The Facts About Water Part Three – Bottling & Plastics

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Beach pollution

Bottling and Plastics:

“Not only does [the use of bottled water] take valuable water resources from locations around the country that need them, but it uses huge amounts of fossil fuel to bottle and deliver it, leaving in its wake a literal ocean of unrecycled plastics.”

Ed Begley Jnr.

Bottled water is a booming business. In fact, within the last century, it’s gone from being a small prospect that few took seriously to a global giant worth billions of pounds – £2 billion in the UK alone12.

The Facts About Bottled Water

In fact, the UK consumes 3 billion litres of bottled water each and every single year. Dr Peter Gleick, author of Bottled and Sold, told the BBC that: “The demand for bottled water has grown exponentially in the last few decades. It’s doubled, it’s doubled again and it’s doubled again. And the bottle water companies see enormous markets not just in the rich countries but also in the poorer countries.”

So, why do we reach for a bottle of water (which is up to 10,000 times more expensive than tapped water) when we can so easily get it at home for free? Well, for many, they’re guided by marketing and health campaigns. Of course, we’re also led to believe that bottled water is purer and tastes better – whether or not this is true remains to be seen, and is the subject of huge debate.

Bottled Water v Tap Water

In fact, in May 2005, America’s ABC news sent five different brands of13 bottled water and one sample of tap water (taken from a New York drinking fountain) for testing. The lab tested for contaminants but found no difference between the bottled waters and the tap water.

In terms of taste, many “blind taste tests” have suggested that people simply can’t tell the difference between tap water or bottled water once they’re placed in the same containers.

Bottled Water: An Ecological Nightmare?

Plastic Water Bottles

You take it for granted that, when you buy water in a shop, it’s bottled up and ready to go. We bet that most of you don’t even stop to consider the processes involved in bottling up that water and even the dangers of the plastics involved.

Worldwide sales of bottled water totaled 41 billion gallons in 2004 – and when you stop to think that very few plastic bottles are recycled (less than a quarter, in the UK14 and around 10% globally15) you’re looking at an environmental nightmare, especially when you consider that plastics are EVERYWHERE. They’re in our phones, in our cars, in our computers and even in our hospital IV bags. Plastics quite literally pollute the world.

Plastic: How Do They Damage Us?

Of course, plastics are incredibly versatile to industries across the globe due to the fact that they’re incredibly long-lasting and relatively inexpensive. They also happen to be lightweight, which is handy for shipping.

Yet there’s growing evidence that they damage both the environment and us – and that’s one of the many reasons that Lucy Bee Coconut Oil refuses to use plastic in any of our products. Instead, we encourage people to recycle our glass jars, even going as far as to send you out a free coconut oil with every 12 jars you recycle.

Recycled Lucy Bee Glass Jars

You see, mass production of plastics began way back in the 1940s and, now, more than 300 million tons of the stuff is produced worldwide16 Yep, that’s right – 300 MILLION tons.

However, did you ever stop to think about the damage that these plastics may have on us, on our very own bodies? It must be harmless for it to be considered safe to drink from, right?

Well, actually…no, it’s not. Although many state17 that there is nothing to suggest that drinking from plastic bottles is dangerous, most studies show that it’s pretty bad for us18 In fact, chemicals added to plastics are often absorbed by our bodies.

This, despite the fact that we’re exposed to plastics on a pretty much hourly basis – just stop to look around you if you don’t believe us. How much of your surroundings are made of plastics? Staggering, isn’t it?

The Plastics in Bottled Water

Take, for example, bottled water. Substances called phthalates can make their way into bottled water after just ten weeks of storage19. This happens even faster if the bottles have been left in the sun. It’s also found in other food packaging, in vinyl flooring and on wall coverings. Yet, phthalates are known to affect our hormones and cause harm to the body.

Many plastic bottles also contain a chemical called Bisphenol A (or BPA) to make them hard and clear. However, many studies have shown that BPA is hazardous to both humans and our wellbeing, despite the fact that 93% of people are thought to have detectable levels of BPA in their urine.

Health Concerns Related to BPA

In fact, not only has BPA been linked to certain cancers and neurological problems, but it may also trigger infertility, premature labour, early puberty in girls and defects in newborn babies due to the way it can mimic oestrogen. As one researcher said, “With that one exposure, we’re actually affecting three generations simultaneously.”

There is also evidence20 that high levels of BPA can increase our risk of developing uterine fibroids, breast cancer, decreased sperm counts, heart disease and prostate cancer.

What Impact Do Plastics Have on the Environment? 

It’s hard to imagine the effect that plastics have on the environment without your mind flipping to marine life entangled in bottles or human waste. Yet, shockingly, this isn’t media sensationalism – it’s the reality. Not only do plastics damage human bodies, but they also destroy the environment.

As David Barnes, a lead author and researcher for the British Antarctic Survey, said: “One of the most ubiquitous and long-lasting recent changes to the surface of our planet is the accumulation and fragmentation of plastics.”

