Alongside notebooks, pencils and pens, the next essential classroom accessory seems to be a water bottle to sip on in between scribbling down notes. Water bottles are the first choice among students who are trying to stay hydrated during a dry lecture. “It’s the last thing I grab before I leave my apartment,” nursing senior Rachel Abbott said. “I empty it from the day before and add new ice and water.” Abbott also carries her 20 ounce pink reusable water bottles with her to work and the gym. “By the end of the day I’ve probably refilled it about three times, at least.”
Water bottles come in many shapes, sizes and materials. Some can be used over and over while others should be thrown away after one use. Outside of the bottles themselves packaging and advertising campaigns entice consumers into thinking that if they drink from their disposable water bottle they will be getting the purest, freshest water straight from a distant spring. “Most of the time that water comes straight from Michigan,” plant biology senior Nick Batora said. “It’s all about reading the fine print. Sure there may be a glacier on the front wrapper but that doesn’t mean the water came from around the world.”
The truth about these thirst quenching accessories is that they were not all created equal. But that does not mean none of them came from a freshwater spring in Fiji. The bottom line is consumers should be aware of the facts when it comes to the numerous different kinds of water bottles that line store shelves. They should know not only how the bottles affect their environment, but also how they affect their health.
Disposable Water Bottles and Waste
Abbott recently switched over to the pink reusable water bottle after hearing reports of the toll disposable water bottles take on the environment. “It’s such a waste, but you still see people everyday using plastic bottles once and then throwing them away. At the end of the day there’s nothing you can do about it but make a change for yourself,” Abbott said.
[Batora]With news reports focusing mostly on what water bottles can do to your health, their impact on the environment are often overlooked. About 86 percent of the empty plastic water bottles in the United States land in the garbage instead of the recycling bin, according to Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit consumer rights organization. That amounts to about two million tons of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles piling up in U.S. landfills each year. But that is not the only reason disposable water bottles are wasteful.
Just to make the amount of water bottles that U.S. consumers demand it takes the equivalent of about 17.6 million barrels of oil a year. This is on top of the amount of oil it takes to transport the bottled water to consumers. All is equivalent to the amount of oil required to fuel more than one million vehicles on U.S. roads each year. Worldwide bottling of water uses about 2.7 million tons of plastic each year. In addition, many plastic bottles of all types and sizes will be incinerated, which releases toxic byproducts such as chlorine gas and ash laden with heavy metals into the air, according to Food and Water Watch.
“Don’t ask me when or how it happened, but it’s like there was a point when tap water just went out of style. People got sucked into the notion that tap water was second best to water that is basically no different besides it comes prepackaged and costs more,” Batora said. A study conducted by the Swiss Gas and Water Foundation found that a direct comparison of drinking water from the tap with unrefrigerated bottled water shows that tap water has less than one percent of the environmental impact that bottled water has, according to a study completed by the Swiss Gas and Water Association in 2006. Even when refrigerated and carbonated, the environmental impact of tap water is approximately only one fourth of that of bottled water, according to environmental issue website www.treehugger.com.
The cost of purchasing disposable water bottles is alarming when compared to the tap water alternative. Name brands in small bottles instead of jugs can easily cost more than $10 a gallon, especially if purchased individually, according to www.treehugger.com. By comparison, tap water typically costs about a half-cent per gallon. For what some Americans spend on bottled water in a year, they could buy a refrigerator with a filtered-water dispenser, the Web site says.
Disposable Water Bottles and Bacteria
Besides the damage that consumers may be doing on their pocketbooks, they should also be aware of the dangers of bacteria that come along with reusing disposable water bottles. Harmful bacteria and potentially toxic plastic compounds have been found in the types of water bottles that are typically made for a one-time use.
The mouth is a natural breeding ground for bacteria, fungi and viruses. These microbes get passed from lips to bottle in search of another moist environment to invade. To reduce the threat of bacteria, both single-use and reusable water bottles should be thoroughly cleaned and dried in between uses. Reusable water bottles generally have wider mouths, making them easier to clean. Dishwashing soap and hot water are acceptable to use for cleaning out water bottles.
