Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day 2010: Water

I don't drink bottled water.

But I used to. In my first year at McMaster University I lived on campus and would go through the monthly effort of lugging a giant case of bottled water to my 3rd story dorm room. I went to the gym, and tried to take good care of myself, so I drank a lot of water. I would often refill my bottles at the gym when I ran out, but it never occurred to me to just buy a reusable bottle. Perhaps rumours about Hamilton having dirty water because of its bad record of pollution sunk into my head, or maybe it's just because my family drank bottled water. Regardless, near the end of my first year I made the switch, and I honestly cannot imagine switching back. As long as my tap water is clean and drinkable, why would I pay up to 2000x as much for the same thing (1/3 of bottled water actually comes from the tap) in a bottle that is horrible for the environment?

For my boyfriend who cares about the way bottled water is filtered, we got a Brita tap filter. It was a little pricey, but we could have opted for the cheaper Brita pitcher. We didn't because I didn't want to always be the one refilling it. Either way, both options are far cheaper than buying case after case of bottled water, month after month, year after year, landfill after landfill.

Wait a minute, landfill? What about recycling? Well, yes, I do recycle, and always recycled my plastic water bottles. The Brita commercial with the woman drinking a plastic bottle of water in her kitchen full of empty bottles, that says Brita filters reduce the amount of water bottles that end up in landfills, always seemed odd to me. Does Brita think that bottled water drinkers are non-recyclers? Well, actually, they generally are! According to Take Back The Tap, 86% of plastic water bottles produced do NOT end up in the recycling bin. Moreover, many that are disposed of properly in the blue bin are not actually recycled at all, and are instead down-cycled.

Recycling means turning something at the end of its use into something else of equal or greater value, such as bottle-to-bottle, which happens with resin code 1 PET plastic, as well as glass and aluminum. But resin code 2 HDPE plastic —which is what most water bottles are made of— may not be able to be truly recycled, as they cannot be used again for food-grade items. Michael Bloch from the website Green Living Tips says, "These are often downcycled into things like tables, chairs and trash bins and require extra treatment in terms of energy and chemicals to do so. While durable plastic products can be created it takes an awful lot of plastic bottles to create these items. Additionally, the HDPE may be blended into other plastic resin types which then turns them into a "resin code 7" - and that is then the end of the line. Once that product has outlived its usefulness, its next destination will likely be landfill."

Semi-related side note:
Hey, Durham Region! You know that garbage incinerator you're so excited about as —thunder, scary lighting, ominous voice— THE ONE AND ONLY solution to our waste management issues? Maybe banning the bottle would help lessen the waste load, along with several other suggestions for alternatives to the incinerator that you pretend don't exist, which can be found here as well as at regional council meetings, and conversations with concerned citizens.
End of semi-related side note.

So in summary, only 14% of water bottles make it to a recycling plant, and then many of them end their life cycle in a landfill anyway. Considering that the start of their life cycle involves using tonnes of oil to produce the bottles, and a great deal of energy and pollution to manufacture and then ship bottles around the planet, wouldn't we be better off scrapping the whole idea?

What about places where water is unsafe to drink? In that case, the only alternative I can think of to individual water bottles is the giant water bottles for water coolers, but that's not much better. Should you drink unsafe water? No. But why is your water unsafe? The UN General Assembly declared this past July that access to clean drinking water is a human right, and as Canadians we should stand up for our rights. In some countries where the water is unsuitable for drinking it is the result of the pollution of bottling companies, including those that manufacture bottled water! Clean water is essential for life, we cannot survive without it, and many people in poor countries do not have access to cures for the diseases that accompany dirty water, such as the rota virus which causes diarrhea and kills approximately 3 million children a year (Singer 2009, p. 86). The companies that manufacture bottled water in poor countries and pollute sources of drinking water then try to sell the water back to people who cannot afford it, but now cannot survive without it.

According to the organization Charity: Water, almost a billion people don't have access to clean, safe drinking water, and while that isn't all (or even mostly) because of the pollution from water bottling plants, if we all stopped buying bottled water and instead donated the money we would have spent to charities that provide access to clean drinking water for all; we could be helping rather than essentially rubbing it in. Our water IS safe, yet we CHOOSE to buy bottled water even though it is completely unnecessary.

So, I don't drink bottled water.

My mom has used reusable shopping bags at least since my first memory of shopping with her. She works at Metro, and hears every excuse in the book for a) why people think the charge for plastic bags is ridiculous (back in my day...), and b) why they will buy them anyway (if I don't the bag makers will be out of a job!). However, the fact that grocery stores are even charging (where they don't have to, in Toronto it is the law, in Durham it isn't) shows that times are changing. People are jumping on the reusable shopping bag bandwagon (though the origins of the bags may not always be ideal), and an all-out ban on plastic shopping bags may happen in the near future. What's the difference between plastic bags and plastic water bottles? Well, in short, plastic shopping bags don't make a ginormous profit for gigantic powerful multinational corporations, and bottled water does. However, bottled water sales have declined, and reusable bottle sales are booming! That means there is hope that the public will stop buying into the dirty tap water myth. Even if they are turning on the tap because of economic crisis related belt tightening, hopefully they won't go back to the bottle when the economy recovers. Also, many regions already have banned plastic water bottles, including Toronto which is in the tail end of a plan to ban the sale of bottled water on all municipal premises by 2011.

If you want to learn more about water issues, check out these helpful links below!

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Singer, Peter (2009). The life you can save: acting now to end world poverty. N.Y.: Random House.


  1. I love how you have put YOU in this blog post. It is not just a post of facts (though it does have plenty of those!). You have put those facts into your daily life. And connected issues. Sometimes I worry that people don't connect one thing to another to another to another. They get so focused on one thing and can't let go of that to see that if they do, they would find so much more depth. Thank you!

  2. why do i have a feeling it's not water in that water bottle in your first pic? LOL

  3. Thanks PostMuse! I worried that my post may sound too preachy, but I'm glad you found it relatable instead! I'm happy you enjoyed it!

    Leianne, haha you're probably right! I did wash out and reuse those bottles... not just for water. But now my stainless steel bottle fills that role!