Bottled water is the new wave of the future as millions of people are purchasing it everyday while disregarding its environmental and cultural impacts to the society. Currently, the impacts of bottled water are spanning various policy formulation and enforcement strategies. Hall notes that there is an increased consumption of bottled water as several companies have carried out massive investments in this lucrative industry (para.1).
Consequently, this increased consumption has led to major problems of waste management. Landfills are increasing to huge sizes and the rates of recycling the used containers are still miserably low. The non-environmental friendly ways of disposing the plastic bottles has only served to escalate the problem. Therefore, as an aspiring environmentalist, I feel that the uncontrolled use of these products have dire environmental consequences that need to be addressed.
A number of key “players” are responsible for escalating the problem. To begin with, manufacturers of plastic water bottles play a significant role in this detrimental issue.
The process of manufacturing the water bottles, such as the dependence on fossil fuels, is causing a lot of direct as well indirect destructing to the environment. In most cases, the raw plastic materials for making the bottles are heated to very high temperatures before putting them into bottle-shaped blow molds. And the source of energy needed to achieve this high temperature is derived from either electricity or natural gas.
The amount of energy needed to achieve this is also usually very high. The Pacific Institute estimates that “it takes around 3.4 mega joules of energy to make a typical one-liter plastic bottle, cap, and packaging” (para.4). The same corporation also estimates that the more than 30 billion liters of bottled consumed in the United States every year requires over 17 million barrels of oil to manufacture, besides the energy used in their transportation.
Usually, these heat sources are obtained from the non-renewable fossil fuels. Most plastic bottles are manufactured from polyethylene terephthalate and it contains two compounds: terephthalic acid (PTA) and monoethylene glycol (MEG). These constituents of PTA are toxic compounds that are obtained from fossil fuels. Therefore, in the process of production of the plastic bottles, some of them can leak into the atmosphere leading to serious environmental impacts.
In addition to the manufacturing process, the transportation of the manufactured plastic bottles also has serious environment effects. Besides consuming a lot of energy, the use of trucks, trains, or any other means of transportation, leads to pollution of the environment.
More over, to maintain the quality of the bottled water, they have to be provided with additional packaging and cooling systems, which also increase the amount of energy used in their transportation. To say plainly, the environment is being deteriorated by the uncontrolled manufacture of plastic bottles (Andrady, 126).
Consumers of bottled water are another key “players” in this problem. Most of them hold the false perception that bottled water is superior to other types of water. The manufactures of bottled water are doing good business nowadays because consumers think that bottled water has a better taste and real or alleged health benefits.
For example, in a Field Institute 1990 survey, it is reported that “about half of the consumers surveyed said that they drank bottled water because it tasted better than water from the tap, about one-fourth gave safety and health reasons, and one-fourth believed that bottled water was free of contaminants” ( LaMoreaux, 122).
However, it is important to point out that this is a false conception of the consumers who want to justify falsely their addiction to bottled water while disregarding its impacts to the beautiful environment. More so, the consumers have been blinded by the false adverts of the companies selling bottled water.
In fact, investigations have revealed that bottled water is not any superior to tap water and when consumed in excess it can lead to health problems, for example, teeth problems. Interestingly, research has also established that some of the blends of bottled water are more contaminated than even the normal tap water and some of the bottled water are repacked tap water.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation estimates that “between 2002 and 2007, the world consumption of bottled water had increased by 7.6 per cent per year, from 130.95 billion liters to 188.8 billion liters” (para.1). The U.S., consuming over billion liters, is the world’s greatest consumer of the product.
Individuals usually consume bottled water because of a number of reasons. First, it offers them the convenience they need, especially when travelling and they have to move from one place to the other. Second, some individuals use it as a luxury item and they purchase it to show off their privileged status in the society.
Lastly, some individuals think that bottled water is of better quality as compared to tap water. However, what causes Mother Earth pain is that the plastic bottles are discarded without considering their impacts. Consumers are not aware of their roles as environmental stewards. This has been caused by inadequate education on the impacts of improper disposal of the plastic bottle containers.
