Harmful chemicals present in disposable plastic water bottles

By Stephanie Lingenfelter
Editor in Chief

Aquafina, Dasani, Pure Life, and Ice Mountain, as most know, are all plastic water bottle manufacturers. What most might not know is their effect on health and the environment. According to the Container Recycling Institute, more than 60 billion plastic bottles end up in landfills and incinerators daily and eight billion tons are dumped into the ocean yearly.

Many plastics contain chemicals, such as BPA, that are easily broken down when exposed to heat and water, so when food or water is put in the containers, those chemicals usually end up in it. According to National Center for Biotechnology Information, BPA is harmful in developing fetuses and growing children. Some water bottles are BPA free, but other chemicals found in plastic water bottles include coliform (a bacteria), arsenic, chloride or iron to name a few. According to Fox News, 24,500 different chemicals could be contained in a plastic water bottle. BBC revealed that those chemicals can lead to weight gain, cancer, reproductive issues and more. The greatest effect is on young children and pregnant women, but everyone’s health is still endangered with every processed sip.

Humans aren’t the only ones endangered by water bottles. According to National Geographic, plastic pollution is turning the ocean into a “minefield” for marine life. Animals become entangled in plastic or ingest pollutants, leading to over 100,000 deaths a year. Microplastics in the ocean are consumed by smaller animals and then work their way up to the top consumer, humans. In late October of this year, the first microplastics were found in a human stool sample, showing the issue has moved from mainly affecting marine animals to becoming a potential hazard for people.

Humans spend an average of 720 percent more on plastic bottled water than tap. According to Consumer Reports, if someone were to purchase a $1 water bottle every day of the year, they’d spend $346, but if they were to fill up a 16.9 oz. reusable water bottle daily, it’d be around 48 cents for the whole year.

According to the Government Accountability Office, the FDA is in charge of bottled water, while the EPA regulates tap water. Since the FDA doesn’t have the jurisdiction the EPA has, and most bottled water is transported between states, 60 to 70 percent of bottled water is unregulated. The EPA passed the Safe Drinking Water Act that requires certified laboratories to test all public water systems and a fully disclose to the public about where their water originates and any potential contaminants. On the other end, bottled water is classified as a food, so the FDA can’t require laboratory testing or violation reporting.

Another issue with plastic water bottles is the amount of freshwater it takes for each bottle. For example, according to the National Resources Defense Council, it takes 1.63 liters of freshwater to make one liter of Dasani. Dasani also does most of their manufacturing a in California, a state in drought. Only 2.5 percent of the water on Earth is freshwater and the supply is dropping because of current extraction methods. Water extraction for bottled water is depleting aquifers and groundwater, causing sinkholes and pollution.

Director of Education Tracey Ritchie at Earth Day Network, an environmental group with an End Plastic Pollution Campaign, recommends being a role model.

“I think the best thing people can do is walk the talk and be a role model for others. Our resources offer many ways to cut down on single-use plastics in your everyday life. There are so many things we just don’t need to use such as plastic bags, drink bottles, straws (if you don’t physically need them to drink), single-use flossers, plastic utensils, etc,” Ritchie said. “When we turn down those items in public places and demonstrate the alternatives we can use, other people take note.”

Ritchie cautions to avoid shaming.

“The most important part in demonstrating these behaviors is that you are not critical, or use shame or guilt. People need to be inspired and motivated to take action; using harsh or critical tones never helps people to make positive change. Show others how easy it is and help them see the good in taking these actions,” Ritchie said.

Even with all the warnings and campaigns against bottled water, only 12 percent of people surveyed by magazine Food and Wine drink tap water. Senior AP Environmental Science student Liz Roseman believes so many people stick to old, harmful habits because they’re lazy.

“It is pure laziness in my opinion. My brother, for example, refuses to use a reusable water bottle because he has to wash and fill it and can’t just grab a new one everyday and then recycle it (or throw it away in his case),” Roseman said.

Ritchie believes people like to “stick to the status quo,” but it’s our responsibility to change what the status quo is to help protect the planet.

Senior Rachel Hartman has heard the warnings about plastic water bottles and chooses to use a reusable bottle for a simple reason: “We have one earth and we need to take care of it.” If anyone wants to get involved with Earth Day Network’s campaign, they can go to earthday.org/campaigns/plastics/plastics-campaign/ to sign a pledge.


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