Plastic water bottles are causing a flood of harm to our environment, as the vast majority of them end up in landfills, not properly recycled. The PETs in plastics don't biodegrade, instead releasing harmful toxins into the soil and ground water for decades or even centuries. As the purchase of plastic water bottles has risen to unprecedented levels, there is also an alternative environmental cost in the fossil fuels it takes to manufacture and distribute these bottles, and even health concerns as the plastics leach into the water they carry.
So what are we doing about it?
Several public municipalities, including Seattle, New York, and San Francisco, have banned the purchase of any bottled water with government funds. That's more symbolic than practical, but give them credit for setting the example.
Cities can encourage you to drink their tap water all day long but they don't have the marketing budget or resources to compete with the beverage giants. However, a few towns, like Concord, Mass., passed laws that selling single-serving water bottles are illegal, punishable by escalating fines.
Fifteen colleges have already banned water bottle sales on their campuses. Dozens more encourage less water bottle consumption by giving out free reusable water bottles and setting up filling stations.
Celebrities such as Oprah, Dave Matthews, and Cindy Crawford have come out against plastic bottle water consumption. Adam Yauch, formerly of the Beastie Boys, released an award-winning documentary about the water bottle industry before his passing, called Flow: For Love of Water.
So what can you, the regular consumer or family, do to help?
Here are 10 things you can do today to start solving the water bottle problem:
1. Carry an eco-friendly reusable water bottle.
There have been amazing innovations in convenient, eco-safe water bottles. A good one is sunlight resistant, and they even have bottles that are self-filtering so you can pore in regular tap water and the filtering system does its job as it passed through the lid and spout. Here's a list of some stylish and practical water bottles.
2. Recycle all plastics.
Reuse everything you can for as long as you can to minimize our consumption. If I buy a plastic water bottle, I reuse it by filling it up with filtered tap water five or six times, and then make sure it ends up in the proper recycling container.
3. Use a water filter at home.
Buy a great water filter that can be fitted to your kitchen faucet so the whole family can fill up with ease. Another option is to keep a pitcher of water in the fridge that does the filtering for you, like the ones Brita makes. They even have whole-house filters that purify your entire water system.
4. Find out about the tap water quality in your city.
Most of the overpriced bottled water you buy is just refiltered tap water, anyway, and most cities are putting a lot of diligence into maintaining a clean, safe tap water supply. By looking up the specifics on your tap water, you'll feel better about drinking it. Here is an EWG list.
5. If you have to buy, buy bigger.
If you have to drink store-bought water bottles, buy the largest containers you can. The single-serving water bottles are getting ridiculous with even half-serving 8-ounce sizes, but it probably takes half of that volume in fossil fuels just to manufacture and ship them. I prefer to buy the large water containers that last me almost a week, and then can be refilled. The big coolers you see in offices are great because the containers are continually reused, not thrown away.
6. Educate yourself about organizations that are helping.
There are a long list of nonprofits and organizations whose activism is making a big difference. They may focus on recycling, legislation, education, cleanup, protecting our lakes and rivers, or cleaning up our oceans, but the one common factor is that they would all love your help.
7. Volunteer to pick up plastic and trash at your local waterway.
Since we're talking about activism, plan a beach or river clean up day. It's a great way to bring like-minded people in the community together, help the environment, and still be outdoors to enjoy nature.
8. Ask for filtered tap water at restaurants.
When you go out to eat, ask your server for filtered tap water, not bottled water. Most of them have started serving high-quality drinking water, and if they haven't you can put in a friendly request with the manager.
9. Vote for green politicians.
Be aware of which politicians support environmentally friendly policies, encourage conservation, and rally for common sense regulations on big business. Believe me, they need all the votes they can get! Here is a great resource to find out which politicians are green.
10. Spread the word.
Share this article via social media. Get your friends, coworkers, and family involved with your efforts to save the environment from plastic water bottles. Laws or money won't solve the problem alone, we need a wave of consciousness and better everyday choices from regular people like you and me.
For more information about the harm plastic water bottles do to our environment, check out part 1 of this article. Stay tuned for part 3, "Creative and Functional Uses of Recycled Plastic Water Bottles."
Correction: This post originally listed the EPA as providing a list for specifics on tap water, when in fact it is the EWG.