Sustainability: Water bottle industry reigns on plastic throne

by Chris Pocock

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Imagine an industry that takes naturally produced goods and sells them back to you, the consumer, marked up by more than 10,000 times the actual value. Well, the industry exists — and has grown steadily throughout the past several years. But it’s not cell phone companies overcharging you for text messages or even the gasoline you’re constantly pumping into your tired set of wheels. This is water we’re talking about — the very stuff of life — being manipulated, packaged and sold back to you in one of the most profitable and successful advertising campaigns that has ever existed. And friends, we’re lapping it up.

You’ve heard enough about food justice; now let’s talk water justice. Sure, there’s a reason you drop a buck fifty on those plastic bottles. They’re portable. They’re convenient. You know — or at least believe — they’re safe. After all, there are standards these companies have to follow, right? There has to be a reason why you’re spending so much.

There isn’t. Though the water industry pays millions of dollars for you to believe otherwise, bottled water is oftentimes not any cleaner than tap water. Forty percent of bottled water — brands such as Dasani and Aquafina — is, in fact, just filtered tap water. The filthy monster living in your faucet is purely in your imagination — tap water undergoes testing for E. coli and other bacteria several times a month, and is required to provide both quality reports and sources. Our old friends in the bottled water industry are free of such standards, however, and we pay the price. In one study, 22 percent of tested bottled water brands contained chemical contaminants at levels above strict state health limits. “Purified,” indeed.

But it’s not just our wallets that are paying the price for this continuing injustice. The environment has taken a heavy hit as well. If you have read Brody Burns’ column on page 14, you’re all too aware of the garbage patches in our oceans, circling non-degradable plastic in an uninhabitable broth thousands of miles in diameter. Though the plastic bottles are recyclable, only one in five bottles end up in our blue curbside recycling units. The others make their way into our dumps, our oceans and into the bellies of ocean creatures. The plankton in Free Willy’s belly have been substituted with a 30-pack of Aquafina bottles. Sebastian the crab has replaced his shell with a bottle of Smartwater. SpongeBob has suffocated under a Fiji bottle.

And it’s not just the oceans taking a hit. Clean, usable drinking water makes up less than 1 percent of the water on Earth, but we’re letting what little freshwater we have fall into the hands of a few business-driven fat cats. Though these entrepreneurs hide under a thin guise of being “green,” these corporate slobs encourage a systematic abuse of Mother Earth: The plastic holding the water you’re currently drinking required three times the amount of water to produce the bottle as it did to fill it. The amount of petroleum used to produce the plastic that makes up the bottles — 17 million barrels of oil every year — is enough to fuel 1 million cars for an entire year. How’s that for being environmentally conscious?

But who cares about ocean creatures? You live near SeaWorld. You can see happy ocean critters whenever you choose.

Not so fast. The plastic itself may not be so safe for you either. Scientists in Germany have found that PET plastic — the type of plastic usually found in water bottles — potentially interferes with hormone levels. The studies found that drinking from those bottles may lead to higher estrogenic levels in the drinker, and even resulted in one of the scientists switching entirely to tap water. Five-gallon jugs of water, too, carry a dangerous chemical known as BPA, which has been linked to a myriad of health problems including reproduction complications, heart disease and diabetes. The Food and Drug Administration has recently launched a $30 million investigation into the harmful effects of BPA, and I’m sure there are only more surprises to come.

But enough about problems; let’s talk solutions. The bottom line is, there’s absolutely nothing to fear about tap water. If purity is an issue, buy a Brita filter. They’re BPA-free and remove many other harmful contaminants in water. Secondly, buy a BPA-free Nalgene bottle. Not only are they reusable, but they also don’t have any harmful chemicals. Fill the bottle with water before you hit the road in the morning, and you’re already doing your part for the environment. The solution may seem like just a drop in the bucket, but the bucket’s getting smaller and smaller — and significantly more full of plastic.

— Chris Pocock is a journalism junior.

— The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.

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