SGO: Plastic bottles – the enemy within

Luxury consumer goods are something that almost everyone will endeavour to own at some point in their working lives, from a swanky designer handbag/shoe combo to the latest mobile phone. These are things that we want but don’t really need.

This prompts the question: when did WATER become a luxury consumer product?

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Allow me to expand.

If you go into any supermarket, off-licence or corner shop you will undoubtedly find, next to the Coca Cola and Red Bull, several varieties of bottled water. Filtered from mountain streams, subterranean volcanoes or, in the case of the ill-fated ‘Dasani’ brand, Sidcup in South-East London.

Water, being essential to life, is one of the most unlikely products to be regarded as a luxury consumer product but despite this, it’s not a new thing. Bottled water was first introduced in the UK as far back as 1622 in Holy Well on the slopes of Malvern Hills in the West Midlands, a site which today still produces bottled water. In fact, the market for bottled water is staggering with consumption of bottled water more than quadrupling in the past 15 years alone. Indeed, the global bottled water market is estimated to be worth almost 40 billion pounds and rising.

Back in the day, the lure of bottled water was less to do with consumer elitism and more to do with health. Bottled mineral water and spring water were generally regarded as safe, clean and pure whereas water from the local lakes, rivers and streams tended to by dirty, polluted and home to various harmful bacteria, such as typhoid and cholera.

It could be assumed that the more well-to-do members of society, who could afford to drink the bottled water for the health benefits it possessed, imparted a perception of elitism amongst those who could not afford it. Its current symbol as a luxury item today, when water from the tap is just as safe and clean to drink, could easily stem from those times when an inability to afford bottled water could potentially kill you, but that is just an opinion. The truth is that tap water these days is perfectly safe and clean and there is no reason to purchase bottled water beyond preference.

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There are also ample places on campus to access fresh, cool water from free water fountains.

Perceptions of prestige aside, there is a very real problem now that involves not only water, but all bottled drinks. In bygone times, such beverages were sold in solid glass bottles which were very often re-used by the manufacturers as it was much cheaper to clean a bottle than it is to have a new one made.  These old glass bottles were often thick, sturdy and durable, but breakages would sometimes occur and the consequences could be expensive.

Then a scientist invented a substance called Polyethylene Terephthalate, more commonly known to you and I as the humble Plastic Bottle. Patented in 1973 by American Engineer/Inventor Nathanial Wyeth, this new invention revolutionised the containment of liquids.  It was cheaper to produce and dramatically reduced the risk of loss through breakage.  Suddenly it was not cost effective to re-use and so these bottles were simply discarded.

Unfortunately, plastic bottles, being neither organic nor mineral will not degrade, decompose or otherwise be broken down and assimilated into the earth’s ecosystem.  PET Bottles (as they are technically known) can be recycled but only in special facilities and only when consumers actively place them in the correct recycling receptacles.  In the early days and even now, many people would simply throw these bottles away with the general rubbish where they would end up on landfills.

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If the environmental issues were not enough, health concerns arose and have been in constant debate for years about the effect of toxic chemicals from the plastic bottles leaking into the water contained inside. Many tests and inspections have taken place and the scientific community remains divided about how much danger this represents.  As early as 2010, though, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) released a comment stating that they had ‘concerns’ about the health risk after having reports linking the effect of these chemicals to cancer and infertility!

There are steps you can take to minimise the risks to yourself – proven or otherwise – and these will not only keep you healthy, but more often than not will also save you money.

  • Don’t buy new bottles – get a reusable plastic bottle.
    • Don’t just get a normal bottle and re-use it (some reports suggest this exacerbates the toxicity problem), but try getting hold of a bottle designed to be washed and re-used.  There are even collapsible plastic bottles for easy storage so you can have one wherever you go and re-fill it whenever it needs it.

SGO Sus Water Bottles

We’ve just started experimenting with these in the office, and they’re available to anyone else who

gets involved with the sustainability team and/or Student Green Office at Christ Church.

  • Drink tap water
    • Many people believe that tap water tastes bland and bottled water is cool and refreshing. Try filling a pitcher from your tap and keeping it in the fridge. You may find that after this water has cooled down, it tastes just as cool and refreshing as any branded bottled water you care to name. Or use water fountains around the campus for fresh, cool, filtered water free and on tap.
  • Recycle old bottles
    • When you are out and about and you do buy a bottle of water, or Cola or even Iced Tea – anything that comes in a plastic bottle – ensure you dispose of it correctly into an appropriate recycling point.  PET Bottles when correctly recycled can be adapted for a myriad of purposes, from new bottles to doggie raincoats!

Basically – ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’ 🙂

by student blogger, Chris Bamber

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Categories: Student Green Office, Sustainability Engagement | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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