The issue of bottled water

I have always struggled with the issue of bottled water; my views of the issue change regularly.  I don’t have a definitive solution or answer to the issue, just a lot of ideas. There’s been a lot of research done recently on the water drinking habits of Canadians.

First, I think it is important to separate the issue into two parts — the package (the plastic bottle), and the product (the actual water).  Understandably, most people reject the notion of water — a basic human right — being considered a product, but just bear with me.

The Package

Water bottle - disposable

Recycle those plastic water bottles

The vast majority of bottled water is sold in plastic bottles #1 PET (polyethylene terephthalate).  Plastic bottles #1 is one of the easiest items to recycle, with a large percentage being recycled into polyester fabric material.  These bottles are accepted in Halton’s Blue Box program.

From a recycling perspective, there is no difference between a #1 PET plastic water bottle, plastic pop bottle, or plastic juice bottle.  So if you want to ban one bottle, do you need to ban all plastic beverage bottles?

Interestingly, it actually takes more water to make the plastic bottle, than what the plastic bottle will contain.

Some people argue that many plastic bottles end up in the garbage.  But if plastic bottles end up in the garbage, it is because people put them there, usually because of a lack of knowledge, lack of access to proper recycling, or due to plain laziness.  A waste audit conducted of Halton homes found that 0.49% of the average household garbage was plastic bottles #1 PET (water, pop, juice, ketchup, etc.).

Water sold in a recyclable gable-top carton? What do you think about that?

In the United States, some companies are now selling water “bottled” in a gable top carton (like a milk carton), and which can also be recycled in the Blue Box.

The Product

Municipal tap water is by far less expensive than bottled water.  In fact, most bottled water is more expensive than a comparable quantity of gasoline!

Municipal tap water is tested much more regularly than bottled water, but interestingly, a lot of bottled water actually comes from municipal water sources!  Some water for bottled water is extracted from different communities around the world, which ends up removing those residents’ ability to drink their own local water as sources becomes depleted.

Many schools and community centres have removed bottled water from sale at their facilities.  What’s interesting is that many of these concession stands or vending machines still sell bottled pop — and yet cola is 90% water and diet cola is 99% water.  Does the addition of sugar and colouring make a water-based product acceptable?

Possible Solutions

Water bottle - reusable

Reusable water bottles are always best!

The best solution is to avoid purchasing bottled water. Bring a reusable, refillable thermos or water bottle to school, work and play.  Remember to clean your reusable water bottle regularly.  This is what I do — water is my beverage of choice, and I always carry a reusable water bottle.

If you are in a situation where you have to buy bottled water, hold on to the bottle until you find a recycling bin. You can always put the empty water bottle in your home’s Blue Box — remember, caps go in the garbage.

What are your thoughts on the issue of bottled water?

About John Watson

I'm the Director of Customer Success for ReCollect Systems. We're a technology company that specializes in waste management apps that delight residents. Previously, I was the Waste Diversion Educator Coordinator for Halton Region, where I implemented award winning communications and outreach programs.
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9 Responses to The issue of bottled water

  1. We agree that it’s right to point out that the scourge of plastic bottles isn’t confined to those that contain water. The best solution is indeed to own and use reusable bottles. Banning them altogether from certain venues/areas also seems appropriate.

  2. Brett says:

    What about reusing a plastic water bottle multiple times? Also, what materials are used in reusable bottles, how much energy is needed to produce one, and how can they be safely disposed of once their useful life expires?

  3. John Watson says:

    Thank you for your comments.

    It’s true you can use a disposable plastic water bottle multiple times, however there’s been some studies indicating that this may cause chemicals to leak into the water. You can read more at http://www.livestrong.com/article/121364-dangers-refilling-plastic-water-bottles/.

    It’s also true that the manufacturing of reusable bottles may be energy intensive. But considering that I’ve been using the same reusable bottle for about two years now (don’t worry, I hand wash it), multiple disposable bottles will be more energy intensive in the long run.

    – John Watson, Waste Diversion Education Coordinator, Halton Region

  4. Salman Zafar says:

    Reblogged this on Cleantech Solutions and commented:
    The best solution is to avoid purchasing bottled water. Bring a reusable, refillable thermos or water bottle to school, work and play. Remember to clean your reusable water bottle regularly.

  5. P. C. Zick says:

    Reblogged this on Living Lightly and commented:
    What is the solution? I tend to buy bottled water when I travel, but when I can I bring my stainless steel containers and fill from a gallon of bottled water. I don’t drink from the tap despite the testing. Ours damages our water faucets over time so why would I drink that? We have spring water delivered once a month to our home. I’m curious about others thoughts on this subject.

  6. Liz West says:

    My concern is that even with a filter on your water faucet at home, you still get chlorine and other substances in your drinking water.

  7. It’s a shame that in certain parts of the world buying bottled water seems to be the only viable option. I currently stay in Macau, where the only way (without purchasing a very expensive filtering device) to safely drink tap water is to boil it first, and even then the quality is quite bad. Most people just buy the plastic 5-liter bottles, which must produce an enormous amount of waste in the long run.

  8. Shahbano Shah says:

    In certain parts of the world where tap water isn’t very safe to drink, various companies have come up with a scheme by which you usually have a water dispenser at home and buy gallons of water which fit over the dispenser. You take the used bottles back to the company and buy new ones when the old ones are empty. So, the gallons get reused which is also a good way to go. I think the way forward is to buy your own personal water bottle that you carry with you, that has a filter in it so you can refill it from almost anywhere. I’ve got one of the bobble bottles and I think they’re great!

  9. Pingback: Back to school… back to green | HaltonRecycles

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