By Kim Robson
It used to be that every time I visited my mom’s house, she’d have a couple of cases of bottled water waiting in her trunk for me to transport inside. For a long time, I didn’t say anything other than “Where do you want them?” (We don’t want to criticize our mothers, after all.) But I know she cares about the planet, so one day I finally said something. She was actually relieved I’d brought it up because she’d been feeling terrible about all that waste. But Mom hated the taste of tap water, so we researched various home water filters and she settled on Aquasana brand. She’s very happy with it. (Brita is another very popular brand.) She got a few stainless steel bottles to carry around. I’m so proud of her!
Americans purchase an estimated 34.6 billion single-serving (1 liter or smaller) plastic water bottles each year. Nearly 80% of them end up in a landfill or an incinerator. Hundreds of millions create an environmental disaster, littering our beaches, oceans, and other waterways. Taxpayers pay hundreds of millions of dollars each year in disposal and litter cleanup costs. A quarter of all bottled water crosses an international border before reaching consumers; in fact, certain bottled water brands promote the cachet of their remote origins.
According to the Pacific Institute, when you add the energy used for pumping, processing, transporting, and refrigerating, the fossil fuel footprint of bottled water consumption in the United States equals the equivalent of 50 million barrels of oil annually — enough to run 3 million cars.
Many people imagine bottled water coming from a pristine mountain spring or glacier, but more than a quarter is just tap water sold at a 1,000 percent markup, including major brands such as Aquafina and Dasani (owned by Pepsi and Coca-Cola, respectively). Pepsi was forced to clearly label its Aquafina water as bottled from a “public water source.” Tap water, which is delivered through an energy-efficient infrastructure, is subject to more stringent regulation and testing than bottled water, making it cleaner and healthier, and a fraction of the cost of bottled water.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors, which represents 1,100 cities, discussed at its June, 2007, meeting the irony of purchasing bottled water for employees and for city functions while simultaneously touting the quality of municipal water. The group passed a resolution that called for a re-examination of the environmental impact of using bottled water. The resolution noted that with $43 billion spent annually to provide clean drinking water in cities across the country, “the United States’ municipal water systems are among the finest in the world.” When almost a billion people around the world don’t have access to clean drinking water, to thoughtlessly waste and turn up our noses at tap water seems criminal.
The backlash against bottled water is growing. The United Church of Canada is one of several religious groups abandoning bottled water on moral grounds. The school district of Berkeley, California, no longer offers bottled water at any of its schools or offices. Small governments across the country are saving energy and money by banning bottled water.
Once you make the switch, you’ll be so relieved to clear out pantry space and eliminate the clutter of empty bottles. There are plenty of PET- and HDPE-free bottles out there that are reusable and dishwasher safe. Stainless steel is one of the most popular materials for bottles.
They come in a multitude of shapes, sizes, colors and designs. I have a Klean Kanteen, one that I love, and some people swear by their Sigg bottles. Lands End and L.L. Bean also carry lines of stylish stainless steel bottles. They make great gifts.
If your family is like mine, there is always a variety of fruit and vegetable juice available in the fridge. I got tired of all the wasteful plastic they came bottled in, so I switched to frozen juice. Since it’s concentrated, it takes less fuel to transport it and less space to store it. Decant the reconstituted juice into glass pitchers. Your juice and milk will taste better because they won’t be absorbing out-gassing chemicals (and the attractive square shape allows them to fit neatly into the fridge).
I love hearing about people finding ingenious uses for old plastic water bottles. Seeing flood victims devise functional rafts out of hundreds of bottles is a testament to the human spirit. Necessity is truly the mother of invention. This video details how to make vertical, hydroponic window farms with 2-liter bottles for growing food in even the smallest apartments. A pump at the bottom periodically sends some liquid nutrient solution up to the top, which then trickles down through the plants’ root systems, which are suspended in clay pellets –- so there’s no dirt involved. It’s just brilliant. Let’s get creative! What sorts of ways have you re-used or eliminated plastic water bottles in your household?