Solution Essay By Carly Dietrich

The Truth about Convenience

The first words that people think when talking about bottled water are clean, safe, and convenient. The opposite can be found when thinking about tap water, words that come to mind consist of dirty, unsanitary, or ground water. This is the distorted reality we live in. The public feels that bottled water is a much cleaner and a more convenient way of consuming water then tap water. This uninformed thought by the public then leads to an increased production of plastic water bottles and the destructive effects that come along with it. Many plans could be put into action to try and boycott production. The public is not aware, nor informed of the harmful environmental footprint that the production of plastic water bottles create. This view can be changed with just a little understanding.

The biggest problem we face is, where do these bottles go after we use them. According to Ellsbury:

"Despite recycling infrastructure that exists in order to facilitate the recycling of these bottles, according
to Container Recycling Institute 86% of plastic water bottles used in the US become garbage that ends up
in landfills throughout the country. Considering that approximately 60 million plastic water bottles are used
everyday in the US, we can assume that nearly 18,834,000,000 end up in the landfill each year."(Ellsbury).

Plastic takes nearly 700 years to decompose, according to Ellsbury, which means that in 7 lifetimes a single bottle that was used would finally decompose. Who is to say that each bottle that is thrown away makes its way to a landfill? According to Huber, "If it doesn't make its final resting place in a landfill, it could either be incinerated, or become a disturbance in a unnatural ecosystems." This is not good because incinerating the bottles produces greenhouse gasses which is already a big problem for our earth, but when they end up in the wild they kill and destroy animals and their habitats. If we continue to disregard our atmosphere and our existing habitats we could lose thousands on thousands of species and we could even lose ourselves in this horrifying process. The production of plastic bottles only enhances this hurtful process.
How much energy does it take to make a single water bottle? That thought probably rarely crosses any one's mind. There are many different components to energy consumption; some are oil and water use, transportation, and production. Oil is a main component in the creation of plastic bottles. According to Gleick, "17 million barrels of oil a year are used to make plastic water bottles for the American market, that oil could fuel 1.3 million cars for one year. If you were to fill one quarter of a plastic water bottle with oil, what you wold be looking at is approximately the amount used to produce that single bottle. The production of a kilogram of PET (polyethylene terephthalate), roughly 30 one-liter plastic bottles, takes around 3 liters of petroleum." In addition to all the PET that is being produced, some of it never even gets to be used. In 2006, almost 4 billion pounds of PET went to waste, which is equivalent to 72 billion plastic bottles (Royte). This seems foolish that we are using this large amount of oil and petroleum to create something that is not necessary; we do not need plastic water bottles. Every year countries fight over that amount of oil they have within them, and yet we decide to use a vast amount on single-serve plastic water bottle production. Besides oil, water is an obvious material in bottled water. According to Huber, “the manufacture and filling of a bottle consumes twice as much water than will ultimately be in the bottle; this is because the bottle-making machines are cooled by water." On average, only 60 to 70 percent of the water used by bottling plants ends up in the final product, the rest of the water is wasted (Royte). In 2006, Coke used 290 billion liters of water to produce 114 billion liters of all types of beverages (Royte). That is 176 billion liters of wasted water, water that could have been used elsewhere for a better purpose. So by getting rid of plastic bottling we would be saving two of our earth's vital resources.

Transportation is another large element in the production of plastic water bottles. Not only is energy required to make plastic bottles, but also energy and resources are used to transport bottles across the country and across the globe. Bottled water has a very long journey to get to the US market. “In 2006, the equivalent of 2 billion half-liter bottles arrived in US ports and Fiji shipped 18 million gallons of bottle water to California, releasing about 2,500 tons of transportation-related pollution” according to the NDRC. The energy requirements depend on two factors: the distance and the mode of transportation according to Huber. The further the distance, more energy is consumed. Air cargo is the most intensive form of transport, followed by truck, rail, or bulk ocean shipping (Gleick & Cooley). As a result, this energy consumption contributes to gas emissions into the atmosphere. For example, Poland Springs burned 928,226 gallons of diesel fuel in 2007 on transportation alone (Royte). Accordingly, the Natural Resources Defense Council concluded that shipping one million gallons of water from Fuji to New York City can generate 190 tons of carbon dioxide (Royte). “It makes a neat story for the anti-bottle crowd. Water is sent thousands of miles to people who already have clean, cheap water (us), while locals at the source go thirsty” (Royte) While all this work is put into the transportation of plastic water bottles Gleick points out that, “This energy cost is a thousand times larger than the energy required to produce, process, treat, and deliver tap water.”

