The first small change with a big impact I am suggesting for the Smaller Footprint Challenge is giving up bottled water. (If you want to know why, as Christians, this is something we care about, read this.) This is actually something that our family has done for a long time, but only recently have I discovered what a big difference this one small change really makes…
So… What’s so bad about bottled water?
On the surface, bottled water may seem healthy and harmless enough – and it really is when you compare it to drinks full of high-fructose corn syrup, chemicals, and empty calories. Water is arguably the best and healthiest thing to drink and it is the beverage of choice at our house. Water bottles are made of plastic, but they can be recycled…so what is the big deal?
Hmm… let’s take a closer look. Did you know that in the USA alone, we throw away 60 million water bottles per day (Go Green, Save Green)? Considering all of those bottles could be recycled, that is astounding. The energy that goes into making a single one of those water bottles is being tossed out, 60 million times today! Each 1 liter bottle (most commonly made from PET plastic) is made from 100 ml of crude oil, 1.5 cubic feet of natural gas (often from “fracking” which creates a world of environmental problems), and 83 grams of coal (Detrashed Zero Waste Living). If Americans gave up disposable plastic water bottles (not even counting other plastic bottles) the savings of crude oil alone (17 million barrels of fuel per year) would be enough fuel to power 1.3 million cars annually (Ban the Bottle)! If we add the fuel used to transport the plastic bottles to be filled and then transported to the store, the number gets even higher! Considering the fossil fuel crisis we always seem to be fighting about, that seems like a pretty easy way to free up some resources!
Okay, okay – so each plastic bottle takes energy to make, but as long as I recycle it, it’s all okay, right?
Recycling plastic bottles is a very good thing and I am SO glad that we have the ability to do it. However, there is a couple problems with recycling plastics. The first is that people really don’t do it that much… About 23% of plastic is recycled across our nation. Even in a “progressive” recycling state like California, where I live, the recycling rate is a very sad 40% (Detrashed Zero Waste Living). Most other states are even lower… If recycling is not convenient, people often will not do it. I have fished bottles out of trash cans to put in the recycling bin that was 10 feet away – in fact, some of my friends in high school would torment me by tossing recyclables in the trash just to see me freak out and dig through the bin… (gotta love how mature high schoolers can be…)
However, just recycling your bottle does not solve the problem. Much of the negative environmental impact of each bottle is created during manufacturing. Recycling plastics is an intensive process and only about 10% of the energy originally used to make the bottle is recovered. The process also degrades the plastic, so it can no longer be made into water bottles, but instead is used for other things. Recycling also takes more energy and a lot of water. Recycling helps – please do it – but it does not solve the problem.
But I can’t give up bottled water. It is so much healthier than tap water.
Maybe, maybe not… Did you know that two of the most popular bottled water brands (Dasani and Aquafina) are actually made from purified municipal water(Ban the Bottle)? Some brands are actually mountain spring water, but many are not. A filter at home (we use one built into our refrigerator – of course, make sure to replace the filter periodically) will do the same thing those expensive water bottles will do for fractions of pennies on the dollar! You can buy water filter pitchers or a filter system that hooks to your faucet quite inexpensively. If you are really concerned that even filtering your water won’t make it palatable, you can still buy your water, just get a couple large 5-gallon containers and refill them for only $1.25 at most grocery stores. Or you may consider a company that delivers the water and reuses the containers.
Drink water and think ahead
Please drink water and drink enough water throughout the day, but try to bring your own reusable water bottle from home instead. Glass and stainless steal options are great, and quite inexpensive. We also use plastic Nalgene bottles, which are BPA free. However, many people choose to avoid plastics completely, because of the potential carcinogens associated with them, which I completely understand. I try to use glass around the house, but I just love my Nalgene bottles for hiking and backpacking, plus they are kid friendly. (Anyone else have an expensive glass bottle shattered by their toddler?)
Encourage your friends and co-workers to also say “goodbye” to that bottled water bad guy – in fact, please share this article with them (shameless self promotion, I know!) Let’s spread the word and save our country millions of water bottles being thrown away today. Let’s reach for the slightly less convenient option and think ahead. But if you do find yourself thirsty and in need of some water, but without your trusty water bottle friend, go ahead and purchase some bottled water – it is much healthier for you than a coke – just remember to recycle it afterward!
Please note: Although it may seem like a good thing to refill disposable plastic bottles over and over as a cheap water bottle and a great way to re-use – don’t do it! Most plastic water bottles are made of plastic that is not made to be reused. When you reuse it, especially over time, the plastic degrades, potentially leaching harmful chemicals from the degraded plastic into your water – not a happy thought! Better to be safe. Use a reusable water bottle instead – glass and stainless steal are considered the safest options.