[Conner]The risks of bacterial and fungal growth are higher if a consumer uses the bottle with a drink that contains sugars, microbiology professor Tom Corner said. These bacteria can cause colds, the flu, or diarrhea, said Charles Gerba, co-author of The “Germ Freak’s Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu. Consumers should immediately drain, rinse, and wash their water bottles after they have been filled with juices or flavored sports drinks. “Liquids containing flavor also contain more nutrients. When there are more nutrients available it gives bacteria the opportunity to grow more rapidly,” Corner said.
If consumers have visible bacterial slime or mold in their bottle they should sanitize the bottle with a dilute bleach solution containing one teaspoon of bleach and one teaspoon of baking soda in one quart of water, Corner said. They should allow the solution to sit in the bottle overnight, then thoroughly rinse and dry the bottle before continuing use. If not cleaned properly, bottles containing this bacterial slime and mold could make consumers sick.
BPA in Reusable Water Bottles
Media hype regarding the effects of bisphenol A (BPA) in water bottles has made it harder for consumers to absorb the facts about how their health can be affected by certain kinds of plastic. “Every other week the news says something else about the chemical. The reports all say something different. It’s hard to be concerned about something that scientists can’t even agree on,” communications junior Scott Campfield said.
Recent studies have shown a link between BPA, a compound in the plastic used in some reusable water bottles, and a variety of cancers, premature puberty and lowered testosterone levels. The BPA molecule can also disrupt the endocrine system, which affects brain development, therefore putting unborn children at risk, according to thegreenguide.com.
One study conducted at the University of Idaho suggested that chemicals leeched from the plastic used for water bottles into the water if the bottles were reused regularly and subjected to light, heat and time. So, letting a water bottle sit in a hot car or placing it on the bottom rack of the dishwasher can increase the amount of leeching it experiences.
Although there is some debate about whether the amount of BPA that ends up in the body is harmful or not, the manufacturers have acknowledged that over time BPA can leech into the contents of water bottles. Consumers have options to bypass the BPA debate entirely. The majority of bottles with a number 7 on the bottom contain BPA. Safer alternatives are bottles that have the number 1, 2 or 4 on the bottom. (See water bottle guide below for more information.)
To keep with the fad of keeping hydrated throughout the course of the class period without endangering your health or the environment, invest in a reusable water bottle made out of a proven safe plastic and remember to clean it thoroughly in between refills from the tap. On the upside, just like Rayban sunglasses and Converse All Stars, tap water will never go out of style.
Water Bottle Guide
The plastic bottles and container that are used for packaging food should all be labeled with a recycle code. This is a number between one and seven that is surrounded by a small graphic of three arrows pointing at one another in a triangle. These numbers tell the recycle center what kind of plastic the container is made of and they also tell the consumer whether there is a known potential health hazard.
The following plastics have no known health hazards:
Code 1: Polyethylene Terephthalate, or PET/PETE
Code 2: High Density Polyethylene, or HDPE
Code 4: Low Density Polyethylene, or LDPE
Code 5: Polypropylene, or PP
The following plastics do have known potential health hazards:
Code 3: Polyvinyl Chloride, or PVC/Vinyl. This material is often used in flooring, shower curtains and water pipes that should never be used to bring fresh water into the home. These phthalates may still be present in PVC bottles and toys. PVC or vinyl items should never be given to a baby or child who may put them in his or her mouth.
Code 6: Polystyrene, or PS/Styrofoam. As well as being another endocrine disrupter, styrene is also believed to be a carcinogen. This plastic is used to make some types of disposable forks, spoons and knives and also the “foam cups” such as those sold under the name Styrofoam. Hot liquid can cause the styrene to leach out of these products, as can fatty oils or alcohol.
Code 7: Other “resins” and Polycarbonate, or PC. High heat is required for the endocrine disruptor, Bisphenol – A (BPA), to be released. BPA is a primary component of PC plastics and is a verifiable dangerous compound. PC is largely used for water bottles of the type used for delivery services (multi-gallon containers) that fit on the water cooler in homes or offices. Many clear baby bottles are also made of PC, which is of large concern because many people boil the bottles with formula or milk inside them. PC is also used in food cans with plastic lining.