Since many plastics don’t biodegrade, they’re massively detrimental to the environment. Rather than disappearing completely, they break down into smaller pieces, which then absorb toxins responsible for polluting our waterways, contaminating the earth, and polluting animals.

Yet, according to the Ocean Conservatory, each square mile of ocean has over 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it21 and ten per cent of the world’s plastic ends up in the ocean.

On a regular basis, there have been reports of marine life22 (such as whales) found dead, with the ingestion of plastic bottles, bags and lids the cause. Meanwhile, plastics found in the stomach of sea turtles will cause them to starve to death as they block the digestive tract. Floating plastic waste can also act as a mini transportation devices for invasive species, disrupting entire habitats and altering evolution completely. Horrifying, isn’t it?

Plastics Polluting The Ocean

Of course, the nasty side effects don’t stop in the water. Not even a little bit.

Bottles and other plastics, such as your empty shampoo bottles, your milk cartons and your supermarket bags, end up lying in landfills (they can take a staggering 1,000 years to biodegrade23 – even if you cut them into small pieces, they take more than a human lifetime to decompose!) or on streets, in parks or in the countryside. Most plastics used only once can actually last a lifetime.

Landfill Site

Yet even these landfills don’t protect the world from this waste. In fact, the chemicals contained in plastics will often leak into the ground24 and contaminate the groundwater – and who wants that in their drinking water?

There’s also the fact that landfills are stuffed with microorganisms which help to biodegrade plastics. However, as these plastics are broken down, methane – an incredibly powerful greenhouse gas which has been linked to global warming – is released.

Of course, the whole process of producing these plastics takes tremendous amounts of energy and fumes alone, which are hugely damaging to the environment. Take, for example, bottled plastics, and you’ll be amazed.

Each year, around  1.5 million barrels of oil25 are used to make the bottles, and even more oil is burned transporting them – the Earth Policy Institute estimates that the energy used to pump, process, transport and refrigerate our bottled water is the equivalent of over 50 million barrels of oil26

The majority of bottled water is placed in containers manufactured from a plastic called polyethylene terepthalate, or PET – this is formed from crude oil. If you look at bottled water in terms of the energy it takes to produce, then it’s really quite shocking.

In fact, 162g of oil and seven litres of water are needed to manufacture a single one litre volume PET bottle. This then leads to the release of 100g of carbon dioxide – and for what? So you can get a drink which is readily available at home?

What Can We Do?

There is so much you can do to limit your plastic waste – and most of it’s pretty simple.

Bag For Life

For starters, start embracing the supermarket ‘for life’ bags and stop collecting new ones each time you food shop. Say NO to unnecessary items like straws or plastic cutlery, and start reusing the containers your favourite foods are stored in.

If you’re a parent, then consider using reusable nappies (which take around 80,000 pounds of plastic and more than 200,000 trees a year to manufacture in the US alone)27 and pack lunchboxes in reusable containers, rather than wrapping sandwiches up in clingfilm or storing them in bags.

Meanwhile, try saying no to bottled drinks altogether, and reach for tap water wherever possible – it’s even free in restaurants! If you’re concerned about the purity, then look for a good quality filter.

Another possibility is to invest in a BPA-free reusable bottle when you’re on the go. This you can then use to refill whenever, or wherever you are.

Finally – and perhaps most importantly – recycle! We can’t stress enough just how important recycling is to the environment. Don’t just think of yourself, but think of future generations and all those cute, fluffy animals that die at the hands of plastic. If you must buy that bottle water, then at least make sure it gets ditched in a recycling bin afterwards.

Read Part One The Facts About Water; Part Two covers production methods

12  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1579054/Bottled-water-a-2bn-drain-on-nations-pockets.html

13http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/bottled-water3.htm

14http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/etc/news-water.php

15http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/bottled-water4.htm

16 http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/dangers-of-plastic

17 http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-info/healthyliving/cancercontroversies/Plasticbottles/

18 http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/articles/2008/04/16/study-of-chemical-in-plastic-bottles-raises-alarm

19 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/norm-schriever/post_5218_b_3613577.html

20http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/articles/2008/04/16/study-of-chemical-in-plastic-bottles-raises-alarm

21 http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?DocumentID=480&ArticleID=5300&l=en

22 http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?DocumentID=480&ArticleID=5300&l=en

23 http://www.postconsumers.com/education/how-long-does-it-take-a-plastic-bottle-to-biodegrade/

24 http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/dangers-of-plastic

25 http://www.postconsumers.com/education/how-long-does-it-take-a-plastic-bottle-to-biodegrade/

26 http://www.earth-policy.org/books/wote/wotech8

27 http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/responsible-living/photos/16-simple-ways-to-reduce-plastic-waste/use-cloth-diapers

Lucy Bee

About Lucy Bee Limited

Lucy Bee is concerned with Fair Trade, ethical and sustainable living, recycling and eating close to nature with additive free products for health.

Members of the Lucy Bee team are not medically trained and can only offer their best advice. Any information provided by us is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.

Please note you should always refer your health queries to a qualified medical practitioner.

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