We’ve all heard that plastic bottles are bad news. I still use them, you still use them, billions of people world-wide use them. They’re convenient, hand-held, don’t spill, and cheap if you forgot your reusable bottle at home for the day. The environmental impact of water bottles AND the impact the bottle itself has on our health is interesting to study.
Bottles are made in factories, obviously, at incredibly high speeds. 10,600 water bottles an hour are produced. Polyethylene terephtalate (PT) is the kind of plastic that makes these bottles. Machines melt the beads of PT and another bead of recycled PT into a goo, and then they are made into preforms. Preforms look like little test tubes that you could drink out of. The plastic is then heated and molded into a bottle shape, transported to packaging, and sent away.
It’s pretty cool to watch anything be mass made. These bottles end up in our trash. And from our trash they end up in landfills. Even then, they don’t biodegrade like they are supposed to and they end up in our oceans! The U.S. used 30 billion bottles in 2011. This is 1500 water bottles a second. We are using water to make AND fill these bottles, as it takes 3x the amount of water to make than to actually fill. (S. Sastry, Week 11 powerpoint) That’s a huge depletion of our hydro-resources. We use 17 million barrels of oil to produce this many bottles. That’s another huge depletion of resources.
Now that we see the impact not looking so good, we even have concerns over the type of plastic we drink out of. PT is used in plastic bottles, but also Bisphenol A (or BPA). I’m sure we all could recognize that our water bottles usually have “BPA FREE!” on them when we buy them. If they don;t you might want to go buy one. BPA in high levels affects hormone levels in children and adults, and has been shown in rats to cause cancer. BPA is not just in disposable water bottles. Even bottles that are well-known and well used by outdoorsy and naturey people have them. By this I mean that you’re beloved Nalgene is reported to have BPA. The scientist in the video below outlines that you have three bottles to stay away from. Any bottle with a triangle holding 3, 6, or 7 is bad. We “should not consume anything” from these bottles and DEFINITELY do not heat them up.
So as I sit here drinking out of my Nalgene, I feel sad. I have like 3 Nalgenes. I thought reusable water bottles were all good. All my backpacker friends have Nalgenes. All my other friends have Nalgenes. My Nalgene has a 7 on the bottom. What do I do about it? Is the BPA level enough to affect my health? Should I tell all my friends we need to find another trusty, unbreakable, water bottle? I’m not sure at the moment. But definitely, we need to be aware of what is in our products, how our resources are used, and decide for ourselves what we think is important enough to change our habits for.