Always Use Reusable Bottles
You’ve probably heard people make a big deal out of reusable bottles. You understand that it’s important for sustainability, but maybe you can only see the vague image of the world covered in plastic bottles in a couple of hundred years.
The reality is that the effects of single-use plastic is very noticeable even right now, just 113 after its invention. I’ve done a little digging and the numbers behind single-use plastic usage and how it compares to its reusable counterparts I thought were staggering. If anyone ever thought that their own individual contribution to the carbon footprint was so small that it was inconsequential to the greater image of the world, these numbers show a different story.
In this piece, I will focus primarily on single-use water bottles. They are a concept that everyone is familiar with and it’s easy to grasp the effects they can have on a single person as well as the world at large.
Trendy reusable water bottles are becoming more and more popular in the US. Brands like Swell, Hydro Flask, and Yeti are all doing their best to appeal to a certain consumer who is interested in using reusable bottles rather than single-use ones. If there’s one noticeable common theme between all of these brands, it’s that they were all founded at about the same time; 2008–2010. In fact, most of the research that I found for this piece performed at around that time as well.
During the late 2000s, there was a movement to spread awareness for the impact that recycling can have on our world. One of the obvious and simplest examples was to point to the plastic water bottle as a leading problem in our plastic crisis. At the time of most of this research, the consensus was that plastic water bottles were being recycled at most 25% of the time which is a shame because when they are recycled, they are pretty easy to turn into something else.
Even then, our plethora of plastic was (and still is) becoming a huge problem. Any time you see a picture online of a trash-ridden beach, a plastic water bottle is always in the frame. Plastic is everywhere and it takes ages to decompose. According to WWF Australia, a plastic water bottle takes 450 years to decompose. That means if it ends up anywhere other than a recycling plant where it will just be recreated into a different plastic, it will simply be discarded on the Earth for 450 years. To put that in perspective, if Isaac Newton threw a plastic water bottle in the trash when he was an angsty 17-year-old, it would still be around for another 90 years from now.
Even if you do recycle your single-use plastic water bottle, you have to take into account the energy required to transport it to a recycling facility, recycle it, and then turn it into something else. The process of creating a new single-use bottle, not including the process of acquiring the plastic to begin with, requires 5.6–10.2 million Joules. This is compared to the 0.005 million joules required for the same amount of water to be treated and sent via pipes to your home. This means that you would have to drink 2040 liters of water to use up the same amount of energy that is required to create just one liter of bottled water.
Now if all of these figures that show that the impact these bottles have on the environment is startling don’t change your mind, perhaps a more personal and financial reality will.
Let’s assume that a plastic water bottle costs $1.45 on average for 18oz. Let’s also assume that you need 125oz of water every day as recommended by the Mayo Clinic. That’s 7 single-use plastic bottles. Of those 7, let’s say you buy 4. That means that you’re spending $5.80 on water every day. That works out to $2,117 every year. In terms of energy, that cost for a single person is 14.8 billion Joules per year.
Now let’s say you’re just buying one bottle per day. Maybe you go to the gym but you never bring a bottle so you always buy one on the way. Let’s say the water costs $2 because you want more than just 18oz. Even then, you’re spending $730 on bottles of water every year. All of this compares to the $30 you could be spending on a reliable and lasting reusable water bottle.
If your concern is that tap water isn’t is pure as the bottled counterpart, rest assured. Unless you are living somewhere that is known for having unreliable and potentially dangerous tap water, the filtered water in your bottle may even be worse than that which comes out of your tap. Tap water is far more closely monitored and regulated than bottled water. The change in taste that you may be noticing is due to fluctuations in minerals and chlorine in the water from place to place.
At the end of the day, buying a reusable water bottle can save you hundreds of dollars every year and it saves the world billions of Joules of energy. If enough people do it for long enough, it also means that a ton of plastic will never be created and the world will be a cleaner place.
If that’s not enough incentive to just buy that cool-looking Hydro Flask I don’t know what is.
Resources and further reading for this article: