Turn On The Tap

tapwater-1Those eight daily glasses of water you’re supposed to drink for good health? They could cost you roughly $1,400 or $0.49 yearly, depending on where you get your water. Consumers that choose to drink bottled water spend about 2,900 times as much as those that drink tap water. Why? All consensus seems to be in favor of the convenience of water bottles, so environmentalists and their followers have been promoting various alternative to the store bought, single-use bottles that have proven to be harmful to the human body. The argument now seems to be which type of bottle is more environmentally friendly; the appropriate answer is neither.

The negative effect of both disposable and reusable water bottles is accelerating the deterioration of the global ecosystem. There is such fervor against plastic water bottles that the negative effects of the re-usable bottles have been, for the most part, overlooked. If consumers could pull away from following the trend of what is most “green”, recycle any and all water containers they have already tried, and simply turn on the tap, the environmental and health costs would be significantly reduced.

Journalist Alina Tugend wrote an editorial for the New York Times speaking from the position of a mother hoping to find out if she is inadvertently poisoning her children by providing them with bottled water. Like many people from all over the United States, Alina uses plastic water bottles, not because she distrusts tap water, but because they are easy to carry. Convenience is a highly sought after quality that plagues Americans. Here lays the core of the issue: the majority of Americans would rather conveniently grab a bottle of water than drink a glass of tap water, when in reality they both achieve the exact same thing.

Alina wrote, “The majority of people buy a water bottle, reuse it, and recycle it – sanctimoniously thinking they are doing their part”. Recyling – it justifies everything. However, that majority is ignorant to the fact that before the bottle even reaches the recycling plant, that “reuse” of a water bottle already causes serious health risks. The particular plastic used to make water bottles bought in grocery stores, leach and degrade a harmful metal called antimony.

After this was discovered, other bottle alternatives emerged, such as brand name bottles like Nalgene (a recyclable level three reusable water bottle). After a few years, scientists discovered that level three reusable water bottles leach a chemical even more dangerous chemical than antimony, an endocrine disrupting chemical called bisphenol A.

The Environment Protection Agency conducted 700 bisphenol studies on various subjects. Although a percentage of the data produced a harmful effect on the subject, the percentage was considered to be at a lower level than that of necessary concern. Despite the fact that the amount of subjects that had harmful outcomes is being considered low, there were outliers in the data that experienced behavioral and neurological problems in children caused by the bisphenol A. A cross-sectional study design was used to suggest an association between BPA levels in humans and a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, and elevation of certain liver enzyme activities.

In response to this, today’s most recent, glorified solution to avoid the risks with level three bottles are stainless steel bottles. Stainless steel bottles are gaining popularity, but this might not be the case if the consumer knew that there are 1,400 steps to produce their bottle, all of which have its own negative effects: The mining of the chromium ore, used to produce stainless steel, exposes workers to heightened risks of cancer; the processing of the chromium ore produces ten times more pollution than that from the production of a plastic bottle; and the process to extract metals from these ores involves the use of fossil fuels, greenhouse gases, carcinogens, particulates, and toxic materials, releasing them into the air, water, and soil. Along with these emissions, the distribution of these bottles causes even more emission of greenhouse gases and the means of transportation uses oil, accounting for 1-5% of the impact.

What’s worse, most people throw their bottles out after a few months. Although these bottles do not leach any chemicals into the water, they are more not cleaned as thoroughly, which leads to mildew because, unlike clear plastic, the stainless steel eliminates visibility. Of these discarded bottles, only one third make it to the steel recycling center, leaving many metal bottles in the landfill, where it takes much longer to dispose of than its plastic competition.

In total, stainless steel bottles burn seven times more fossil fuel, produce fourteen times more greenhouse gases, use one hundred times more extracted resources and create one hundred times more toxic risk to workers and the ecosystem than a 32 ounce plastic bottle. When the costs of each option are compared, the stainless steel bottle is not a feasible alternate to the plastic water bottle, leaving neither as a solution.

A woman named Emily Lloyd, commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, said, “Through education and motivation you can get people to change their habits.” However, this growing problem with water bottles disproves Mrs. Lloyd. The information is certainly accessible, through mainstream news people are clearly capable of being educated on the subject, and there are numerous environmentalists that try to motivate the rest of society, so why do consumers continue to neglect the problem at hand and buy bottled water? The bystander effect is to blame; a phenomenon in which the greater the number of people present, the less likely people are to help in a situation of distress. Americans continue to assume their neighbors drink tap water, making it acceptable for them to drink bottled water. If people continue to passively hope others will reverse course, the ecological damage will only continue.

While businesses try to come up with new products and consumers continue to buy these products, this ongoing issue will remain at the forefront of environmental concerns. Although these alternatives are not as convenient, they serve the same purpose minus the negative costs – a trade people should be more than willing to make. So, rather than taking a stand against one substitute or another, forfeit any container and utilize the perfectly accessible and sanitary tap water.


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