Plastic Water Bottles – Environmental and Safety Issues

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Americans buy over $22 billion plastic water bottles per year, which translates to over 70 million bottles consumed daily. Recent reports have many consumers confused as to whether it is safe to drink from these bottles. Since only 17% are recycled, there are also environmental concerns. 

The safety reports about Bisphenol a (BPA) in plastic are not generally found in the single use plastic water bottles purchased by most people. If there is a resin recycle code #1 on the bottom of the bottom, it uses PET, which is generally considered safe. The resin code that can indicate the presence of BPA is #7, although not all code #7 bottles contain BPA.

Even though most plastic water bottles do not contain BPA, they can still leach chemicals into the drinking water. To minimize this risk, keep bottles out of extreme heat, which can accelerate the leaching process. Internet rumors about freeze risks are false (however since water expands when frozen, drink a little before freezing to allow room for the expansion).

Plastic water bottles can be reused, but you must make sure to wash thoroughly with soap and water to eliminate bacteria. Allow to dry before refilling. I recycle mine after several uses or if it gets exposed to heat or the water develops a funny taste.
Bottled water can cost 2500 times more than tap water. Many brands of bottled water, including Dasani, are simply filtered tap water. Bottled water costs about $3-$5 per gallon. Regular community tap water, which is perfectly safe and tested regularly, costs about $2 per thousand gallons. You can buy a faucet filter and make your own filtered water for about $0.10 per gallon, or use a tabletop model like Brita for about $0.25 per gallon. To eliminate chlorine without a filter, you can use a trick I learned when I worked for a garden center about removing chlorine in irrigation water for delicate plants: leave the water uncovered overnight to allow the chlorine to dissipate.

Plastic bottles certainly have their use, and there are places where it can be impractical to bring a permanent reusable water bottle, but whenever possible, it is best to use a stainless steel or aluminum reusable water bottle.

Unfortunately, less than 20% of water bottles get recycled, despite demand for the resin from companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi which have pledged to use 10% recycled resin in their bottles. Few states have deposit programs which have been shown to increase recycle rates. In addition, only about half of all Americans do not have curbside pickup of recyclables. While becoming more common, most public places do not have water bottle recycle bins next to trash cans. We throw away close to 60 million plastic water bottles each day.

The bottom line is that plastic water bottles are safe, but harmful to the environment. The responsible choice is to use a reusable water bottle whenever possible, and make all efforts to recycle the plastic water bottles when a metal water bottle is impractical.

Kit Parks is the president of Ecoroot, a reusable products company which donates 20% of its profits to environmental education programs. She writes about environmental and lifestyle issues. Parks can be contacted via the Ecoroot website.

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