Bottled Water Series: Environmental Impacts

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The UAE (United Arab Emirates) consumes an average of 13 billion bags of plastic and approximately 450 billion plastic bottles every year as per data provided by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment. A significant portion of plastic bottle consumption comes from bottled water use. The UAE had been ranked the eighth largest per-capita consumer of bottled water in the world owing to high temperatures, low rainfall, and increasing demand with increasing population. Excessive use of plastic is not just a hazard to public health due to release of harmful chemicals such as BPA (Bisphenol A) present in plastics but also an environmental hazard posing severe threat to the ocean and marine life. Although plastic is recyclable, only 20 percent is recycled due to lack of public awareness resulting in the remainder of the plastic being disposed either into the land or oceans and other water bodies. Sani Water’s new blog series titled “Bottled Water Series” will cover various elements of the bottled water industry starting from –1) factors contributing to rise of bottled water and impact of bottled water on human health, and 2) manufacturing process of bottled water and environmental impacts of bottled water. Sani Water has been at the forefront of providing their customers with the latest research topics in the drinking water industry that are applicable on a regular basis. With “Bottled Water Series”, Sani Water aims to educate and inform their customers about the severe health and environmental impacts of using bottled water.

 

BOTTLED WATER MANUFACTURING PROCESS 

The manufacturing of plastic bottles is an energy-intensive process with production of plastic bottles requiring approximately 17 million barrels of oil each year, an amount that can be used to fuel over one million cars for an entire year. The water bottle production process utilizes the chemical polyethylene terephthalate (PET) which requires an extremely large amount of fossil fuel for its production and transportation. The amount of water required to produce bottled water is three times the amount required to fill it. It can be concluded that bottled water production requires a tremendous number of non-renewable sources of energy. However, it is the disposal of plastic bottles that has a much more severe impact on the environment. Most of the plastic water bottles are either disposed of in landfills, or oceans and other water bodies. Studies indicate that approximately 46,000 pieces of plastic trash are floating on the ocean per square mile. The plastic poses a safety hazard to aquatic life by leaching chemicals into the ocean and disrupting ecosystems. Each plastic bottle can take up to one thousand years to decompose, leaking dangerous and harmful chemicals during the process. Some toxins leaked are carcinogenic and could cause reproductive disabilities. Incineration of plastic bottles produces toxic by-products such as chlorine gas and ash containing heavy metals. 

 

REFLECTION POINTS

 

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF BOTTLED WATER

The environmental effects of bottled water use are extensive. Although most bottles can be reused or recycled, most plastic bottles that are currently produced are made from virgin polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The plastic is comprised of non-renewable fossil fuels, which are a finite resource, and the use of this product encourages mining which has associated environmental impacts as listed below:

  • The entire life cycle of bottled water uses fossil fuels, contributes to global warming, and causes pollution.
  • Plastic bottles can take 450 years to decompose, so a plastic bottle you throw away tomorrow could still be taking up space in the ground or floating in the ocean centuries from now.
  • When plastic does break down, it releases harmful chemicals into the environment. Plastic leachate like BPA and phthalates can seep into the soil and contaminate the groundwater we rely on for drinking, bathing, and washing food and cookware.
  • Plastic does not always make it to a landfill, either. Some of it makes its way into the ocean, where it pollutes vital aquatic habitats. At least 5.25 trillion plastic pieces have made it into the world’s oceans. When marine animals mistake plastic for food and eat it, they may become sick and die. 
  • By 2050, 99% of all seabird species will have ingested plastic — and 95% of the members of those species will have ingested plastic. Some estimates also suggest that by 2050, the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish.
  • Plastic water bottles make up a substantial portion of this waste. Drinking tap water instead helps cut down on plastic pollution and keep marine ecosystems and wildlife healthy.

 

REFERENCES

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31491924
  2. https://www.expertmarketresearch.com/pressrelease/bottled-water-market-in-gcc#:~:text=The%20UAE%20ranks%20eighth%20in,of%20the%20product%20per%20capita.
  3. https://www.export.gov/article?id=United-Arab-Emirates-Water
  4. https://www.statista.com/statistics/183388/per-capita-consumption-of-bottled-water-worldwide-in-2009/
  5. http://www.gogreen.org/blog/impacts-of-plastic-water-bottles
  6. https://www.cleanwateraction.org/2020/07/29/bottled-water-human-health-consequences-drinking-plastic
  7. https://www.multipure.com/purely-social/science/plastic-water-bottle-dangers/
  8. https://green.harvard.edu/tools-resources/green-tip/reasons-avoid-bottled-water
  9. https://sustainability.uq.edu.au/projects/recycling-and-waste-minimisation/real-cost-bottled-water
  10. https://www.augsburg.edu/green/2018/01/17/environmental-impacts-of-bottled-water/
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Meet our Expert

Abhiram Satyadev has a Masters in Environmental Engineering at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, an MBA at Goldey Beacom College in Delaware, and a Masters Certificate in Standford University. He is currently the Program Manager, Potomac Interceptor for the DC Water in Washington DC. He is responsible for developing, implementing, and maintaining the Potomac Interceptor Renewal Facility specifically including operation and maintenance of odor control facilities at the Potomac Interceptor Sites and Pump Stations.

With Saniwater, he serves as our Research and Development Consultant and provides us with insights into his expertise. Read his section here on www.saniwater.com to know more.