Solution Proposal 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 the use of plastic water bottles on campus which I feel is the best solution to this problem. 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 is a good solution, not all others would agree. On the opening page of his paper "All about Water Bottles" Hanson states, "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." I understand that some could think banning all plastic bottles would be extreme, thats why I think that reusable water bottles would be the second best solution to slow plastic water bottle production. Reusable water bottle sales has sky rocketed in recent years because of the new knowledge and advertisements that has been presented to the public about the negative impacts plastic bottles have on the environment. I believe that advertisement will be the way to finally get the entire public on the reusable water bottle bandwagon. As seen at Bemidji State University, when you enroll as a freshman or transfer to BSU, the Sustainability Office gives every new student a free reusable water bottle as a welcome gift. By giving students a free reusable water bottle the use of drinking fountains and the use of tap water, that is provided to us at all times, would be encouraged. 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 bottle production process creates. If the public were to reuse a single bottle everyday rather then using a plastic bottle everyday big brand companies like Aquafina, Disani, and Ice Mountain would have to delay production of these harmful bottles because of the slow demand.
If I were to further this argument within the BSU Student Senate I would suggest having a steady flow of data that the students and administration could see to understand the difference they were making by consuming water through reusable water bottles rather than through plastic bottles on campus. The information would include the positive impacts the students were making for the environment, but also the positive impacts they were making for themselves. Not only would this benefit the amount of money the school is paying to buy,supply,and recycle these bottles, it would save the students a large portion of money too."Sipping from a reusable bottle could save a whopping $550.00 a year (one disposable plastic water bottle daily at its average cost) compared to a one-time $15-$25 investment" according to People are creatures of habit. If people see a new habit of theirs is making progress or a positive impact on their daily life they will continue to do so. If a plan like the one at Bemidji State University was to be implemented onto a bigger scale, in the United States for example, I believe that plastic water bottles sales would drop, while reusable water bottle sales would increase. If the data was then distributed for the public to see, people would know the good they were doing for their "home" and continue or better the waste created from plastic water bottles.
If a reusable water bottle plan were to be implemented, there would need to be some changes. I understand the entire point behind plastic water bottles is convenience; they are easy to get access to and to carry around. If reusable water bottles were to become a necessity, many more drinking fountains would have to be installed everywhere making water easier to access. All sidewalks would have to be filled with them for this proposal to work. The public will not do anything if it takes more time from their daily lives or makes their days any harder then they already are. Although I believe that banning plastic water bottles is the only true solution to this problem, reusable water bottles could be a very promising start to a complete ban of plastic bottles. Reusable water bottles need to become the new convenient trend instead of disposable plastic. Ending production will greatly increase the health of our earth and ultimately our quality of life.

Writer's Memo-

I found this part of my paper to be particularly interesting: I really like to be aware about things that are going on in the world. I also really enjoy environmental topics so this paper wasn't a chore at all.

This part was surprisingly difficult: Citing! For some reason I would second guess everything that I cited because I wasn't sure that I was right.

Next time I would do this differently: Start sooner then I did. I wasn't as pressed for time as my last paper, but I still should have started a little bit earlier.


Ellsbury, Hannah. "Plastic Water Bottles Impose Health and Environmental Risks." Ban the Bottle RSS. N.p., 23 Aug. 2012. Web. 09 Feb. 2014.

Didier, Suzanna. "Water Bottle Pollution Facts." Home Guides. Demand Media, 16 July 2011. Web. 11 Feb. 2014.

Huber, Marguerite K. "Bottled Water: The Risks to Our Health, Our Environment, and Our Wallets." Thesis. Indiana University, 2010. 2010. Web. 09 Feb

Gleick, P H, and H S Cooley. "Energy Implications of Bottled Water." IOPscience. IOP Publishing, 19 Feb. 2009. Web. 11 Feb. 2014.

Royte, E. (2008). Bottlemania: Big Businesses, Local Springs, and the Battle over America's Drinking Water. New York: Bloomsbury USA.

Hanson, Michael. "All about Water Bottles." All about Water Bottles (2014): n. pag. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.

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