Thinking twice before buying bottled water

Reducing our use of plastic bottles by using a reusable water bottle is one of the easiest things we can do to live more sustainably.

Bottled water is quite a recent phenomenon.  As a society we have been convinced that the water that comes from our tap is somehow inferior to the water that is bought in a plastic bottle.  

And we pay a high price for it too. Bottled water is significantly more expensive than tap water.

While there are studies that have found positives and negatives of both tap water and bottled water, the summary of current research is that both are safe to drink.

And so there is no confusion or misinterpretation – one is not superior to the other, one is not better or worse than the other. 

Obviously this is not the case in all parts of the world. There are places where people don’t have access to safe drinking water and bottled water is the best option from a health a hygiene perspective. However this is not the case in most parts of the developed world, where most bottled water is bought and consumed.

While the water that comes from your tap and from a plastic bottle are both fine for drinking, from a sustainability perspective tap water is always going to be a better option. 

What does the evidence say about plastic bottles?

Our obsession with single use plastic bottles is contributing to the significant plastic pollution problems being faced the world over.

Some sobering facts about plastic bottles:

  • It is estimated that by 2021, over 580 billion plastic bottles will be sold per year.
  • The production of plastic bottles will have almost doubled in just five years, from 300 billion in 2016 to an estimated 580 billion in 2021.
  • The rapid rise in the production of plastic bottle has meant that recycling infrastructure has not been able to keep pace.
  • Less than half of all plastic bottles produced will be collected for recycling.
  • Almost all plastic bottles are produced from virgin materials, meaning that they are brand new and don’t contain any recycled material.
  • In addition to the energy and materials required to produce plastic drink bottles, additional energy is also required to clean, fill, seal, label, transport and refrigerate them.  

But I recycle my plastic bottles…

Most people will say that they recycle their plastic bottles.  But we know that most are not actually collected for recycling and they either end up in land fill or in our natural environment.

Also, one of the little known facts about plastic is that when it is recycled it degrades over time. This means there is a limit on the number of times plastic can be recycled, usually only 2 or 3 times. 

When plastic is recycled, it is mixed with new virgin plastic material to help ‘upgrade’ it so it can be of similar quality to a plastic product that doesn’t contain recycled material.

So while recycling plastic bottles is great and everyone should be doing it, next time you’re contemplating buying a bottle of water, think twice. Perhaps you’ll find that a reusable water bottle is a better option for you.    

Why we take action

By refusing to buy single use plastic bottles and using a reusable water bottle we reduce demand for the production of more plastic bottles. This prevents the use of valuable resources and energy in producing plastic bottles and will reduce the number of bottles being discarded.  

By reusing and refilling our own water bottle we also show others how easy it is to make small changes towards a more sustainable future.  Finally, tap water is much cheaper than bottled water, so by reusing you own water bottle you are also saving money. 

How we can take action

  • Always remember you reusable water bottle.
  • If you forget your reusable bottle, try drinking directly from the public water fountain you would have used to fill your bottle.
  • Stop at your local coffee shop, restaurant or bar and order a drink to stay.

National Geographic, 2018, 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Plastic (and Recycling). Retrieved from blog.nationalgeographic.org/2018/04/04/7-things-you-didnt-know-about-plastic-and-recycling

The Guardian, 2017, A million bottles a minute: world’s plastic binge ‘as dangerous as climate change’