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Swimming in plastic: an environmental sustainability issue

Imagine a life where there is no accessible plastic—a life without Tupperware, plastic bags and plastic bottles. According to the Atlantic, plastics were just becoming popular in the 1960s regardless of the fact that polyethylene, one of the world’s most widely used plastics, was created in 1898.

People carried their groceries in paper or cotton bags, milk was delivered in glass bottles and water was carried around in canteens. Where once a life without plastics was the norm, today it is nearly impossible to think about a life without plastic products.

And while we enjoy these luxuries and easy life inventions that plastics create, it’s hard to deny the amount of trash that has accumulated over time. Today, it is nearly impossible to buy foods that are not packaged in plastic or paper.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in the year 2013, Americans produced about 254 million tons of trash and only recycled about 34 percent of that trash (87 million tons). Much of that trash was food, paper and plastic.

Bottled water, being convenient to purchase, travel with and throw away, is one of the major contributors to plastic waste. Bottled water is sold anywhere and everywhere, and some places don’t even allow people to bring their own water, requiring them to purchase more.

Yet nine out of 10 bottles are thrown away, and 10 billion plastic water bottles end up as garbage and in landfills every year in the U.S. alone, according to the Sierra Club, a nonprofit environmental organization.

“Large amounts of energy are consumed in manufacture, transportation and recycling of the bottles,” stated the Sierra Club.

The water put in these plastic bottles has also become a concern. Due to the large production of plastic bottles, it has caused large withdrawals of water from natural springs and aquifers. They are also draining household wells, damaging wetlands and decaying aquifers.

Not only does the production of plastic bottles cause harm to our natural water reservoir, but the plastic used in these bottles generates more than 100 times the toxic emission than a glass bottle of the same size, according to the Berkeley Ecology Center.

The BEC also explains there is a problem of leaching, which is the process through which water carries soluble substances, like chemicals,  from the plastic bottles and into the water.

Through heat, storage and the transportation of these bottles, there has been a rise of concern regarding the leaching of harmful chemicals into the water.

The Natural Resources Defense Council also did some tests regarding the water quality of more than 1,000 bottles of 103 different brands of bottled water. The test concluded with synthetic organics, bacteria and arsenic contamination that exceeded the allowable limits in at least one sample from about one-third of the tested brands.

“Having created a growing market for bottled water, transnational corporations are exercising their power to get access to springs, aquifers and municipal water supplies to keep their profits flowing, with little regard for the environmental impacts of large water withdrawals,” said the Sierra Club.

However, individuals can help combat plastic waste by avoiding use of plastic water bottles, offering pitchers of water instead of bottled water at events or parties and using reusable water bottles such as stainless steel, BPA-free plastic or glass.


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