The problem that bottled water pose to the environment also involves the various policy makers who have failed to institute workable solutions to solve this problem. As much as numerous researches have revealed that the manufacturers of bottled water are simply luring the consumers with their attractive ads, not much has been done on the part of the policy makers to address this problem. Many ‘innocent’ consumers are daily falling prey of these attractive ads.
It has been proved that some of the bottled water is not obtained from natural or protected sources as claimed, but they are simply purified water that has been obtained from the same source as the ordinary tap water. More so, the so-called “spring water” is also at risk of being contaminated, unless adequate measures are taken to prevent this. The contamination can arise from natural pollutants that sometimes get into the water as it moves to the surface.
A number of side-by-side taste experiments have revealed that there is no clear distinction in aspects of quality of taste between municipal water and the water that has been distilled. However, as much as the policy makers are aware of these facts, they have failed to advise the consumers accordingly in this regard. That is why most consumers have developed the false perception of the superiority of bottled water. Consequently, issues of environmental stewardship have been swept under the carpet.
It is of essence to note that this problem is an outcome of various historical factors. As pointed out in the earlier sections of this paper, several divergent views have been held over time by end-users of bottled water. To be particular, they have perceived that this water is superior to others and that none other can match its quality.
Nonetheless, this historical belief has led to ineffective disposal methods of the plastic bottles that are now changing the beauty of this world’s environment. Historically, the recycling of bottled water has never been recognized as the best option of tackling this problem. From the time when the plastic water bottles were introduced, less focus was put that someday there will be a need of recycling them so as to conserve resources.
The fruits of this historical negligence are evident today as few areas in the United States have endorsed bottled water-recycling programs. Many manufacturers have realized this historical mistake and they are now making recyclable plastics. However, despite these, most of them still end up in landfills or are left to dirty the corners of streets.
Similarly, the current state of the problem is also due to bottled water-recycling program that has remained unchecked for a while now. This has led to the low level of recycling containers that has dropped in comparison to the other years.
For example, in 1994, the overall recycling rate of all recyclable plastic containers was 15 % but by 2003, the level had dropped to 19 %. According to the Container Research Institute (CRI), nearly 40 million bottles of used plastic containers do no end up in the recycling plants on a daily basis (CRI, para. 1).
This low recycling rate of plastics is leading to increased consumption of fossil fuels as well as increased environmental degradation. In the United States, some domestic plastic recycling companies have recorded decreased returns as more used plastics are being exported to other countries that have historically held the culture of recycling them.
The impacts of bottled water on the environment are felt in almost every place in the United States. Notable, however, is that the extraction of bottled water from groundwater stores has raised the concern that the supply of water to the residents is decreasing in such places.
When bottled water companies extract a lot of water from the underground reserves, it causes stress to the ecosystem because of the reduced availability of this precious commodity that is vital for sustaining life. Key places where this problem has been reported include “Texas, Florida, and the Great Lakes Region” (Aitchison, 4).
Aitchison records that “when flows and levels of a region’s springs, wetlands, lakes, streams and rivers are materially affected from extraction for bottling, the entire local and even regional environment suffers” (para.6). This is the consequence in places where too much mining of water for bottling purposes is practiced.
Since bottled water is categorized in terms of being a “food” under federal legislation, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the bottled water industry and it requires all bottle water manufacturers to check for contaminants at least once every week to ensure that the consumers are safe.
Besides putting a check on the quality of bottled water, it is also beneficial in conserving the environment, as it is indicative of a company’s commitment to environmental issues. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the federal agency that is endowed with the responsibility of ensuring that the country’s environment is sustainable. The EPA enforces the regulations of the government concerning destructive habits on the environment.
For example, EPA enforces the Pollution Prevention Act (PPA), which focuses on “industry, government, and public attention on reducing the amount of pollution through cost-effective changes in production, operation, and raw materials use” (“Summary of PPA”, para.1).
