Let’s Dispose of Disposable Plastic | Erin Kraeher

Imagine walking through the streets of center city Philadelphia, sometimes it just feels like every step you take there’s another piece of litter on the ground. Cities are especially bad because of the large population, but imagine being surrounded by garbage everywhere you walked. As if the whole world was our wasteland. Now imagine the same thing happening in our oceans to the billions of fish in the world. The fish we nourish our bodies with swimming while surrounded by plastic water bottles. This problem has a  fairly simple solution, I will demonstrate that by using reusable water bottles instead of disposable bottles it is not only saving our environment, but it is also saving our wallets-and by a wide margin. A study by the World Economic Forum says, by 2050 the amount of plastic in the ocean will outweigh fish, pound for pound. Out of the 50 billion disposable water bottles used in the United States every year, only 23% of that is recycled, meaning 38 billion bottles wasted ($1 billion dollars worth of plastic) are either dumped into a landfill or find their way into one of nature’s most mysterious places, the ocean.

What if the solution to the severe and soon to be irreversible disaster had a simple solution? Instead of a one-time use disposable PET plastic water bottle we all buy reusable and durable bottles. This not only maintains the health of our environment, but it also prevents us from drinking toxins from plastic leached water. BPA (Bisphenol-A) is the plastic that has been tested in the laboratory has shown fertility issues as well as changes in the breast and prostate tissue. This material is used in PET plastic water bottles and no good comes of it. No good comes of the wasteful theory behind disposable plastic water bottles. When I say we all need reusable ones, I would specifically like to focus on Nalgene bottles for the sole fact that those are the ones I have and I would like to know how much money and plastic I am saving from refilling the Nalgene every day over buying cases of bottles. And although I am focusing on the efficiency of Nalgenes there are plenty of other reusable water bottle options that maintain the environment. For these reasons, the buying of disposable plastic water bottles is both less cost-effective and more environmentally flawed than purchasing a reusable Nalgene water bottle.

First, I would like to prove the point of cost-effectiveness. Nalgene water bottles cost anywhere from 7 to 13 dollars per bottle depending on size, type, and mouthpiece. That is a one-time purchase fee and not very much at that. This is in comparison to the endless flow of money put to purchasing cases of bottles from the grocery store. Looking at the average price of various brands of water bottles companies, a case of 24 is about $6.50. To play it safe, I would like to say a person could drink 2 water bottles a day. I could say 3, but when someone is home they might be more inclined to use tap water or the filtered water from the fridge. With this logic, 2 bottles a day is one case every 12 days. In just 24 days, 2 cases of water bottles at $6.50 each are equivalent to the most expensive Nalgene water bottle. Nalgene water bottles do not have a certain lifespan. I have had mine for 2 years and in that time I have saved about 60 cases or 1,440 water bottles.

The answer to my question, For how long will I have to use my Nalgene water bottle before it becomes cost-effective? is 24 days. The math shown above makes the idea of buying a Nalgene bottle much more appealing than having the “ease” as some argue of a disposable bottle. As a college student, money is tight so not having to spend it on something that is detrimental to the world I live in anyways is a positive. Urging people to buy reusable bottles outs stress on the disposable bottle manufacturers in order for them to create a more effective biodegradable bottle, which along with the Nalgene is a good alternative to PET disposables. In this case, this new endeavor will open up the job market to people who have been possibly slighted from the cuts in the EPA.

My second questioning on the decision to switch from disposable to Nalgene is…which is more environmentally effective? To answer this question, production costs use of materials and environmental impact during production and transportation all have to be accounted for. I would like to start with the Nalgene water bottle and its material extraction. Nalgene bottles are made from a substance called copolyester resin, which is a hard synthetic resin that can be molded to take any shape. It does not contain BPA like PET plastic and therefore cannot be connected to cancer. After the copolyester resin is shipped to the Nalgene factories, it is manufactured through a process called injection blow molding (IBM). This process uses electricity to melt the resin to 100°C. Then cooler air is injected to dry and harden the polyester into its new shape. This process is expected to release CO2 emissions, but it is not positive how much. Copolyester is shipped from Jefferson Hills, PA to Nalgene in Rochester, NY. This is a distance of 296 miles, which requires a truck that gets 6 miles/gallon and fuel. It is not realistic to track from Rochester to every city they have store locations so I decided to ship from Rochester to Philadelphia. This is about 340 miles.

\(296\times (1 \text{ gallon} \div 6 \text{ miles}) = 49 \text{ gallons of gas}\)

\(340\times (1 \text{ gallon} \div 6 \text{ miles}) = 56 \text{ gallons of gas}\)

Nalgene bottles have a lifetime span and at the end of life, they are 100% recyclable.

