Plastic bottles of water are everywhere. We buy them for our families. We get them at parties, meetings, events, schools and restaurants. Most of the empty bottles never make it to recycling. Eighty-six percent end up as garbage, almost 1,500 bottles per second, according to the Container Recycling Institute. In 2007, U.S. bottled water consumption was more than 8 billion gallons, the Beverage Marketing Corporation of New York and U.S. Department of Agriculture say, costing consumers almost $100 billion - more than 1,900 times the price of tap water. Bottled water is also costly for the environment with production, transportation, packaging and disposal of the plastic. Plastic persists in the environment.
The environmental impact of bottled water is high. In the U.S. alone, the bottled water industry uses approximately 50 million barrels of oil per year. Oil is used to make plastic, to transport it and to keep the water cold. In fact, the petrochemical industry, which makes plastics, detergents and fertilizers, is generally the largest consumer of energy in the manufacturing sector, according to the Earth Policy Institute. The amount of oil needed to make the U.S. consumers' bottled water could fuel about 100,000 cars per year. Since carbon dioxide is a byproduct of plastic production, every time we use another bottle, we contribute to greenhouse gases.
Marketing has us convinced that bottled water is safer to drink than tap water, even though the Earth Policy Institute has concluded that 40 percent of the bottled water we buy is merely filtered or treated tap water with minerals added. According to Dr. Sue Donaldson, a water quality education specialist with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, people don't realize that municipal tap water is safe to drink. By law, municipal providers must deliver water that meets the drinking water standards set in the Safe Drinking Water Act. There are more standards in the U.S. and Europe regulating tap water than bottled water. Donaldson suggests using a refillable water bottle free of BPA, such as stainless steel, and filling it with tap water. If you don't like the tap water taste, consider a simple carbon filter to remove chlorine, etc. She notes we spend more per gallon of bottled water (in small bottles), than we do per gallon of gas; and we think gas is expensive!
We can make a difference. At a minimum, let's cut our bottled water use in half. Use a refillable bottle, made of BPA-free plastic or stainless steel, instead of buying bottled water. Encourage your friends and family to drink from a refillable bottle. Finally, recycle every plastic bottle you use or find.
• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 887-2252.