Americans love convenience and demand it when it comes to products. The plastic water bottle definitely seems convenient. It is cheaper to make than its glass counterpart and is lighter to ship. Both of those things are music to a company’s ears and have lead to a massive exponential increase in plastic bottle industry. For example, in the U.S. we had 16 companies in the 1970s, in 1998 that number was up to 50, and by 2012 there are 195 bottle companies. This will be a big environmental issue now and in the future, because the process of making plastic and the plastic bottle is water inefficient and clean water is soon to become a large global issue. For instance, it is estimated that 1.8 billion people globally will be displaced by 2025 because of water scarcity. These people will have to move because the water has been overused in inefficient processes or devoted to agriculture and meat production rather than hydrating the local population.
The U.S. plastic bottle market makes about 50 billion new bottles a year. To make those 50 billion bottles takes about 1.4 billion pounds of plastic, and to make a single pound of plastic it takes 22 gallons of water. That means that we use about 30.8 billion gallons of water just to create the plastic used for the bottles. On top of the 30.8 billion gallons, it takes about twice the amount of water to shape and cool the mold than water contained in each bottle.
Now, these 50 billion bottles have to go somewhere. Even with recycling programs in place most of the bottles (80%) end up in landfills where they sit for up to 1000 years leaching harmful chemicals into the ground that escape through groundwater and runoff. The chemicals released can cause serious health issues like cancer. Plastic bottles have been an “out of sight, out of mind” issue basically since they became popular but when people are getting cancer and millions of seabirds are dying because they have been eating nothing but plastic, a change is needed.
Some people have noticed this problem and have tried to do something about it. On the CU Boulder campus, there have been student lead movements to make the campus more sustainable. One group called “take back the tap” or TBTT. TBTT is trying to help CU reach its goal of zero waste by 2020, and promote the use of water refill stations. The group has seen some steps towards their goals, in fall of 2017 TBTT convinced the school to put in new refill stations inside Meunzinger and Ketchum (two large lecture buildings) after the renovation. They still have not seen the ban of single-use plastic bottle on campus, which is their ultimate goal, but they have not given up hope either. They continue to raise awareness on campus about the dangers of plastic bottles to our health and the environment. I believe that this is an issue that we can easily effect in a very simple way but effective way, and that is to just not use plastic bottles. Buy your own bottle or reuse a mason jar, but supporting the $100 billion a year plastic bottle industry needs to stop