The Water Bottle
By Stephanie Lynn, age 23, Massachusetts
The water bottle. As ubiquitous a symbol of teen and young adult culture as the cell phone or Harry Potter. Evian. Aquafina. Dasani. Price Chopper. From an arctic glacier, a mountain spring, the metro water supply. Flavored. Even caffeinated. Refreshing. Revitalizing. Hyped like a pair of $200 sneakers. Or bought on sale by the case for $3.99.
You spend a buck for a bottle of water. Maybe more. A believer in the environment and recycling, you deposit the empty bottle into a trash bin, confident it will be recycled. A couple hours later you buy another bottle.
If you were the only one in the world doing this, it wouldn't be a big deal. But there are 6 billion of us, and in developed countries most of us are doing just what you're doing.
You assume your bottles are being recycled. But the fact is, 87% of plastic water bottles end up in landfills. You assume they must be biodegradable, unlike the good old days. After all, this is the 21st century. But somehow still they're not. In fact, it takes 450 years for your plastic bottle to naturally decompose.
Speaking of the good old days, as bad as our grandparents' generation was in some things, environmentally speaking, at least they got their water from the faucet or refillable glass bottle in the fridge, put it in a glass, then washed the glass and used it again. Marketing genius is defined as the person who got us to gladly pay for something we had always gotten for free.
The thing is, depending on the particular water source, the water from your tap may actually be as clean or cleaner than the water in the bottle with the brand name you spent a buck or more for (though this is not always the case).
Okay, so what's the solution? I refill my water bottles and reuse them several times before tossing them in the recycling bin. I store them in the fridge and pack up water for the day when I go out.
Unfortunately, the solution is not quite that simple. Bacteria grows where our saliva has been. The damp environment around the cap can keep alive illnesses, some of them serious. I recommend refilling water bottles, but failing to take precautionary steps, as inconvenient as they may be, can make you sick.
Okay, so what should you do?
1. Start with a quality water source. For some people it means using a home water filtration system or refilling their small water bottles from a big one bought at the store. (I know ... more plastic - it's not a perfect world.) My tap water is pumped up from my backyard well (which was tested and found to produce some very good quality water). Do what you need to do.
2. Never share your water bottle with anyone. And don't drink from anyone else's. Since its home will presumably be the family fridge, put your initial on the cap in permanent marker.
3. Every time you refill the bottle, thoroughly rinse it out, vigorously shaking up a half bottle or so of water. Also rinse the cap.
4. Every second or third refilling (or when you may have handled it with germy hands or have had a cold) merits a washing with antibacterial dish soap dissolved in warm water. Don't add liquid dish soap directly to the water bottle - you may end up tasting it later! Make sure you rinse out the bottle thoroughly. If you don't, you'll know it! This means you may need to rotate a dozen or so bottles, cleaning and filling 6 or 8 while the others are chilling. I suggest a small box under a cabinet to collect your empties, then cleaning a bunch at once.
5. After 8 or 10 uses, recycle the bottle and continue with a fresh one you saved whenever it's convenient to bring one home that you've used (or else from the family's supply).
Okay, let's be honest. It's easier to just be lazy and grab or buy a new bottle each time. Then wear your "Go Green" shirt you bought at A&F so everyone can see you care. But going green does take some time and commitment, though you can make a difference doing something like this that only takes maybe 10 minutes just twice a week.
Remember, if you buy only 2 bottles a day for a buck each, after a year that's $730 you've spent, and 635 bottles in a landfill taking 450 years to decompose. If you're 16, by the time you're 26, that's $7,300 spent and 6,350 of your bottles in landfills. (What would you do with $7,300? Hmmm.) But if you and everyone in your school of 1,000 students changed their habits, after 10 years $7,300,000 would be saved, and there would be 6+ million fewer bottles polluting our earth.