Sustainability without Sacrifice: Bottled Water

I don’t think I have ever left my bathroom sink running while I brushed my teeth. And there is a reason for that: When I was very young, there was a nationwide initiative to motivate people to change their habits and turn off the water in their sink while brushing their teeth.

Growing up in a desert in Southern California, I was always taught to conserve water, but this was the first tangible, manageable step I learned, so I could never even imagine leaving the sink on, needlessly wasting up to eight gallons of water each day. I believe that sometime in the near future, plastic water bottles will go the same way as leaving the faucet on while brushing your teeth because now we know better.

Plastic bottles fall under the category of “needless environmental damage.” Companies like Dasani and Aquafina simply filter then package tap water, so in reality their products are not superior to what you can from Brita or Pür filter and your kitchen sink. They rely on what is called manufactured demand, or the creation of artificial need to drive product sales. Water bottle companies have convinced consumers that tap water is unclean or unsafe, which transformed bottled water from a passing fad in the 90s to a full-fledged shift in consumption today.

The problem with bottled water is that it is needlessly wasteful. Production and transportation of bottled water requires, on average, between 1,100 and 2,000 times more evergy than treating and delivering tap water. That means that, according to USA Today, “1.5 million barrels of oil are used to produce plastic water bottles in the US per year. That much energy could power 250,000 homes or fuel 100,000 cars for a year”.
And recycling the bottle when you are done doesn’t cut it. Most recycled bottles are actually “downcycled” into products that are then thrown away, which really just puts off the inevitable and is definitely not sustainable. Not to mention that only one in six water bottles actually gets recycled in the first place.

The good news is, you can drink pure, safe water without the waste. Pick up a filter, throw a reusable bottle in your backpack, and take advantage of the drinking fountains on campus. Soon it will become habit, and you’ll wonder why you ever needed bottled water in the first place (hint: you never really needed it). For more information on the effects of bottled water check out “The Story of Bottled Water”, a brief documentary, or the “I’d tap that” campaign, which has decreased water bottle purchases by 7% right here on the William & Mary campus.


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