Sustainability By Paula Montaldi — Date 08.2.2016

Why the Plastic Bottle is an Untenable Concept

With all the progress we're witnessing from ecological movements to clean manufacturing — how come plastic bottles are still not yet a thing of the past?

You have probably read many horror stories about the global problems of plastic waste. We all know it’s a massive problem that demands our reaction, so we will spare you the bitter images of polluted nature. Instead we would like to bring up one phenomenon in particular, that is the the single-use, plastic bottle.

With all the progress we are witnessing around us in all fields, especially within ecological movements and clean manufacturing, it is baffling that plastic bottles are still not yet a thing of the past.

Let’s take a look at the amazing construct that is the plastic water bottle market.

The amount of energy that goes into the production of plastic bottles is amazing: in the United States, currently approximately 50 million bottles are being consumed per year. For this amount, more than 17 million barrels of oil are required—as a reference, this amount of oil could be used to fuel 1.3 million cars for one whole year. The Pacific Institute estimated according to these numbers that in 2006, three liters of water were needed to produce one liter of bottled water.

After the bottles are filled with water in large factory set ups, they are transported in trucks nationwide. Here, the expenditure of energy multiplies obviously when water bottles are imported internationally.

Bottles are mostly down-cycled, not recycled.

When the bottles finally arrive in our possession, we drink them up in a few minutes and toss them. And while we might feel satisfied with ourselves when we make sure that our empty bottles go into the recycling bin, we need to be aware that PET bottles are rarely actually recycled, but in fact down-cycled. PET is a semiporous plastic, which means that it absorbs molecules of food or liquids it contained. It needs to be heated for sterilization in order to eliminate the residues, which, in turn, most likely destroys the form.

For that reason PET from bottles will either get broken down, purified and re-polimerized to make new bottles—this again requires a massive energy input—or the bottles are down-cycled, by processing the shredded material into other products, such as polyester fabrics, which again will eventually end up in the landfill.

The situation appears especially absurd when considering that 24% of the distributed water in the U.S. are Pepsi’s Aquafina and Coca Cola’s Dasani, both are filtered tap waters. By the way: The markups on bottled waters reach up to 3000%.

© Michael Mañas

© Michael Mañas

Now, if you are still not convinced, here are some hard facts to spell out that bottled water is not only a massively wasteful, but actually your own worst option:

Bottled water is less regulated than tap water.

The quality of bottled water underlies lower regulations than tap water: While the public water supply is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, which requires multiple daily test for bacteria, bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, thus only requires weekly testing. These results do not have to be reported to the Agency, the states or to the public.

Last but not least, studies found that the substance Bisphenol A (BPA), which is contained in PET and HDPE plastic bottles, can be detected in 90% of human bodies. Health issues that are linked to BPA include among others reproductive disorders, change of hormones, heart disease, and diabetes.

What can we do?

It is impossible to ignore the environmental and individual impact of consuming disposable, plastic water bottles. Let’s not participate in their distribution—there is really no reason to. All it takes is a slight change of habits. After all, we can’t change the world without changing ourselves.

Recent articles