To produce all the bottles, energy is constantly being used to run the machines that create the bottles themselves. More energy is then required to turn PET into bottles, to filter, ozonate, or in other words to purify the water, to run the machines, and to chill the bottle before use (Gleick & Cooley). Treatments such as ultraviolet radiation, micro or ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, and ozonation, all require added energy (Gleick & Cooley). Additionally, machines must rinse, fill, cap and label the bottles. The average machine can clean, fill, and seal around 15,000 bottles per hour (Gleick & Cooley). By producing these plastics, it creates its own waste. Resources are not being allocated efficiently, creating obverse chemicals into the air such as emissions of nickel, ethyl benzene, ethylene oxide, and benzene from the plastic-making process (Royte). In comparison to tap water, Gleick and Cooley found that producing bottled water requires between 5.6 and 10.2 million joules of energy per liter. They also concluded that’s up to 2,000 times the energy required to produce tap water which costs about 0.005 million joules per liter for treatment and distribution. The public is lead to believe that bottled water is the "better" water. This belief is causing major impacts on our planet today. Valuable oil is being wasted, pollutants are being added to our atmosphere, and enormous amounts of energy and water are being used for mundane acts such as capping a bottle. Yes, bottled water is the more convenient choice when grabbing for a beverage, but its the wrong choice. If we, as the human race, are making the choice to use a environmental threat over tap water, we have some rethinking and reevaluating to do.

Reevaluating- to judge or determine the significance, worth, or quality of; to asses ( The growing problem of wasted plastic bottle production has an immense amount of significance; this problem deserves to be reevaluated, and to have a search for a solution. Small institutions all over the world have tried to make environmental changes to help better the situation we have gotten ourselves into.
For example, in the state of Minnesota, a small liberal arts college, Bemidji State University, has made many environmental friendly strides for our planet. One of their many strides was to eliminate all plastic water bottles on campus. According to Michael Hanson, Student Liaison of Bemidji State's Student Senate, earlier in the 2013-2014 school year it was proposed from the university's Sustainability Office to ban all water bottles on campus. I believe that this is one of the few ways to solve this growing problem. If all companies and institutions refused to use or buy plastic bottles then there would be no need for the production of them. Though I believe that this a good solution, not all others would agree. "The bill was quickly deemed too extreme and was brought down to just being banned at C3 (a small convenient store within campus) and Lakeside (dinning hall at BSU) since you could still buy water close to those two locations" says Hanson in All about Water Bottles. I understand that some could think that this plan would be extreme, but implementing the choice of using a reusable water bottle could make this plan not seem as unattainable. When you enroll as a freshman or transfer to BSU, the Sustainability Office gives every new student a free reusable water bottle. Reusable water bottles encourage the use of drinking fountains and the use of tap water that is provided to us at all times. I have seen this plan in action being a student from BSU. I see students using those BSU bottles daily rather than plastic ones. The use of reusable water bottles would immediately relieve some on the environmental stress the production process creates. If the public were to reuse a single bottle rather then buying packs and packs of plastic bottles big brand companies like Aquafina, Disani, and Ice Mountain would have to delay production of these harmful bottles because of the slow demand.
Though some individuals feel that eliminating plastic water bottles would be taking away freedoms the public possess Hanson states, "Only one senator was against the bill and he stated that taking away water bottles took away students' freedoms and the healthier choice around campus. It was then counter argued that it doesn't prevent healthy choices since people could still easily buy water at a different location nearby." If I were to further this argument within the BSU Student Senate I would suggest having a steady flow of data that the students could see to understand the difference they were making by not consuming large amount of water through plastic bottles on campus, environmentally and economically. People are creatures of habit. If people see a new habit of theirs is making progress or a positive impact and they will continue to do so.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License