waste

plastic water bottle

Bottled water

The bottled water industry is the triumph of marketing over common sense, it has become a symbol of our disposable culture at its dumbest.” Joshua Blackburn, founder of Tap.

Over 650 million people in the world do not have access to reliably clean and safe drinking water. In many places people have to walk long distances to fetch water.  Increasing demand means that rivers and underground reserves are running dry, so that by 2025 it’s estimated that 3 billion people will be facing chronic water shortages.

Around 315,000 children under-five die every year from water-borne diseases – almost 900 children per day, or one child every two minutes.

In the UK on average each person uses 150 litres of water in the home each day, and in the USA over 570 litres. We have high quality clean water supplied on demand at the turn of a tap, but only about 2% is used as drinking water. We even flush our toilets and water our gardens with water fit to drink, yet in the UK in 2015 we spent over two and a half billion pounds on bottled water.

UK consumption of bottled water has more than doubled in the last 15 years, and is more than 100 times higher than in 1980, reaching almost 3.3 billion litres in 2015. Consumption per person is over 51 litres per year in the UK, and over 100 litres per head on average in Europe and America (Zenith International).

Worldwide 50 billion bottles of water are bought each year, and 80% of these mostly plastic bottles go to landfill.

The bottled water industry has made efforts to reduce environmental impacts by reducing the amount of plastic used to make bottles and increasing the use of recycled PET and new compostable and bio-degradable plastics. Many are now using up to 50% recycled material in their plastic bottles, and the recycling rate for single use PET plastic bottled water containers has doubled to 37% in the last ten years. It also takes less energy to produce PET containers than cans or glass (NAPCOR).

As responsible consumers we need to ensure that any plastic bottles we use are sent for recycling and never discarded as litter. Most plastic bottles never biodegrade but instead go through a process called photodegradation where they are broken down by sunlight into smaller and smaller pieces, each of which are still plastic polymers. This process can take over 400 years or even up to a thousand years. (see also Plastics are forever).  The vast majority of all plastics ever produced still exist somewhere, in the ocean, as litter, or in landfill. Plastic waste is now a huge problem in the world’s major oceans, presenting a great risk to marine life, killing birds and fish which mistake plastic debris for food.

ReFill app adAlthough there are times when it makes sense to buy bottled water, for the most part you could do yourself and the world a favour and save some money by drinking water from the tap. There are lots of reusable water bottles on the market, see a selection here on Amazon.

Get the ReFill app for your phone.  ReFill is a scheme run by the water companies to make drinking water more freely available and cut plastic bottle use. They are building a network of premises such as cafés, hotels and restaurants in every major town and city in the UK.  Visit refill.org.uk for more information.

If you really can’t face drinking water straight from the tap you could try investing in an simple filter jug which will remove the chlorine from your household supply and improve the taste.

Most jugs of this type use non-refillable, plastic filters which must be replaced monthly. An exception which uses no plastic is the black+blum eau carafe.  This is a glass carafe with an active carbon filter made from tree branches. The filter reduces chlorine, mineralises the water and balances the pH. Each stick lasts for 3 months and can then be boiled for 10 minutes to recharge for 3 more months.

They also make a Charcoal Filter Water Bottle

If you really must buy bottled water, try Belu which is natural mineral water sourced and bottled in Shropshire and supplied in glass bottles or in bio-bottles which are made from corn and are compostable. Belu is non-profit making and all proceeds go to Water Aid to fund water projects in drought-afflicted areas.

It is another product we do not need. Bottled water companies are wasting resources and exacerbating climate change. Transport is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, and transporting water adds to that. We could help reduce these damaging effects if we all simply drank water straight from the tap.”
Dr. Michael Warhurst, Friends of the Earth’s senior waste campaigner.

 

 

Note: some of the links above are affiliate links, which means that if you make a purchase through them turning2green gets a small commission at no extra cost to you.

plastic waste on beach

Plastics are forever

Plastics are everywhere around us – in our homes, our vehicles, our computers, as packaging. They replace more traditional materials such as wood, metal, glass, leather, paper and rubber because they are lighter, stronger, more durable and corrosion resistant, and often cheaper.

But that durability means that most plastics do not biodegrade, so almost all the plastic ever produced is still here somewhere on the planet in one form or another, and will remain here for centuries to come, possibly thousands of years – nobody knows for certain yet.

According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation plastics production has increased twenty-fold since 1964, reaching 311 million tonnes in 2014, and is predicted to triple to 1124 million tonnes by 2050.

The report says that every year at least 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the ocean – equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute. If no action is taken, this is expected to increase to the equivalent of two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050.

It’s estimated that there are already over 150 million tonnes of plastic waste in the oceans. This waste doesn’t decompose, so the total amount cumulates over time. In a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish by 2025. There will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by weight by 2050.

A report by Eunomia says that over 80% of this plastic waste comes from land-based sources, mainly litter. The remainder is released at sea, mostly from fishing activities. 94% eventually sinks to the ocean floor. Some forms massive islands of waste such as ‘the Great Pacific Garbage Patch’. The plastic can float around for decades before breaking down into smaller particles and becoming absorbed into the food chain or sinking and becoming part of the ocean floor sediment.

Health risks

Quite rightly, much attention has been focused on the dangers of plastic litter to seabirds, whales, dolphins, turtles, seals and other marine life. It’s thought to cause the deaths of over a million seabirds and more than 100,000 marine mammals each year. Researchers are now warning that the risk of hidden contamination could be even more serious.

Unlike biological materials, plastic doesn’t decompose. Instead, it photodegrades when exposed to sunlight, fragmenting into smaller and smaller pieces without chemically breaking down. But, no matter how small they become, these plastic bits never become digestible by any living creature.

In addition they contain additives such as pigments and plasticizers, known to be endocrine disruptors, plus toxic metals such as cadmium and lead. Research by the University of Plymouth has shown that the particles also attract toxic chemicals from the surrounding seawater and concentrate them on the surface of the plastic, acting as ‘magnets’ for poisons in the oceans.

These small poisonous particles, found throughout the oceans and mixed with the sand on beaches, are now threatening the entire food chain. The toxins they contain are known to be a threat to human health. In the water the particles are mixed in with and resemble the plankton, and are being mistaken for food and eaten by marine creatures and birds.

The process of bio-accumulation has the potential to further increase the concentrations of toxins as they pass along the food chain and into our human diets.

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