In addition, the agency enforces pollution prevention strategies that include practices that “increase efficiency in the use of energy, water, or other natural resources, and protect the resource base through conservation efforts” (“Summary of PPA”, para. 3). The PPA has been involved in tackling this problem.
Appertaining to waste management, EPA has been engaged in countrywide campaigns to sensitize people about the dangers of improper disposal of wastes. In particular, the agency has been “challenging all citizens to conserve their natural resources by committing to reduce, reuse, and recycle at home, in the community, and at the office” (“Wastes,” para.1). In addition to the initiative that has been taken by EPA, there are a number of proposed policies that are aimed at addressing the problem.
For example, the manufacture of biodegradable plastic water bottle has been suggested to be the best alternative option of tackling this problem. This is because they are both environmentally friendly and economically viable. Even though the biodegradable bottles are only able to disintegrate under certain special conditions, such as adequate exposure to heat and humidity, they are able to disintegrate within three months under these special conditions.
This is a much better option in contrast to the plastic bottles that may take an extended period to be entirely degenerated. In addition, the biodegradable containers have been proved to be free of harmful substances, reusable, and consume less energy during manufacture (Environmental leader, para. 2)
This problem posed by bottled water containers to the environment fits into the larger field of study of environmental issues that I will be entering into. In this age, man has shown subjugating influence on the environment.
The beauty of Mother Earth is slowly fading away as humanity has adopted an oppressive stance toward nature. Therefore, the best method of protecting the environment is by shielding it from destruction. As an inspiring environmentalist, this issue of ensuring that plastic bottled water containers do not destroy the environment will fall in my immediate docket.
The study of such environmental issues will adequately equip me to fulfill this role of conserving the environment so as to ensure that the natural resources are preserved for future and for the present generation. More so, since currently the world is shifting to a new era in which environmental issues are increasingly getting more attention, my study of this subject will be of great importance.
In conclusion, the consumption of bottled water has serious environmental impacts that should be addressed. The various key “players” such as manufacturers, consumers, and policy makers ought to develop realistic ways of solving this problem.
As much as the problem is associated with some historical factors, concerted efforts should be made to reduce the impact of bottled water containers to the society. Adoption of such measures would ensure that there is efficiency in waste bottle disposal. As an inspiring environmentalist, I will strive to this end.
Aitchison, Christin. “Bottled Water and Water Shortages.” Suite 101. 17 Oct. 2008. Web. 16 Nov. 2010. http://www.suite101.com/content/bottled-water-may-cause-shortages-a73853
Andrady, Anthony. Plastics and the environment. Hoboken, NJ : Wiley, 2003. Print.
Container Research Institute “Producer responsibility: A simple recipe for reducing waste.” CRI. 2010. Web. 16 Nov. 2010. http://www.container-recycling.org/
Environmental leader. “100% Bio-Plastic Water Bottles Trickle Into Marketplace.” Environmental leader. 8 March 2010. Web. 16 Nov. 2010.
Hall, Noah D. “Federal and State Laws Regarding Bottled Water – An Overview and Recommendations for Reform.” Wayne State University Law School. 12 Dec. 2007. Web. 16 Nov. 2010. http://ssrn.com/abstract=1072887
LaMoreaux, Philip E. Springs and bottled waters of the world: ancient history, source, occurence, quality and use : with 53 tables. Berlin: Springer Limited, 2001. Print.
“Summary of PPA.” US EPA. The Environmental Protection Agency. 3 Nov. 2010. Web. 16 Nov. 2010. http://www.epa.gov/lawsregs/laws/ppa.html
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “Bottled Water.” CBS News. 20 Aug. 2008. Web. 16 Nov. 2010.
The Pacific Institute. “Bottled water and energy- a fact sheet.” Pacific Institute. 2008.
Web. 16 Nov. 2010. http://www.nrdc.org/water/drinking/qbw.asp http://www.pacinst.org/topics/water_and_sustainability/bottled_water/bottled_water_and_energy.html
“Wastes.” US EPA. The Environmental Protection Agency. 15 Nov. 2010. Web. 16 Nov. 2010.