The environmental issues of single use plastics and solutions to address it.


There's a lot of information circulating about the plastic pollution epidemic, specifically, disposable single-use plastics. With alarming statistics and new studies surfacing every day, we've decided to spotlight the issue with a comprehensive write-up about the environmental impact of plastic water bottles. This article breaks down everything you need to know about one of the most popular disposable plastic items worldwide and its impact on our planet.

Why are reusable bottles better than plastic bottles?

Reusable bottles are better for your wallet, the planet, and in some cases, your body too. Companies that sell plastic bottles of water often spend more time creating the ultimate marketing campaign than verifying water quality. Some bottled water is sourced from public tap water, but toxins (like microplastics) can still leak into the water even though it's higher quality1. A study published in the Guardian showed that 90 percent of bottled water tested contained levels of microplastics2.

The reason why reusable water bottles are better than plastic bottles is simple: they are not plastic. Reusable water bottles should require less oil to produce and reduce the use of plastic. Yes, they may require a small investment, but they will pay for themselves over a short period. As a result, your body and the environment can benefit.

How much plastic is saved by using a reusable water bottle?

Around the world, one million plastic bottles are purchased every minute. By using a reusable water bottle, you could prevent an average of 156 plastic bottles from filling our oceans annually. Every year, 15 million tons of plastic enter the sea at a minimum. And experts predict that plastic will outweigh fish in the ocean by 2050 unless we make a change3.

In addition to saving plastic, there's money to be saved too. Producing tap water is much cheaper than making bottled water, thus allowing businesses and consumers to save money by using reusable water bottles. By using reusable water bottles, we can save4:

  • Money
  • Pollution
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Fish and animals
  • Natural spaces
  • Landfills
  • Health

Why are plastic bottles harming the environment?

There are two main reasons plastic bottles are harmful to the environment. First, the oil it takes to produce them does considerable damage, and second, they are almost impossible to biodegrade.

All plastics, including bottles, start as oil. This means that before the bottle is even produced, oil has been drilled, extracted, and refined. These processes are all heavily taxing on the environment and drastically harm it. Reports estimate that it takes 17 million barrels of oil annually to create a year's supply of disposable water bottles. To help you visualize just how much oil this is, the oil per bottle would fill up about ¼ of the bottle created5.

An estimated 1.1 million marine animals are killed each year from plastic waste, including bottles, as it takes about 700 years for plastics to dissolve. As a result, their negative impact is lingering for centuries to come.

What happens when plastic bottles are thrown away?

If you fail to recycle plastic properly, it will end up in a landfill buried under pounds of trash, creating methane and other toxical chemicals. Eventually, the toxic chemicals can get into groundwater, resulting in contaminated drinking supplies, rivers and the ocean. While you should make a conscious effort to avoid plastic water bottles at all costs, if you use a plastic water bottle, be sure to recycle it.

What happens when plastic bottles are recycled?

Sadly, for every six bottles purchased, only one is recycled. Whether you trash or recycle a plastic water bottle, it's still harmful to the environment. Recycling is a multi-step process that can be worth the effort. When you recycle plastic water bottles, the first step is to get them to a designated recycling bin or station. Recyclables are sorted and organized by the type of plastic they are created from. Once sorted, plastic bottles are cleaned and shredded into flakes. The last step is to melt the plastic down into small pellets about the size of a grain of rice which can be resold to companies to make different products. While organizations are in place to complete the recycling process, it's up to you to get plastic items into the recycling to benefit the environment6.

How many plastic bottles are used each day?

Nearly 1.5 billion plastic bottles are used each day. Without thought, most of us are guilty of purchasing single-use plastic bottles as they are a convenient option. However, our dependence on single-use plastic bottles is harming our environment7.

How many plastic bottles are used every year?

In 2020, 481.6 billion plastic bottles were used worldwide. In addition, only nine percent of plastic is recycled. However, we can take several steps individually to reduce our usage of plastic bottles. One action we can take is to decline plastic bottles simply or bring a reusable water bottle with you. Another step you can take is to request a water filtration system at your work or school. Water filtration systems encourage students, teachers, employees, and customers to use reusable water bottles8.

Do all single-use plastics harm the environment?

It is considered that all single-use plastics are harmful to the environment but in varying degrees. Plastic can take hundreds or thousands of years to break down in landfills. Some single-use or disposable plastics may never break down completely. Disposable plastics include water bottles, straws, bags, food packaging and more. That said, we should recognize several other ways to reduce your use of plastics because as more information is released, awareness increases. As a result, more products are now offered that allow us to reduce our use of plastic. For example, instead of using plastic sandwich bags, try using reusable sandwich bags that are dishwasher safe9.

Which single-use plastics are being phased out?

We believe it's possible to phase out all single-use plastics from your daily routine. For most single-use plastic products, there are more environmentally friendly alternatives. Right now, trends are shifting away from single-use bags found at retail and grocery stores to reusable totes. Another case of plastic being phased out is with shipping products. Companies use less plastic and more cardboard to protect their products in shipment more environmentally friendly.

Taking action is a great way to lead and empower others. In addition to substituting plastic products, you can find many other opportunities to reduce your carbon footprint. If you're looking for a quick and easy way to make a positive impact, sign up for a 100% clean energy supply plan for your home.

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  1. bebottle.com/blog/environmental-and-health-advantages-of-reusable-water-bottles 

  2. theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/15/microplastics-found-in-more-than-90-of-bottled-water-study-says 

  3. beyondplastics.org/fact-sheets/plastic-water-bottles  

  4. aerrem.io/how-much-plastic-is-saved-by-using-reusable-water-bottles  

  5. printwand.com/blog/plastic-water-bottle-pollution-effects-facts  

  6. oberk.com/how-are-plastic-bottles-recycled 

  7. drinklavit.com/blog/plastic-isnt-green 

  8. habitsofwaste.org/call-to-action/plastic-bottles 

  9. natureconservancy.ca/en/blog/the-effects-of-single-use-plastic.html