Write and Respond 1: The Battle of Plastic Bottles vs Aluminum

Nowadays, people are quick to purchase plastic water bottles for the convenience. They’re cheap, accessible, and easy. Once you’re done, you simply recycle it (hopefully), and move on with your day. But, how many times of day does one do this? The majority of families in the United States purchase the large, 24 pack of water bottles to keep in their fridges at home. How quickly do we go through these? Are we really accounting for how much plastic we’re using? It can be difficult to see the difference between the energy use of materials because of our overall ignorance as a population; however, after careful findings, we can decipher our energy uses and compare them. In my opinion, it is fairly obvious that switching from plastic bottles to a reusable water bottle can help the environment. I only assume this through the fact that you are throwing away each plastic bottle after its use, creating more trash. I decided it would be interesting to look farther into the studies and see how much energy, which is an important factor, is used with plastic bottles vs reusable ones. According to my calculations, it takes about the use of 2,447 aluminum water bottles to reach the same energy it takes to produce and use one plastic water bottle. Therefore, we must make the switch from plastic bottles to reusable water bottles due to the mass waste of energy.

To find this calculation, I first had to find out how much energy it takes to produce one plastic water bottle. According to Phy.Org, producing one liter of a plastic water bottle uses between 5.6 and 10.2 million joules. I decided to take the average of these two numbers, which was 7.9 million, and use that as my basis number. I then found that 1 liter has about 34 oz, which is equivalent to about 2 plastic, standard 16.9 oz water bottles. So, I divided 7.9 million by 2 to and got 3.95 million joules per one 16.9 fl oz water bottle.

\(790,000,000 \text {joules} \div 2 = 395,000,000\text {joules to produce one 16.9 oz plastic bottle} \)

Next, I had to find out how much energy it took to recycle one of these plastic water bottles. Ted Redmond, an environmentalist, says that it takes around 1.36 million joules to recycle one 16.9 fl oz water bottle. From here, I added the amount it took to produce one plastic water bottle, 3.95 million joules, and added it to the amount it took to recycle one plastic water bottle, 1.36 million joules, and got 5.31 million joules. Therefore, it takes 5.31 million joules to use one 16.9 fl oz plastic water bottle.

\(395,000,000 \text {joules} + 136,000,000 \text {joules} = 531,000,000 \text {joules to use one 16.9 oz bottle} \)

The next step in my calculations was to determine the energy used in producing a reusable, aluminum water bottle. To begin, I found that Low-Tech Magazine says it takes between 11.35 and 17 megajoules to produce 1 kilogram of aluminum. From this, I averaged the two numbers to get 14 megajoules, which I used as my base number. Next, I multiplied this by 1 million to convert it to joules, resulting in 14 million joules. According to aspower.com, a 16.9 oz aluminum water bottle weighs about 15.5 grams. I converted this to kilograms and got .0155 kg. I then multiplied this by 14 million to receive the total energy in joules, which was 217,000 joules.

\( 14,000,000 \text {joules} \times .0155 \text {kilograms} = 217,000 \text {joules to produce one aluminum bottle} \)

For my final step in this calculation, I had to divide 5.31 million joules, the total amount of energy used to use one plastic water bottle, by 217,000 joules. I ended up with about 2,447. This means it takes about the energy of producing 2,447 aluminum bottles to use the same amount of energy it takes to use ONE plastic water bottle.

\( 531,000,000 \text {joules} \div 217,000 \text {joules} = 2,447 \text {aluminum bottles to equal the energy of one plastic bottle} \)

For the final step in my analysis, I wanted to compare my previous calculations to the total energy use by Americans with disposable water bottles. Ban the Bottle says that the average American uses about 167 disposable water bottles per year. I took this number and multiplied it by 5.31 million, the total amount of joules used in producing and recycling plastic water bottles, and got 886.77 million joules. This means that each American uses about 886.77 million joules every year on plastic water bottles, vs the 217,000 joules they could be using by switching to a reusable aluminum water bottle, assuming it will last you one year.

My research concluded that it takes about the use of 2,447 reusable aluminium bottles to produce just one plastic water bottle. Why does this matter? According to my other calculations, regarding the total energy used by the typical American per year, we can save about 409x the energy we use through plastic water bottles by switching to a reusable one. This is important because this is such a small change that can have a large impact. Aluminum water bottles are typically fairly inexpensive, maybe around $15-$20, and can last a much longer time. At Target, a 24 oz case of plastic water bottles cost about $4. This is a fraction of the price it costs for an aluminum water bottle, but it can quickly add up. My family of 5 goes through one of these cases in about 2 weeks. 52 weeks in a year divided by 2 is 26 weeks multiplied by $4 is $104. If you keep track of your aluminum bottle and clean it, it could last you well over a year. But, if something does happen, like you misplace it or it breaks, the chances are you’d only be buying one or two a year, so it would be about $30-$40 annually vs $104. Not only are you significantly saving money, but saving a great amount of energy, as well. Some may consider just reusing the plastic water bottle; however, they are not made for that. Therefore, it can be unsanitary, versus the perfectly healthy use of an aluminum bottle. Ditching plastic water bottles and purchasing a reusable one is a decision that’ll ultimately benefit you and the environment. You’ll be spending less on bottles of water and using less energy through supporting them. In conclusion, there is a significant difference in the amount of energy used per year by the production and recycling of plastic water bottles than there is in the production of an aluminum one.

Works Cited

“American Samoa Power Authority Materials Management Office.” *American Samoa Power Authority Materials Management Office*, pp. 1–4., www.aspower.com/aspaweb/bids/RFP%20NO.%20ASPA14.1216%20ASPA%20AND%20PUBLIC%20JOINT%20VENTURE%20RECYCLING-Appendix%20A.pdf.

From this source I used the information regarding how much 12 oz of aluminum weighs. I converted this to fit into my piece. No publisher or author was provided for this source.

“Bottled Water Facts.” *Ban the Bottle*, www.banthebottle.net/bottled-water-facts/.

From this source I used the fact that the average American uses 167 plastic water bottles a year. No author was provided for this source.

“How Much Energy Goes Into Making a Bottle of Water?” *Phys.org – News and Articles on Science and Technology*, phys.org/news/2009-03-energy-bottle.html.

From this source I used the fact that producing a water bottle requires between 5.6 and 10.2 million joules of energy. Article written by Lisa Zyga.

“How Much Energy Does It Take (on Average) to Produce 1 Kilogram of the Following Materials?” *LOW-TECH MAGAZINE*, www.lowtechmagazine.com/what-is-the-embodied-energy-of-materials.html.

From this source I used the fact that it takes 11.35-17 MJ to produce 1 kg of aluminum. Source of article: “Environmentally Benign Manufacturing.” No author was provided.

Redmond, Ted. “How Much Energy Is Required to Recycle a Plastic Bottle?” *Quora*. N.p., 14 Apr. 2015. Web. 24 Sept. 2017. https://www.quora.com/How-much-energy-is-required-to-recycle-a-plastic-bottle

From this source I used the fact that it takes 1,360,000 J to recycle a 500ml plastic water bottle.