Plastics are manufactured using synthetic organic polymers derived from fossil fuels. Plastic is mainly made from coal, natural gas, and crude oil. Polyethylene terephthalate is the plastic resin that creates the bulk of plastic water bottles. It has been in operation since 1941. In 1973, a scientist from the chemical company Du Pont developed the first PET plastic bottle, which has since come to embody what we know as plastic bottles. The same plastic resin creates plastic water bottles and soda bottles.
At the same time, it would seem natural to assume that plastic beverage bottles would be consumed faster than water bottles; bottled water sales in the United States exceeded those holding soft drinks in 2016.
What Is The Impact of PET Bottles On The Environment?
Global plastic manufacturing has expanded in recent years due to the rising population need. We have generated around 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic worldwide since the 1950s. And 60% of that plastic has ended up in landfills or the environment. Plastic water bottles are convenient and inexpensive, but they have environmental effects. Bottled water production impacts climate change, humans, and wildlife from production to disposal. Below, we explore some severe consequences and effects of plastic water bottle contamination.
1. Clogs Drain
Plastic bottle indiscriminate disposal in developing nations lacking a comprehensive trash disposal infrastructure might exacerbate flooding. This occurs when plastic bottles become clogged in the sewage or drainage system. Blocked drainage generates many other issues by allowing wastewater to build and develop disease-causing viruses. It also pollutes the air and emits an unpleasant odor.
2. Ocean Pollution
In Ocean Conservancy’s annual beach clean-up, discarded water bottles and their caps account for the third and fourth most recovered plastic debris. Collecting plastic waste from the water is simple, but it is impossible to clean the ocean of microplastics. Around 8 million tonnes of plastic annually enter the waters, killing over 1.1 million seabirds and mammals. According to the Container Recycling Institute, 86% of plastic water bottles consumed in the United States are in landfills. These polymers break down into microplastics, which produce carcinogenic poisons that imperil marine life.
Plastic accounts for 80% of all marine garbage on the planet. If nothing is done, more plastic may be in the oceans than fish by 2050. Plastic fragments enter the digestive tracts of fish and seabirds even before they decompose fully. They induce obstructions, ulcers, hunger, and, in extreme cases, death. Plastic debris can also entangle wildlife, causing mobility loss, injury, and death. Ingestion of plastic can also reduce the reproductive ability of marine species. Around 700 organisms, including turtles, whales, seabirds, fish, and mammals, have consumed or become entangled in or with plastic garbage. The floating microplastics also encourage the spread of hazardous marine germs and invasive animals, affecting the stability of the marine ecosystem.
3. Landfill Occupation
PET is robust. However, one of its major drawbacks is its durability. A plastic water bottle can persist for at least 450 years before disintegrating altogether. A plastic bottle will take up important landfill space for years due to its resistance to disintegration. Landfills are not endless and can quickly fill up if we continue to send vast amounts of non-biodegradable materials there, such as plastic bottles. The tendency of waste plastic to flow into the ocean is the worst aspect of plastic pollution on land.
4. Human Health
Microplastics are swallowed and enter the human food chain when we eat fish. The average human is exposed to microplastics throughout the year via water, air, and food. Microplastics are carcinogenic due to their poisonous nature. This jeopardizes the health of people who eat fish. Plastic may contain chemicals such as BPA, an endocrine disruptor. It can seep into bodies of water, sink into the soil, and contaminate groundwater. It has the potential to be absorbed by plants and hence enter the food chain. Ingesting such a toxin can disrupt humans’ immune, neurological, and reproductive systems. Plastic pollution has the potential to reduce the availability of safe drinking water. Microplastics have been discovered in a variety of water sources around the world. Drinking clean water is critical for physical health, and when microplastics or plastic toxins contaminate water, human health is jeopardized.
5. Unsustainable Resource Usage
The production of plastic water bottles impacts the conservation of nonrenewable resources. Approximately 99% of plastics are derived from nonrenewable resources. If nothing changes, the plastics industry will consume 20% of world oil by 2050. To supply America’s annual demand for bottled water, manufacturers require nearly 17 million barrels of oil. The vast amount of oil needed to create single-use plastics such as water bottles is wasteful and inefficient. Bottled water firms are effectively flushing scarce resources down the toilet. Only the European plastic water bottle sector consumes 4%-6% of the continent’s oil and gas resources.
Furthermore, the energy required to manufacture plastic bottled water ranges from 5.6 to 10.2 MJ per liter. It is far above the 0.005 MJ energy needed to generate tap water. A bottle of water also consumes a significant amount of energy and water. To make 1.2 liters of bottled water, approximately 6 liters of water are required.
6. Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The exploitation of fossil fuels to make plastic is a high-emissions process. It contributes to climate change. Plastic water bottles are made by refining fossil fuels to extract valuable components. Greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere throughout the refining process. PET bottle manufacturers are vulnerable to fires and chemical leakage. Accidents in Norway, France, and Belgium have damaged the environment and sent workers to the hospital. Carbon dioxide, polyvinyl chloride, dioxins, furans, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are all released by burning plastic garbage. These are dangerous compounds that endanger both human and environmental health. Plastic water bottle burning generates soot, which settles on plants and soil and contaminates them.
What can be done to reduce the environmental impacts of PET Bottles?
We may not be able to eliminate bottled water or all of the negative aspects of plastic, but there are ways to make drinking bottled water more sustainable. The following are some tips to assist our water use habits in positively impacting the environment.
1. Reusable Water Bottles
Consider buying a reusable bottle instead of a plastic water bottle whenever you’re thirsty. Reusable water bottles can be filled with tap water from your home or water fountains. Tap water costs roughly $3 per 1,000L, while bottled water costs about $3 per liter. You can save money by drinking tap water instead of bottled water. The government has strict safety safeguards to ensure municipal tap water is safe. However, if you are concerned that the water from your tap could be more secure, invest in a water filter. A water filter can ensure that the water from your tap is as safe to drink as bottled water.
2. Recycle Plastic Water Bottles
Recycling capitalizes on plastic’s durability while ensuring resource conservation through material recovery. Recycling waste recyclable plastic reduces the number of raw resources used in plastic production. This contributes to resource conservation and reduces emissions related to plastic manufacturing. When we recycle plastic bottles, we reduce pollution by preventing dangerous chemicals from leaching into the environment.
3. Raising Public Awareness
Plastic water bottle environmental implications affect everyone, including eco-conscious persons who do not use bottled water. Individuals, organizations, and governments must step up efforts to educate the public about the disadvantages of bottled water. Many countries have implemented laws to limit the use of plastic and prevent excessive packaging. Single-use plastics have been outlawed in some nations, including Kenya. Kenya made single-use plastics illegal in its territory beginning in June 2020. Bottleless water systems and refill stations have become popular as cities, governments, and even festivals recognize that we don’t need all those throwaway bottles.
Plastic water bottles, like the omnipresent plastic bag, may appear helpful in daily life, but their environmental impact is unsustainable. The vast number of plastic water bottles we throw away in landfills and oceans has burdened our ecosystem. We must discover alternatives to plastic bottled water or raise the recycling rate of plastic bottles. We must cease disposing of several million barrels of oil as water bottles in landfills.