years, or in incinerators where they will be burned, releasing toxic pollution”(Leonard 201). You know the best part of waking up, breathing in toxic fumes, said no one ever.
Leonard argues that people have already done massive amounts of damage to the Earth, and we add to that damage one plastic bottle at a time. It is a largely known fact. When a person takes a plastic bottle of water, drinks all the water in it in a matter of minutes and as we all see very often just tosses it aside, where does it go? Well in an article by Richard J. Dolesh, called The Problem with Bottled Water, which highlights on the alternative to bottled water, drinking fountains. Dolesh takes a moment to speak about the environmental problem stating “ Discarded disposable water bottles are the unwelcome byproduct of bottled water, and our parks, streets and rivers become the recipient” (Dolesh 36). Meaning that a large number of disposable water bottles end up on the ground and in the river. Rivers lead to the ocean, and the ocean is seventy percent of the earth’s surface and holds an approximate ninety one percent of Earth’s water and a staggering ninety seven percent of the earth’s species. So John Doe tosses aside his plastic water bottle, it finds its way to a river, which will eventually make its way back to the ocean, and this bottle becomes broken into microscopic pieces of plastic. So what is the problem with that? Well sea creatures -and birds- will often eat these pieces of plastic which will cut into their viscera, and kill them or eventually become so heavy in their stomachs, because plastic is non-digestive, that they can no longer eat and digest their natural food and die.
Before we leave the topic of the ocean, let me just say that it is not just a few pieces of plastic. Most people nowadays have heard of the GPGP (Great Pacific Garbage Patch). Which is often thought of as a giant island of floating garbage! But that would be much easier to clean up and sadly is not true. In the article Sounds Like Garbage by Joshua Ottum, an scientific article on the GPGP Ottum states that the GPGP is “Microscopic debris is spread throughout a large area of the ocean, making it impossible to view” (Ottum 52). As mentioned above micro plastic, which is almost impossible to clean up because it is spread over a large area, and this ‘Patch’ is so large, approximately twice the size of Texas, because the world adding to it, daily, hourly to be honest. How are we to ever be able to clean it up if we continue to add to the problem? First we need to stop adding to the problem. When faced with the choice choose a reusable water bottle, they can be bought almost anywhere and when thought about are more economically sound than paying continually or a new bottle each day. More than half a billion bottles are purchased each week in the US alone (Leonard 201). When the math is done that would mean each person in the US alone buys at least two disposable bottles a week, now obviously there are people who buy more than that and people who do not buy them at all but for the sake of this example that is what we are going with. So with each person switching to a reusable bottle that knocks off two more from the number of disposable bottles being purchased each week which does not seem like much but that would be saving one hundred and four bottles a year, per person. Which adds up extremely quickly. Another option is the use of public drinking fountains, they are safe, clean and efficient. Most all public places have them, these places being, stores, schools, libraries, and even some parks. These tools are widely available and best of all free to use.
Leonard writes on the disposal of PET water bottles but not on the effect it has on something we all need, oxygen. According to Leonard, Eighty percent of plastic ends up in landfills which is backed by the Container recycling institute in saying some ninety percent of PET bottles end up in the landfill. A lot of things that are thrown into landfills end up being burned in a giant incinerator, so less landmass has to be taken up. In a multiple authored study by Kale, Deshmukh, Dudhare, Patil it is stated that “Plastic causes pollution and global warming not only because of increase in the problem of waste disposal and land filling but also release CO2 and dioxins due to burning. The burning of waste plastic material produces toxic gases posing health hazard by causing lung diseases and cancer after inhalation” (Kale et al. 953). People often do not think about what happens to trash after we throw it away, Oh it just magically disappears right? Well no with plastic waste it either sits for a thousand years- a generally known approximation- or is burned up releasing toxic fumes that as read above are linked to lung cancer when inhaled. Hate to break this news, but we are all inhaling it some of us are just a bit farther away than others. Lung cancer is currently the leading cancer and amounts to a large twenty seven percent of cancer related deaths. That can be equated to much more than just cigarettes.
