By Marlena Norwood
With all eyes on the fossil fuel industry after President Obama’s Climate Speech on June 25th, it is easy to remove ourselves from the problem and point the finger at big business. Yes – the fossil fuel industry is the main problem, but we can’t forget that as consumers, our demand for material goods, gasoline and non-locally-grown food only adds to the growing problem of global warming.
Eight percent of the world’s oil consumption is funneled into the manufacture and production of plastic products – one of the major culprits being plastic water bottles. Americans go through almost 30 billion plastic bottles annually, using 17 billion barrels of oil. Why do we buy so many plastic bottles?
For some, it’s the fear of tap water. Those worries are put to rest by learning that the EPA regulates tap water much more stringently than bottled water (for example, the deceiving title “spring” water connotes freshness and purity, but often it contains many contaminants). Don’t like the taste? Try a water purifier – it’ll save you a lot of money in the long run, since bottled water is astronomically more expensive than tap water by the gallon.
For others, it’s the knowledge that we can recycle plastic bottles. Though recycling is a wonderful way to reuse plastic, it is not as clean-cut as it seems. Since our plastic bottles are thrown into the same bin as all the other recyclables, a large amount of sorting has to be done. Many municipal recycling plants simply don’t have the resources to sort out misplaced non-recyclables that then contaminate whole batches of recyclable materials.
Furthermore, they must be sorted by kind of plastic. Did you know that there are seven different types? On a side note – stay away from types 3, 6, and 7 (indicated by the number inside the recycle triangle on plastic bottles) because they are known to contain contaminants harmful to human health.
In addition to being laborious, the recycling process also consumes energy. The EPA has endorsed a more efficient process – waste-to-energy facilities – that use plastics and other garbage as fuel. The burning of plastics and garbage in waste-to-energy facilities produces significantly less greenhouse gasses than coal, a greener alternative.
We have the power to dramatically cut down on our plastic bottle consumption by purchasing a reusable water bottle. It limits greenhouse gas production, it saves money, and it’s healthy (make sure to buy BPA free). As an added bonus, there are many different styles to choose from to fit your water drinking preferences. My personal favorites are Contigo and Camelbak because of their convenient drinking spouts.
Changes that we make in our lives to shrink our carbon footprint may be small, but they make a difference, and even better – they catalyze behavior change in others.
Here’s what you can do to limit greenhouse gas emissions due to plastic water bottle consumption:
- Buy three or four reusable water bottles (Costco has great bulk packs of Contigos) – and then stop purchasing plastic ones so that you’re not tempted.
- If you absolutely must use a plastic water bottle, make sure to recycle it.
- Don’t be afraid to show off your new, stylish reusable bottle, because it will encourage others to join the movement.
- Give reusable water bottles as presents – many of them are really cool! Check out Good Housekeeping’s list of the best BPA free reusable water bottles.