You may not think twice about picking up a plastic water bottle at the airport or a concert venue and then tossing it in the recycling bin whenever you finish hydrating. After all, plastic water bottles are easy to use and accessible—you can find them pretty much anywhere you go.
But all this convenience comes at a major price for the environment on which we all rely. Single-use plastics (such as plastic water bottles) add to our landfills, pollute our oceans, and cause untold devastation to wildlife and the environment as a whole. What’s more, plastic water bottle production contributes to climate change.
The good news? There’s a straightforward solution to the plastic water bottle conundrum. We simply need to use less of them. Plastic water bottle bans in cities, states, and entire countries have made major strides, as well as people converting to reusable bottles.
Let’s take a closer look at plastic water bottle use around the world plus why it’s so important to ban the bottle.
Plastic Water Bottle Usage Across the Globe
Perhaps what makes plastic water bottle waste so devastating is that most of it is unnecessary. While there may be circumstances in which people have no choice but to purchase bottled water (take the water crisis in Flint, MI, for example), in many parts of the world bottled water is about convenience rather than necessity.
That sad fact also contains a silver lining: If more people stop using single-use plastics, it can make a dramatic positive impact on the health of our planet. One single person switching to a reusable water bottle can spare the planet from approximately 156 plastic bottles annually; imagine that number multiplied by hundreds, thousands, or millions of people!
Switching to reusable water bottles can save people money, too. Using a $20 reusable water bottle can save a whopping $6,180 over five years of use.
The 411 on Banning Plastic Bottles
Why should we ban plastic bottles?
If you read the stats above, then you can guess why it’s worthwhile to ban plastic bottles. They represent a large portion of plastic waste around the globe, which is strangling ecosystems and rapidly becoming one of the biggest threats to global waterways.
Here are some other compelling reasons to ditch plastic bottles:
- The production of plastic bottles involves massive amounts of fossil fuels—up to an estimated 17 million barrels of oil annually. (That’s enough to fuel 1 million cars for a whole year.) The burning of fossil fuels is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. In fact, water bottling alone releases 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year.
- The plastic water bottle production process also drains water resources. Making a single water bottle takes three times more water than that bottle will hold. Because this water is exposed to harmful chemicals during the production process, it cannot be reused and is then wasted.
- In many cases, plastic water bottles are really just expensive tap water. The Natural Resources Defense Council has found that one quarter of all bottled water is actually tap water in an expensive package. This means many corporate beverage companies bottle municipal water and then sell it to consumers at a higher price than tap water.
What if nothing is done?
If humans don’t take steps to curb plastic waste, plastic will continue to wreak havoc on ecosystems around the globe. Some estimates suggest that by 2050, there may be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans. That has devastating implications for wildlife and the water resources on which all people and animals rely. The production of bottled water is a major contributor to global warming, so failing to limit this production will exacerbate the global effects of climate change.
What has been done to ban plastic bottles?
A number of universities, towns, and cities around the globe have experimented with banning plastic bottles, and many more initiatives are underway. Here’s a sampling of those bans:
- In 2009, the Australian town of Bundanoon was perhaps the first town in the world to ban the sale of bottled water. The decision was part of a larger effort to fight off a Sydney-based beverage company attempting to build a water extraction plant in the town.
- San Francisco has taken steps to ban the sale of plastic water bottles on city property. That same legislation also bans the use of city funds for future water bottle purchases.
- Plastic water bottles have been banned in Machu Pichu, and visitors are only permitted to transport beverages in reusable containers. The historic site is also taking steps to ban other forms of disposable packaging, such as food wrappers.
- In 2009, Washington University in St. Louis became the first university in the U.S. to ban the sale of plastic, single-use water bottles. Between 2009 and 2016, on-campus sales of bottled beverages dropped by a whopping 39 percent.
- The University of Vermont banned the sale of bottled water in 2013, as a response to student activism. Initially the ban resulted in increased soda sales, but the university has since invested in more infrastructure to make it easier for students to refill water bottles on campus.
- In 2008, students at Leeds University (one of Britain’s largest universities) voted to ban the sale of bottled water from all bars, cafes, and shops.
Which countries are leading the way?
According to Earth Day, many countries are actively seeking to curb plastic waste. For instance, governments in the following countries have taken steps to limit the sale of single-use straws:
- Costa Rica
- Great Britain
- Several states in the U.S., including California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, South Carolina, and Washington
Similarly, many countries have plastic bag taxes and bans in the works. These include:
- Costa Rica
- United Kingdom
- Certain cities in the U.S., including Boston, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.
What impact does banning plastic bags have on the environment? What can we learn from this?
Another major source of plastic pollution can be found in the form of plastic bags. People use an estimated 4 trillion plastic bags across the globe each year, and recycle a measly 1 percent of them. In the U.S. alone, Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags every single year, or about 307 bags per person. In light of these statistics, banning plastic bags may be an effective way to curb plastic pollution worldwide. So far, 127 nations (including Kenya, Denmark, and Bangladesh) have banned or taxed bags. In the U.S., several states have issued bans, and 95 bills pertaining to plastic bag usage were introduced in state legislative sessions across the country in the winter of 2018.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from plastic bag bans is that it is possible to reduce the use of single-use plastics and motivate changes in consumer behavior. This suggests bottled water bans are another feasible strategy to limit plastic waste worldwide.
What are the innovations for alternative water bottles?
Plastic water bottles are not the only means to obtain water and stay hydrated. There are a variety of alternative water bottles, which include:
- Reusable water bottles
Reusable water bottles are made from several different materials, including ceramic, glass, and stainless steel. These materials offer a number of benefits over plastic. For instance, all of these materials will last for years, and glass can be recycled an infinite number of times.
- Edible water bottles
If that sounds crazy, check out an invention called Ooho, which Fast Company described as “a blob-like water container.” The product contains water in a double membrane.
- Biodegradable water bottles
Even bottles that aren’t edible may be biodegradable. Take the water bottle maker Cove, which has produced a 100-percent biodegradable water bottle and a label made with non-toxic inks and glue. The bottles can be composted and will theoretically break down even if they end up in a landfill or ocean (though it’s unclear how long that process will take).
- Boxed water
Paper bottles still draw on environmental resources (after all, paper comes from trees), but they are 100-percent recyclable and may be less toxic than plastic bottles.
Paper bottles still draw on environmental resources (after all, paper comes from trees), but they are 100-percent recyclable and may be less toxic than plastic bottles. Scientists are also experimenting with plastic alternatives derived from the likes of mushrooms or sugar combined with carbon dioxide.
Make no bones about it, plastic water bottles wreak havoc on ecosystems around the globe. But whenever possible, people can choose not to use plastic water bottles and opt for reusable options instead. In the process, we can all play a part in saving our planet.
By Laura Newcomer in partnership with Waterlogic and Ghergich & Co
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