Leonard briefly writes on an alternative to disposable PET water bottles. Richard J. Dolesh author of the article The problem with Bottled Water which talks about an alternative to disposable plastic bottles, states “Proponents of using public and municipal drinking water instead of bottled water note that the cost of producing safe, clean, public drinking water is far, far cheaper than bottled water, in many cases hundreds, if not thousands of times cheaper.” (Dolesh 36). In the beginning of this essay I talk about the research done by Annie Leonard who took the information from the consumer advocacy group approximating a gallon of tap water costing $0.002 per gallon where bottled water costs from $0.89 to $8.25 per gallon. Which backed up by Richard J. Dolesh shows to be true, 0.002 is far less expensive than 0.89. So just from that we can see the price of water production, for disposable plastic bottles is a lot more expensive than the production of tap water. And do we know who is paying for that highly increased price, well that’s right we are. Let’s talk about personal economics, say John Doe pays the price of two dollars per water bottle, and buys a bottle of water three days a week, he is paying six dollars a week for water. In and of itself that does not sound like very much, but there are fifty two weeks in a year. So when Mr. Doe spends three hundred and twelve dollars a year on bottled water, wouldn’t it be great to have an extra three hundred and twelve dollars each year, to pay back on a home or car, or buy that nice new outfit. There is no person in the world that would say “You know what, no I don’t want more money.”
Another perfectly safe option that Leonard did not mention in her essay that would save the same amount of money each year is public drinking fountains which is the highlight of Dolesh’s article The problem with Bottled Water when he stated “Proponents of using public and municipal drinking water instead of bottled water note that the cost of producing safe, clean, public drinking water is far, far cheaper than bottled water, in many cases hundreds, if not thousands of times cheaper.” (Dolesh 36). What this means is that public drinking fountains, and municipal drinking water (Tap water) are far more cost effective than and just as safe as PET water bottles. To drink from a public drinking fountain is completely free, and completely safe.
There is a cost to everything, even convenience, that price can include air, and wildlife as well as our oceans and our lives. All of the issues above we face, endangerment of wildlife, pollution, economics, and many more, can be fixed. Part one is to stop adding to the problem, say no to disposable bottles. The less people willing to pay for them, the less they will be produced. Saying no to disposable bottles is as simple as buying a reusable one, they cost from five to fifteen dollars, have no expiration date and are made of 100% recyclable material. Step two is doing your very best to not throw away disposable plastic bottles but to recycle them. Most every plastic bottle that is used is made of PET sometimes known as PETE plastic, full name polyethylene terephthalate. PET is the most recyclable plastic out there, and plastic as the most non recycled recyclable material out there. So throw that bottle in the blue bin, or if the county you reside in does not have blue bins take them down to your local fire station they have recycling bins there. Step three, if you see a bottle on the ground pick it up, they weigh maybe an ounce, and if they’re not picked up, they will most likely make their way to the ocean to become the microscopic debris that are so difficult to clean and are killing so many animals. And the final step, spread the word, tell friends and family about what is going on and what they can do to help, every person who decides to say no to disposable plastic is saving the planet we call home. So ask yourselves, is it really worth ignoring, is it really worth not doing these simple things just so you can have two more seconds in your day? Is the price one you are really willing to pay?
Dolesh, Richard J. “The Problem With Bottled Water.” Parks & Recreation 49.5 (2014): 36-38. Academic Search Complete. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.
Kale, Swapnil K., et al. “Microbial Degradation Of Plastic: A Review.” Journal Of Biochemical Technology 6.2 (2015): 952-961. Academic Search Complete. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.
Leonard, Annie. “The Story of Bottled Water.” 2010. The Norton Reader: An Anthology of Nonfiction. Ed. Melissa A. Goldwaite et al. 14th ed. New York: Norton, 2016. 200-212. Print.
OTTUM, JOSHUA. “Sounds Like Garbage: Paddling Through An Imaginary Island Of Trash Toward A New Sonic Ecology.” Social Alternatives 33.1 (2014): 52-59. Academic Search Complete. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.