Recycling is wonderful. It helps us make sure that a lot of the plastic, glass, metal, and paper we use doesn’t end up as landfill.
Recycling is wonderful. It helps us make sure that a lot of the plastic, glass, metal, and paper we use doesn’t end up as landfill. The thing that we all have to remember is that recycling is only the next best option after first reduction, and then reuse. If we consider recycling the panacea to all of our overuse, packaging, and consumption excesses, we need to think again. No item embodies this point better than the single-use plastic water bottle.
Recycled materials need to be transported to recycling plants, which need energy to break them down into materials that can then be reused to make new products. Recycling a catalog or junk mail that you get is better than throwing it into the trash, but avoiding it altogether is the best option, right? [See December Green Space article at ryerecord.com for information on how to stop the paper mail barrage]. Well, the same concept holds for the plastic water bottle. Just think about it; this product has been designed to be recycled after use, but is made from materials that never die. Instead of helping a little by recycling it, why not try to help a lot by forgoing the bottle altogether?
I’ve seen trays and trays of small water bottles stacked in the garages of even my most ecologically minded friends. I’m talking people who take climate change seriously, who worry about the toxic environment that we leave for our children, who teach their families the important role that we have as custodians of our planet. So, maybe there are some things that we should all know about the water in those plastic bottles – the ecological toll it takes in reaching our tables and the safety of drinking it.
It takes one-quarter the volume of a plastic water bottle in fossil fuel just to manufacture it; add to that the huge amounts of energy used to transport that bottle at the several different stages of its manufacture, use, and disposal. Then we refrigerate it! It takes three times the volume of water to manufacture one bottle of water than it does to fill it; that water is mostly unusable afterwards because of the chemical production of plastics.
It may shock you to know that, even in the U.S., our national recycle rate for PETs is only 23%. So, it’s important to create the habit of drinking tap water wherever safe, and take that habit with you to the places that don’t tend to recycle (like large commercial buildings, hotels, and conference centers). PETs (polyethylene terephthalates) that aren’t recycled photodegrade (rather than biodegrade), meaning they break down into increasingly smaller fragments over time; those fragments absorb additional toxins that pollute our waterways and contaminate our soil. Many of those plastic fragments and toxins end up deposited in our bodies! This happens because we eat the fish and animals that have ingested them. Research has shown that the plastic causes direct physical damage to our digestive system, and that the chemicals they harbor are endocrine disruptors, which interfere with a battery of biological processes, including fetal development.
If all of that doesn’t convince you, maybe this will… The majority of evidence now shows that bottled water is less safe and less clean than the water running from most of the taps in the U.S. And we are fortunate enough to live in an area that boasts some of the safest, cleanest drinking water in the whole country. Compare that to hormone-disrupting phthalates leaching into bottle water after as few as ten weeks of storage (or even fewer if the bottles have been left in the sun in your car or by a window in your garage).
So, before you make choices with the addendum “Well, I can just recycle this afterward,” remember the plastic water bottle and please think twice.
— The Rye Garden Club Conservation Committee