It is time to stop the insanity and you can help! I am referring to the madness of purchasing water in single-use, disposable plastic bottles. In spite of the convenience, this is a crazy concept and we must put an end to it.
You may ask, "What's so crazy about using individual bottles of water?" Pardon my candor, but not only is this habit unnecessary and ridiculously expensive, it is also wasteful and dependent on diminishing resources.
Let me share a few important facts:
- Plastics are made by synthesizing certain chemicals found in fossil fuels like oil, natural gas or coal, to create chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms. These chains are enhanced with additional chemicals and highly-specialized manufacturing processes.
- Plastic is forever. Although some types of plastic can be recycled, it does not ever completely biodegrade.
- Plastic is lightweight and can travel many, many miles from where it was discarded.
- Plastic water bottles account for more than one million tons of waste per year.
- Plastics break down just enough to release toxins that can be hazardous to your health.
This is an especially timely subject because the Scripps Institution of Oceanography completed a three-week, fact-finding expedition in August to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, about one thousand miles west of California.
This garbage patch, officially named the North Pacific Ocean Gyre, is a vortex of floating trash produced by humans that is bigger than the state of Texas. Plastics in the gyre have degraded into minuscule bits that are eaten by various creatures on the food chain, often with deadly consequences.
Researchers even found whole plastic water bottles with barnacles growing on them.
As if this weren't bad enough, there may be another gyre in the Southern Hemisphere that is four times the size of its northern cousin. Learn more about the Scripps expedition.
Buying water in individual bottles is completely unnecessary because we have great tap water in the Grand Valley and in most places in the U.S. The bottled water industry has brainwashed us to think we need this product, even though water in the bottles is frequently not one iota better than our tap water.
Bottled water is expensive. With most of us trying to trim our budgets, this is one expense to jettison immediately. Assuming you pay one buck for a 20-ounce bottle of water, that translates to $6.40 per gallon. Local Ute water costs less than 1/2 cent a gallon. We refill large reusable containers of water at Purified Water to Go and still only pay 35 cents a gallon. From an economic standpoint, individually bottled water is simply a ridiculous waste of money.
Then you have to take into account the amount of resources used to make all those bottles, fill them and transport them. The fossil fuel that is diverted into making water bottles for one year could run more than 100,000 cars during that same time period.
Which bring us full circle to the trash resulting from the bottled-water habit. Each year in the United States about 40 billion water bottles are thrown away, wherever "away" is. Fewer than 20 percent of water bottles actually get recycled.
I attempted to estimate the number of plastic bottles of water sold in Grand Junction in one week. However, it is nearly impossible to pin down any numbers for local sales. Discount giants and other corporations hold on to sales figures tighter than oil companies hang on to fracking formulas.
After repeatedly being told, "We don't release specific sales information" and "That's pretty confidential information," I decided "lots" was the closest I could get. A local grocery store manager did slip up and tell me he sold about three pallets each week, translating to almost 10,500 bottles just from one store.
Purchasing water in plastic, single-serve containers is a lose-lose situation. Stop buying this wasteful product and encourage others to follow your lead. Together we can stop the madness now.
They say it takes three weeks to break a habit and it can be a difficult process. While weaning yourself from plastic water bottles may not compare to breaking the nicotine habit, you may need some support.
- Use the buddy system and go cold turkey with one friend or a whole group. Post your commitment to breaking the water bottle habit on Facebook, so your friends will hold you accountable or at least razz you. Maybe you'll inspire others to make the change.
- You can still take water with you everywhere. Invest in good quality, reusable water bottles for you, family members and pretty much everyone you know. They make great gifts and encourage positive change. You can buy them at lots of stores and online. I like stainless steel bottles made by SIGG. We were recently given bottles from Klean Kanteen, a Chico, California company, which are "made responsibly in China" and dishwasher friendly.
- Drink tap water.
- If you don't like the taste of tap water, or have apprehensions based on health concerns, use a filtration system -- Britta, faucet, under sink or whole house. You can also buy larger quantities of purified water in refillable containers from many venues or have water delivered. All of these options are less expensive than bottled water and much more sustainable, with a fraction of the negative impact on the environment.
If you cannot break the water bottle habit make sure you recycle. This saves 80 percent of the energy used in manufacturing virgin plastic and reduces the amount of fossil fuel raw materials. Just remember plastic is forever.
A version of this piece originally appeared in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and on gjsentinel.com at www.gjsentinel.com.