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Leila Monroe’s Blog

Advances in the Plastic Bottle Battle

Leila Monroe

Posted July 22, 2009

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Today on the Huffington Post, Lisa Kaas Boyle describes many of the very encouraging trends helping to stem the tide of plastic waste from bottled water.  As I wrote in a previous Switchboard post, plastic water bottles contribute significantly to the global problem of plastic waste that plagues our landfills and our oceans.  In 2005 in the U.S. alone, an estimated 52 billion plastic bottles were wasted -- NOT recycled.  Much of this plastic waste ends up in our oceans as "marine debris".  There are gigantic and growing "Great Pacific Garbage Patches" composed primarily of plastic, which kills tens of thousands of marine animals every year.  In the North Pacific, pieces of plastic outweigh surface zooplankton by a factor of 6 to 1.  About 80% of this plastic waste comes from the shore, and the majority of that is from packaging, such as water bottles

In addition to the problems that plastic bottle waste causes for our marine environment, bottled water has serious human health, environmental justice, and other environmental consequences.  Ten years ago, NRDC produced a seminal report finding that bottled water often contains both bacterial and chemical contamination and is often simply bottled municipal water and sometimes less safe than tap water.

Access to clean water is one of the most basic human necessities, yet 2.5 billion people have no access to improved sanitation facilities and 900 million people lack access to clean drinking water.  If only people who can afford to pay for water in bottles get to drink clean healthy water, this is very unjust for the world's poorest citizens.   Globally, an estimated $100 billion US are spent every year on bottled water. Yet it would only take $30 billion to halve the number of people who do not have ready access to clean, safe, drinking water, and achieve one of the Millennium Development Goals established by the UN in 2000.

Boyle's excellent post outlines growing effort to reduce pollution and other problems related to bottled water:

  • Bottled water sales fell 3.3% in the US last year;
  • Cities around the world are promoting city tap water as a means of reducing the plastic bottle waste;
  • Governments around the world are under increasing pressure to stop spending tax dollars on expensive and unnecessary bottled water;
  • Communities are beginning to resist the extraction and sale of public water supply;
  • Restaurants are increasingly serving tap water; and
  • A Congressional inquiry has been launched to investigate bottled water safety. 

In addition to work being done to reduce waste from plastic bottles many entities, such as California's Ocean Protection Council, are committed to helping reduce the various forms of marine debris.

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memory foamJul 23 2009 01:22 AM

Good to see all this progress. A few other good reasons to stop using bottled water ... the bottles are not meant for multiple uses; yet some people use them this way and as a result there is danger from leaching of chemicals. Also, making the bottles requires the use of an estimated 17 billion barrels of oil annually ... enough to fuel 100,000 autos each year.

Lisa BoyleJul 25 2009 12:34 AM

Leila: I have written about the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" as the final resting place of so much of our single-use plastic. You can find my article in my file at the Huffington Post.

There are so many issues involved in the discussion of bottled water, but I think everyone should be able to agree that packaging water, or anything, in a single-use plastic container that will last forever in a landfill, nature, or at best, will be remolded into another everlasting non-biodegradable plastic product, is just not ecological or sustainable. Recycling plastics will unfortunately not stop the demand for more virgin petrochemical product - That is why the plastics industry is pushing recycling as the solution to plastic pollution. The solution to the plastic pollution problem is to decrease the use of single-use plastic packaging: We don't need it!

LeilaJul 28 2009 12:35 PM

Thanks very much for your comment Lisa.

On the issue of the Human Right to Water, check out this article:

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