As we experience the warmer summer months, it’s tempting to pack plastic water bottles for picnics in the wild, camping, hiking, cycling, boating and swimming. Why not? They are handy, recyclable, and the water is clean and safe. Right? Well, actually, not quite right. In fact, hardly right at all.
Globally, only 14 per cent of plastics are collected for recycling, according to the World Economic Forum. Forty per cent end up in landfills, and 32 per cent are “leaked” into the environment, including the coastal waters here in BC. The prediction is that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, assuming fish stocks remain constant.
Many people drink bottled water because they believe it to be of a higher quality, cleaner and better-tasting. However, in the last 15 years, over half of 47 bottled water products have been recalled by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Concentrations of contaminants such as arsenic, bromide, bacteria and lead have been found in bottled water samples. Plastic bottles and commercial plastic water coolers may contain toxins such as Biosphenal A, linked to breast cancers and childhood development problems. These toxins leach out over time and further use.
Despite our best efforts, many plastic bottles are not recycled and end up as litter in forests, lakes and oceans. It is estimated that one-tenth of all plastic that is created every year ends up in the sea, including millions of plastic water bottles.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a huge swath of plastic and other discarded materials in the Pacific Ocean, and has been estimated to be as large, or larger than, the land mass of Canada. Plastics buried on land can take hundreds of years to break down, and even then it doesn’t completely biodegrade. And plastic bottles take 700 years just to begin decomposing!
Bottled water is expensive, costing more than a comparable amount of gasoline. And according to the David Suzuki Foundation, it takes almost 17 billion barrels of oil to produce the 30 billion water bottles that US citizens go through every year. Or, as the National Geographic website illustrates it: “Imagine a water bottle filled a quarter of the way up with oil. That’s about how much oil was needed to produce the bottle.”
There’s no reason to believe that bottled water is any safer than tap water, particularly in Nelson, where tap water is treated. Those who don’t care for the taste of chlorine can get a carbon activated filter, or fill a glass jug of tap water and put it in the refrigerator overnight. The result? Great tasting water, perfect for beating the heat, and for filling a reusable glass bottle or a reusable steel canteen.
Sandra Hartline, KAIROS Representative, Nelson