America has an inadvertent addiction to one-time-use plastic bottles. It’s hard not to, when your favorite beverages are often delivered to you in plastic.
According to data gathered by the American Plastics Council and the American Chemistry Council, 2,675,000 tons of PET bottles were sold in the United States in 2010. These bottles are used to package everything from soda to juices to sports drinks and milk, but the most popular bottled beverage at the moment is water.
A 2012 report conducted by Beverage Marketing Corporation, a research, consulting and financial services firm dedicated to the global beverage industry, found that, while the consumption rate of most beverage categories is falling, the consumption rate of bottled water is increasing. People are seeing bottled water as a healthier alternative to other drinks, but even though water is the healthy choice, there are questions as to whether we are wasting plastic bottles to drink something we can get from our sink taps at home.
Although all plastic bottles aren’t wasted (some are recycled into new applications), the average plastic bottle recycling rate in the United States between the years 1991 and 2010 was only 27%. The other 73% ended up in landfills and waterways. This is a surprising figure that highlights the importance of reducing our consumption of bottled beverages.
Ed Zilton, Senior Staff Analyst with the City of Houston Solid Waste Management Department, understands this importance and is passionate about saving landfill space through the city’s recycling program. However, it seems the citizens of Houston aren’t as interested.
“In Houston, we recycle about 2,900 tons of plastic products per year,” says Zilton.
This number, which accounts for more than just PET bottles, is actually not that encouraging, when you consider the 2,675,000 tons of bottles sold in the United States in 2010. It shows that the majority of people just aren’t concerned with where their trash ends up, but Zilton has several reasons why we should be.
“Obviously, we want to save landfill space, because it can take anywhere from 25 to 100 years for plastic to break down, depending on its grade, how rigid it is and what organic material it is surrounded by. Also, it’s cheaper to make products from recycled plastic, and it takes about a third of the energy to make a product out of recycled material than to make it out of new material.”
So, even if you aren’t interested in the green movement, there is an economic advantage to recycling. PET bottles are currently used to make a variety of products, including clothing and carpet fiber, laminated wood, outdoor furniture and plumbing pipe. The demand for these products is high, and there are hundreds of manufacturers all over the world vying for your recycled waste.
Even if you can’t commit to recycling, you can still help save landfill space by reducing your reliance on bottled beverages. One way to do this is to purchase beverages in bulk and use reusable cups or transportable bottles at home or work. Another way is to become educated about the true difference between bottled water and tap water.
Americans drank 9.1 billion gallons of bottled water in 2011, an increase from the 8.75 billion gallons we drank in 2010. That’s a total of 68.9 billion, 16.9 ounce PET bottles, or 221 bottles of water per year for every single person in the United States. We are clearly enamored by this product. But is it any more special than the water supplied to us by our municipal tap water system?
Although bottled water is very useful in emergency situations, when safe tap water may not be available, there is no evidence to show that it is any better than the water that comes from your kitchen sink or refrigerator. In fact, according to the International Bottled Water Association, the FDA’s bottled water quality standards are actually compatible with the EPA’s tap water quality standards, making them both equally safe and clean for drinking. However, regulation is much stricter for municipal tap water.
This information helps guide us to a realization that, if we have access to a municipal tap water system, we should never have to purchase water in a bottle, because they are both OK for drinking. By choosing to drink tap water over bottled water, we can decrease plastic waste and save ourselves some money. If you aren’t satisfied with the taste or smell of your tap water, consider purchasing a home filtration system (such as a Brita or PUR filter), which still saves plastic waste and money, compared to bottled water.
The obvious question to ask at this point is, “Why are we just targeting bottled water? What about all the other bottled beverages that use PET products?”
Aside from the fact that bottled water is the most popular bottled beverage on the market today, other beverages are different from water, because they offer something that can’t be easily obtained at home. However, when given the choice, consumers should always seek to enjoy their favorite drinks from reusable vessels, no matter what the product.