Plastic, Plastic Everywhere & Bottled Water Too

Worried about Plastic Pollution? Here's One Simple Action To Take Today. Plus, The Pros and Cons on Bottled Water.

Plastic pollution is a major problem and getting more attention lately. Here’s a roundup of a few recent stories:

Environmental Justice Perspective

A new UN Report highlights the impact of plastic pollution on already vulnerable populations around the world.

“Plastic pollution is a social justice issue,” said Marce Gutiérrez-Graudiņš, co-author and Founder and Executive Director of Azul in a statement. “Current efforts, limited to managing and decreasing plastic pollution, are inadequate to address the whole scope of problems plastic creates, especially the disparate impacts on communities affected by the harmful effects of plastic at every point from production to waste.”

One State Paving The Way

California is working on the world’s first health guidelines to address microplastic pollution in drinking water.

“We now know that we live in a soup of plastic that is getting ever denser. And we don’t seem to be changing our ways. And the contaminants, they live longer than we do, meaning that the soup will get thicker,” said Rolf Halden, director of the Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering at Arizona State University in a CalMatters article. “So is it too early to do something? No, it is actually a bit late.” 

A Whole Bunch of Trash

Have you heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

“This accumulation of trash is often wrongly visualized as a giant clump of trash so vast and dense that you can walk on it, but the reality is that it looks more like a soup of tiny plastic particles,” writes Marine Biologist, Dr. David Shiffman in SportsDiver.

Not A Joking Matter

John Oliver on “Last Week Tonight” recently devoted his main segment to plastic pollution, highlighting how less than 9 percent of plastic gets recycled and the need for systemic change to make a real impact on this crisis.

What About Bottled Water?

The bottled water industry is certainly contributing to all this plastic pollution as well. Bottled water can be a lifesaver in an immediate crisis, and it has been a lifeline for many communities with undrinkable water, but it comes with some caveats.

We all tend to think that bottled water is cleaner and safer than what’s coming out of the tap. In some communities, that’s very true, but labels on water bottles can be confusing. They portray an illusion of virtue, with images and messages saying they are filled with water from “pure mountain springs,” when many of these bottles simply contain tap water in a fancy-looking to-go package.

The bottled water industry is led by beverage giants like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, who launched the product as a means to maintain profits when soda sales began declining in the early 2000s. Bottled water outsold soda in 2016 and is now the largest beverage category by volume.

“When Perrier first entered the country in the 1970s, few would have predicted the heights to which bottled water would eventually climb,” Michael Bellas, chairman and CEO of Beverage Marketing Corp., said in a statement. “Where once it would have been unimaginable to see Americans walking down the street carrying plastic bottles of water or driving around with them in their cars’ cup holders, now that’s the norm.”

Globally, we spend hundreds of billions on bottled water as the market continues to expand. In the U.S., bottled water is not regulated by the EPA, the agency responsible for the quality of water that comes out of your tap. Instead, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is responsible for the safety of bottled water. States regulate water that is packaged and sold within state lines, which is most of the market.

If you are in a situation where you need to buy bottled water, always read the fine print on the label and look for brands that treat the water with reverse osmosis, distillation, granular activated carbon, micron filtration, or water sourced from pure spring water, which the EPA defines as groundwater collected “at the point where water flows naturally to the earth’s surface or from a borehole that taps into the underground source.”

If the label says from “a municipal source” or “from a community water system,” that translates to tap water.

Bottled water is also a lot more expensive than water from your tap. At first glance it might seem like paying $1 to $3 for a bottle isn’t so bad, but almost 5,000 bottles of water can be filled with tap water for about $2. So each bottle of water you buy costs more than 2,000 times what you would pay for tap water. Of course, you may buy bottled water in bulk and get a better deal, and water bill rates vary throughout the country, but you get the idea.

In addition to cost, bottled water creates a ton of waste. The industry used about 4 billion pounds of plastic in 2016 alone. Many of those bottles don’t get recycled and clog up landfills and public trash bins. Plus, plastic manufacturing plants that make the bottles have been known to pollute local drinking water sources.

Bottled water may be a useful short-term strategy for drinking water in an emergency, but it shouldn’t be a permanent solution. Work with your city officials to improve your drinking water whenever possible and/or get yourself a water filter.

Concerned about plastic pollution? The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act has been reintroduced in Congress, as an expanded and improved version of the bill.

This legislation works to address the plastic pollution crisis by:

  • Shifting the financial burden of waste management and recycling off municipalities and taxpayers to where it belongs: the producers of this waste

  • Spurring massive investments in domestic recycling and composting infrastructure

  • Phasing out certain single-use plastic products that aren’t recyclable

  • Prohibiting plastic waste from being exported to developing countries

One Small Action

You can sign a letter of support now for this legislation here.

What are your thoughts on plastic pollution and bottled water? Sound off in the comments below!