Every person, every community, every nation has the choice of being part of the problem of environmental degradation or part of the solution. One very simple way to be part of the solution is to stop drinking plastic bottled water. The main reason people drink bottled water is the sheer convenience, not due to a problem with tap water (for which there are other solutions such as water filters). In the United States, about 1500 water bottles are used every second. These plastic bottles are manufactured from petroleum, a fossil fuel that took millions of years to form. These plastic bottles do not break down under natural conditions for hundreds of years or more. And, did you realize the highest environmental impact in the life cycle of plastic water bottles is in the manufacturing, followed by the distribution? This means that if you have justified your use of bottled water by recycling the bottles, you are still part of the environmental problem of one-use plastic water bottles, not part of the solution.
We are a consumption-based society, where the acquisition and use of materials are determined by immediate cost and comfort, and not by long-term consequences. We are drawn to the personal satisfaction and ease of using a plastic water bottle, even when safe drinking water is readily available from a tap. But, we need to understand that the manufacturing of plastic from petroleum requires energy. The production of plastic water bottles contributes to global warming and creates pollution. Furthermore, petroleum is a highly valuable resource and should be conserved. The bottom line is that production of water bottles for one-time use neglects to respect natural resources and is simply harmful to the environment.
At a recent church festival, recycling bins were available thanks to the county’s recycling program in an attempt to offset the large amount of waste generated from food and beverage purchases. Unfortunately, more plastic water bottles were disposed in the garbage cans than in the recycling bins. According to the Indiana Recycling Coalition, only 17% of recyclable materials are actually put into the recycling stream in Indiana. The church festival validated this statistic. Better options were available throughout the festival: water jugs contained cold water and reusable bottles were for sale by the environmental ministry. However, this community is currently part of the plastic waste problem and not part of the solution, since it overwhelmingly chooses throwaway water bottles and mostly disposes of them in the garbage, not in recycling bins. For those who care about the earth, a step in the right direction is to make the very simple commitment to say no to bottled water. Future generations are depending on us to make these types of responsible choices.
Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~5 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work