original image from flickr user
"Nemo's great uncle"
Three years ago, I joined a small group at the Academy of Sciences named the Greenteam. Little did I know that green issues would be such a hot topic today because of global warming. Many people feel that little to nothing can be done about turning back the clock. Yet, if everyone did a few things it would lead to significant progress. I've observed over the past two years that little things people do consistently have a greater impact than going to the extremes. Our Executive Director recently took a step toward sustainability by banning water bottles at meetings and functions, noting that bottled water is expensive, wastes plastic, and is harmful to the environment. Better and cheaper alternatives are tap water as well as filtered water. The following bullet points explain why tap water is a more sustainable choice:
- Close to a quarter of all bottled water crosses national borders to reach consumers. The higher cost for bottled water is fueled by packaging and transportation. Furthermore, studies have shown that some bottled water brands merely bottle tap water.
- The US is the largest consumer of bottled water. It is second in consumption to soda. While soda bottles and cans have a 30% recycling diversion, water bottles have only 12% diversion.
- One of the reasons for this is lack of recycling options. Most water bottles are made out of plastic from crude oil which is hard to break down and taxes fossil fuel resources. Because water bottles are made of type 1 plastic, Sunset Scavengers in San Francisco has more difficulty recycling them.
- About 86% of plastic water bottles in the U.S. become garbage or litter, according to the Container Recycling Institute in Washington, D.C.
- Bottled water is defined as a "food" under federal regulations and is under the authority of the Food and Drug Administration, whereas tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, which has much stricter standards. Thus bottled water, depending upon the brand, may actually be less clean and safe than tap water. The EPA mandates that local water treatment plants provide city residents with a detailed account of tap water's source and the results of any testing, including contaminant level violations. Bottled water companies are under no such directives.
- Reusing plastic bottles further compromises the quality of the water, due to the fact that more and more phthalate leaches its way into the water as the bottle gets older
- Along with banning water bottles, the Academy has also been proactive with recycling. The Greenteam evaluated recycling methods and found that 76% of trash was diverted into recycling in 2006. Not bad for drinking less expensive water and recycling a bit more.
Cat Aboudara is the Special Projects Manager at California Academy of Sciences and works in the public programs division. The Academy is a wonderful fit for her because of her curiosity about the natural world and her experience in working with native California wildlife.