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News » CitizenSpeak

Bottled Pollution



By Susanna Metzger

Its conception is anti-climatic. Its birth is not out of the ordinary.

But it’s not without major controversy, either. Some say it’s not even necessary.

Bottled water, according to research and campaigns conducted by groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Counsel, or NRDC, impacts the environment in negative ways—ways that we are often unaware of. This includes the cost of making the bottles and shipping the product but also the process of where it all begins and where the bottles eventually end up.

In the beginning, there is the water—abundant water. It may come from locations such as Mecosta County, Mich.

The water is pumped from the ground, packaged into a plastic water bottle just for you and loaded onto a diesel truck to be shipped across the country. Your bottle makes a few stops along the way when the diesel needs to refuel, but it eventually reaches its destination—your grocery store.

Your bottle of water sits on the shelf, perhaps a few days, maybe a few weeks, waiting for you to purchase it. Once you buy the bottle, it’s yours to drink its contents, reuse it or recycle it.

However, most people don’t reuse or recycle their plastic water bottles. According to the Container Recycling Institute, CRI, eight out of 10 water bottles don’t make it to recycling bins. That means out of the 26 billion liters of water Americans drank in 2004, 20 billion bottles were thrown away and not recycled.

To put into perspective, the 26 billion liters of water is equivalent to 26 thousand Olympic-sized swimming pools full of water, and if you lined up 20 billion water bottles, you could get to the moon and back approximately five times.

“Billions of water bottles end up in landfills,” said former Mayor Rocky Anderson, when questioned on his past water bottle campaign, “Think Outside the Bottle”. He also noted that the environmental impact is enormous, and there is a need to rethink the consumer’s decision regarding the consumption of bottled water.

This disregard for recycling a water bottle is not the sole cause for people’s concern. Not only does the bottled water contain possibly harmful toxins, but also the act of pumping natural reserves for bottled water is contributing to water depletion in nearby lakes and wetlands, according to the Sierra Club’s fact sheet found online.

According to a film documentary called “Flow,” at one point the major bottling company, Nestlé, was pumping upwards of 450 gallons of water per minute, and this was only in their Michigan plant. This resulted in concerned citizens seeing a major decrease of the water level in local streams and other water sources.

Maude Barlow, author of “Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Thirst,” said in her book that underground water reservoirs, known as aquifers, must be replenished with new water at approximately the same rate as the extraction in order to be useful over time. She also notes that around the world people are extracting groundwater in rapid rates.

“I think the drawdown of the aquifer is a serious impact. I'm also very concerned about the billions of tons of plastic bottles that are being produced, shipped, filled, used, and then very soon thereafter, dumped in a landfill,” contributed Journalist Holly Wren Spaulding in an interview, with some of her thoughts on the subject.

The significance of the bottles is still relevant to Spaulding, who was initially involved in grassroots water rights campaigns and the making of the film, “Flow.”¬†

“They are a petroleum product and are a convenience item--we don't really need them--and they are blight and a bane. We can do very well without them,” she explained.

Issues such as bottled water being no healthier than tap water and plastics taking a long time to decompose are also major concerns.

The NRDC conducted a water research study in 1999, and according to their reports, there are many contaminates (such as bacteria, arsenic, and nitrate) found in bottled level over the limit allowed in tap water. These contaminates are very harmful to people and have been found in selected bottled water products, suggesting the tap water is often just as clean, or cleaner than bottled.

The contamination issue, the un-replenished groundwater and the statistics regarding the amount of un-recycled bottles are why so many people take issue with bottled water.

Your bottle of water is cold and refreshing, and you enjoy it as you leave the store. But 10 minutes later, it has found its way into a garbage can, ready to be taken to the landfill the next morning to join the other billions of bottles residing there.

“Plastic containers take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade; compete for space in our¬†limited biosphere; deliver toxins into our bodies and biosphere as they slowly biodegrade,” said author and editor William E. Marks.

He also noted that changes in human behavior are necessary for the survival of our civilization.

“The bottled water industry has been very successful in creating a need for bottled water products that is unnecessary in most cases,” said Marks.

While this is a considerable amount of facts and information to process, some suggest there is one simple option to begin taking a new approach. As found on the CRI Web site, “Don’t Landfill, Refill!”