Plastic Water Bottles: Harmful to the Ocean, Air, and You
“If you eliminate the scourge of bottled water, you’ll be eliminating one of the biggest problems facing our environment”
-Capt. Charles Moore
For the past couple months, I’ve been back at community college taking pre-requisites for an environmental science grad school program. One of my professors recently had us watch a documentary called “Tapped” (featuring Capt. Moore), which discusses, among other issues, the negative environmental and health effects linked to disposable plastic water bottles, from their initial creation and bottling to their inevitable disposal. In addition to their contributions to ocean pollution and waste accumulation, there are a few other things I think we should all be aware of when it comes to the one-time use plastic items.
To recap a bit from previous posts, disposable plastic bottles (as well as other disposable plastic items) never fully biodegrade once they are thrown away. Bottles that aren’t recycled and are improperly disposed of often end up in landfills and the ocean. Though a combination of light rays and/or water help to degrade the bottles, tiny pieces of plastic still remain. It’s those tiny pieces that contain many of the harmful chemicals that were involved in manufacturing the bottles and that end up in the stomachs of countless marine animals and shorebirds. When we eat fish that have eaten plastic, we’re taking in traces of that plastic too.
But what do water bottles have to do with air quality? As the documentary also discusses, water bottles are manufactured in petrochemical plants that release harmful air contaminants. Various citizens interviewed who live near these plants reported numerous health problems, such as respiratory issues, that they believe were caused by the air pollutants emitting from the plants. Beth Terry’s “What’s Plastic Got to Do With Clean Air?” on the Moms Clean Air Force website offers additional information on the types of air contaminants involved in the plastic manufacturing process. (Link will be included at the end of this post).
What makes the use of plastic water bottles even harder to swallow are the chemicals we’re potentially ingesting with every sip. If harmful chemicals are going into plastic bottle production, it makes sense that those chemicals would still be present in the plastic once the manufacturing process is over. Plastic water bottles are known to leech or release harmful chemicals into the water they contain, especially when left in warm/hot environments (like in the trunks of our cars for soccer games, or in our garages until we need another case). The documentary particularly focuses on the bottles’ tendency to contain and release Bisphenol A, better known as BPA. BPA is a compound that imitates hormones in our bodies, and has been linked to a variety of health problems, such as breast and prostate cancer and low sperm count.
The good news is that we have the ability to keep from exposing ourselves, others, and the environment to the harmful effects associated with plastic water bottles. We can choose to invest in safer, sustainable alternatives, such as BPA-free reusable bottles and do away with harmful disposables for good.