Now I would like to compare all of the same requirements for a disposable water bottle. There are more transportation and energy required to make PET plastic and fill the bottles that eventually end up in grocery stores and need to be cooled there. For the sake of the argument, let’s say the gas required to transport the plastic to the manufacturer is the same as the resin and the filled bottles to the grocery store is the same as Nalgene to the store. With plastic bottles, there is still the added step of actually filling bottles with water. The Pacific Institute estimates that twice as much water is used in the production process of filling that is actually sold so for every water bottle represents three bottles. Then once these are shipped, they need to be cooled and stored in a grocery store or home refrigerators, an added step in the process, rather than just adding ice to a Nalgene. The real issue between the two is the fact that disposable water bottles are just that, disposable. They need to be recovered from the consumer by the recycling truck, sent to plastic recycling factories or in some cases they end up in the landfill. All of this has added steps and CO2 emissions not drawn into the purchasing of Nalgene bottles.

In conclusion, I believe that PET plastic water bottles are both unsafe for the environment and for the health of humans as well as less cost-effective. The cost of a Nalgene is a single purchase of $13 or so, but the purchase of bi-weekly cases of bottles is constant. The use of disposable bottles is also terrible for the environment. It requires much more energy. Since the endpoint for a Nalgene is with the consumer using it daily rather than the one-time use of a disposable and having to be picked up by the recycling companies it is more money, people and energy needed. In my opinion, these factors heavily outweigh the idea of the “ease” of disposable bottles. I think that everyone should have reusable water bottles because we all live on this Earth and we have to take care of it. This means taking care of the water sources that we drink from. Minimizing pollution and litter and be aware to not throw harmful chemicals down the drain ensures the potential for the extinction of everyday use of disposable plastic water bottles. Times are changing and so is the environment for the worse so we need to dispose of disposable water bottles once and for all.

Bibliography

“Bottled Water and Energy Fact Sheet.” Pacific Institute, Pacific Institute, Feb. 2007, http://pacinst.org/publication/bottled-water-and-energy-a-fact-sheet/. Accessed 24 Sept. 2017.

Kaplan, Sarah. “By 2050, there will be more than fish in the world’s oceans, study says.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 20 Jan. 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/01/20/by-2050-there-will-be-more-plastic-than-fish-in-the-worlds-oceans-study-says/?utm_term=.2bac6832a7e5. Accessed 24 Sept. 2017.

Malorie, Macklin. “Plastic Toxins are Leaching into your Food and Water.” One Green Planet, 31 Jan. 2016, http://www.onegreenplanet.org/environment/plastic-toxins-are-leaching-into-your-food-and-water/. Accessed 24 Sept. 2017.

Rios, Raymond. “Life Cycle Assessment.” Life Cycle Assessment, 9 May 2014, http://www.users.humboldt.edu/rrios/project_rios.html. Accessed 24 Sept. 2017.

“The price of making a plastic bottle.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 15 Nov. 2014, https://www.economist.com/news/economic-and-financial-indicators/21632569-price-making-plastic-bottle. Accessed 24 Sept. 2017.

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3 Responses to Let’s Dispose of Disposable Plastic | Erin Kraeher

  1. JoLynn Harper says:

    This blogpost was super informative and very interesting. My blogpost was on a similar topic, and I discovered much of the same information. I looked into how much money and waste will be saved from an average sized family switching from plastic water bottles to reusable bottles. Just as you did, I discovered that families will save a lot of money and waste from going to a landfill from making this easy switch. I completely agree with your claims about how the one time fee of purchasing a reusable water bottle is worth the amount of money and waste that you will save from doing so.

  2. Rachel Stone says:

    This Write and Respond was very relatable to me, as I have recently purchased a reusable water bottle since coming to PSU that I now use in place of the disposable plastic water bottles I used before. It is definitely worth it for everyone to make the switch because, like you said, it’s better for the environment and your wallet in the long run. I can’t believe you’ve already saved 1,440 water bottles in the 2 years you have had your Nalgene. I also enjoyed reading the information about the harmful effects disposable water bottles can actually have on our health in their cycle to our drinking water. I think that should change everyone’s mind the next time they reach for a 24 case of water bottles at the grocery. In addition, your explanation of the life cycle of a Nalgene vs a water bottle is very eye opening. Tracking where the water bottles come from, how they are made, where they get shipped to, how they are disposed of, etc. is very useful info to determine actually how harmful they are to society in many different ways. Great post!

  3. kvm5732 says:

    I had no clue that only 23% of plastic water bottles are recycled. I thought that number would be higher considering many cities/schools have implemented many more accessible recycling receptacles. I have a reusable water bottle as well but I definitely still use plastic ones from time to time, and not to mention the countless iced coffees we all get in plastic containers. I also didn’t realize how much money I save using a plastic water bottle everyday, you would think that would be enough to convince everyone to get one, but I suppose more people still prefer convenience when they don’t see the numbers right in front of them. I think companies that sell plastic water bottles should be more persistent when trying to get consumers to buy their products because all the numbers are on their side; appealing to peoples emotions by talking about the environment and their wallets by talking about the money they will save should be enough to encourage them to buy reusable bottles.

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