Saturday, December 29, 2007

Water Without Poison: Avoiding Plastic-Bottled Water

Clean, cold water. It's good stuff -- unless you pollute it or the greater environment by drinking it from a plastic bottle!

In a previous post, it was noted that plastic reusable coffee cups were not preferred over metal. (See below for details of why.) So it is a bit ironic that folks who drink bottled water instead of tap water or soda for health reasons often do so by drinking water sold in little plastic bottles.
As with most of our disposable, chemicalized culture there is a green alternative available: The reusable, stainless steel water bottle.
But first, a reminder of why plastic is bad . . . .
Plastics = Poison?

The question over plastic products poisoning packaged food and water is one reason to avoid plastic water bottles. Although various mechanisms have been suggested for plastic byproducts leaching into bottled water (leaving bottles in hot cars, re-using plastic bottles), purports to have debunked these.
Other sources of plastic-based poison remain; see for example the very even-handed article at the National Geographic "Green Guide" on the most recent findings of reproductive harm from plastics. As the article notes, 100% of plastics-industry studies find no chemical leaching, and 100% of government funded studies find harmful chemicals. Hmmmm.
Plastics = Oil

Plastic bottles, of course, are made from oil -- and so come with the pollution and carbon overhead of all petroleum products. Although a fraction of Plastic bottles are recycled, for every bottle that is reused there said to be the equivalent of 70 bottles of waste generated in the process. In addition, manufacturing plastics requires energy for each bottle; less energy per bottle than a steel one, for example, but not if the steel bottle is reused for its likely long lifetime.

Plastics = Trash

Because the apparent dollar cost of a plastic bottle is low, they are considered one use and disposable. Most plastic bottles end up in landfills, or worse, as non-degradable litter on the landscape or in our waterways. Again, the lifetime of a steel or even glass bottle is many times higher, and thus the embodied energy and pollution is many times lower, than using an equivalent number of plastic containers.
Bottled Water = Transported Water
By now most people are aware that bottled water is not appreciably different than ordinary tap water, at least if you live in a modern American city. (Individual locations and buildings may have specific local ground water or delivery system issues, or unwanted additives.)

For the most part, however, bottled water is not local water; bottled water gets part of its cache by coming from far off exotic locals (Fiji Water, for example, or Perrier, or even simple Arrowhead water). The folks at boast that they are "[y]our source for unique high-quality bottled water products from around the world." And that means its value as a "green" commodity is further degraded by the addition of the carbon and oil use from its long distance ride to the market shelf.
(In an interesting study, the National Resources Defense Council has found that 82% of people drink bottled water due to concerns about pollution, as an alternative to other beverages, or both. Only 7% of folks who drink the stuff drink bottled water for the taste, according to the NRDC. Taste, according to the The Bottled Water Store, is a primary reason to drink it -- which leaves some 93% of us able to avoid one-use, transported bottled water. )

Clean Alternatives

More than a few companies sell stainless steel, reusable water bottles, some with sports tops some without. We have five "Klean Kanteens" available from many suppliers online. Ours are not insulated, so are light and small, just like a plastic bottle. We use them only for water, so washing is required from time to time, but not in the same way as if there were three day old fermented juice in them. (We have a two-year-old -- can you tell?)

Many other suppliers also sell other versions. They key is stainless steel over plastic, or aluminum.

Wacky Idea

The idea of reusable water bottles may seem a little weird if you are not a bottled-water fan already. If you drink a bottle of water once in blue moon because you are thirsty and there is nothing else handy at the picnic, then a reusable, non-plastic water bottle may not make sense to you.

But if you are one of those folks that buys water by the case, who always has a water bottle handy to sip at in order to stay well hydrated or as an alternative to soda or alcohol -- then you will find a reusable bottle is a small step indeed.

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