Don’t Drink the Water (From a Plastic Bottle): We Need a Sustainable Economy

Our throwaway economy is largely to blame for our environmental woes, as Lester Brown points out for Grist. First introduced after World War II to stimulate growth and create more jobs, throwaway products offered consumers convenience. Soon, disposable paper towels replaced hand towels, tissues replaced handkerchiefs, and plastic diapers replaced cloth ones, eventually building up an overwhelming amount of garbage. Throwaway products create a multitude of problems, including maxed-out landfills, air pollution and depletion of limited resources. Instead of hunting for new places to stash our trash, we should focus on consuming less altogether. But in the midst of an economic crisis, can we transition to a sustainable economy?

“The overriding challenge for our generation is to build a new economy—one that is powered largely by renewable sources of energy, that has a much more diversified transport system, and that reuses and recycles everything,” writes Brown.

Materialism is part of our culture, alongside baseball, hamburgers and free speech. It won’t be easy for Americans to break their consumption habits. According to Wiretap, Americans use more paper and create more waste than any other country. The video below, The Secret Life of Paper, explains how paper contributes to global warming, how to reduce paper waste, and the environmental and economic benefits of recycling.

Meanwhile, Tracey Bianchi of Sojourners remains optimistic that the next generation will grow up to be more environmentally conscious. Bianchi’s young son referred to an empty water bottle on the ground as “recycling” rather than trash. To the younger generation, protecting the environment is not an adjustment but a normal way of life.

 “Small things like this give me hope. They make me think that indeed, we can change things. And they make me nervous for the day when my son is old enough to demand an excuse as to why my generation lived like sloppy gluttons. The way I demand my parents account for the racism of the ’50s, the way my parents demanded their parents account for two world wars, the way that generation demanded an explanation for slavery,” writes Bianchi.

Although most people are familiar with the 3 Rs of conservation (reduce, reuse, recycle), Public News Service’s Dick Layman notes that “there is more to recycling than meets the eye.” Many other green cycles reduce waste. Pre-cycling refers to not buying things you don’t need; free-cycling is giving things away instead of disposing of them; up-cycling is when useful items are created from recycled materials; down-cycling is when you reuse an item for a less important function and e-cycling is when you recycle electronics.

But perhaps the biggest environmental culprit in our throwaway economy is bottled water. The Michigan Messenger’s Eartha Jane Melzer reports that bottled water sales for the Nestle corporation are thankfully on the decline. Even a small slip in consumption can make a big difference: A whopping 70% of consumers say they drink bottled water, according to a study conducted by Mintel. What kind of environmental impact does bottled water have? According to Food & Water Watch, it takes over 17 million barrels of oil (which is enough to fuel 1 million cars for a year) to produce all of the plastic water bottles sold in the United States each year. And, even worse, about 86% of the bottles end up in the trash instead of recycling.

Despite these grim statistics, America’s top water importer, Fiji, has remained immune to environmental criticism. Anna Lenzer of Mother Jones questions how Fiji Water embodies chic and green ideals, but is backed by a military dictatorship who can’t provide its own people with clean water. For more information about Fiji Water’s troubles, check out Mother Jones‘ special report, Spin the Bottle.

Immediate action is necessary to combat climate change, and there are many small things that we can do to reduce our waste, such as paying bills online. More people today use re-usable grocery bags instead of plastic or paper ones, buy eco-friendly products and use recycling when given the option. And even though the next generation is being taught to be less wasteful, that is no excuse for a wasteful lifestyle today. We have to lead by example and create a responsible economy to go hand in hand with a sustainable environment.

Finally, we’d like to recognize Senator Ted Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) accomplishments for the environment. He fought for energy efficiency standards, land and ocean preservation, pollution reduction, and oil company accountability. And while many are concerned about the impact of Kennedy’s death on healthcare reform, Jonathan Hiskes of Grist worries how his passing will affect climate change legislation. As a strong advocate for the environment, Kennedy’s vote was crucial to pass a climate bill in the Senate, and his support and vision will surely be missed.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment and is free to reprint. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets.

By Raquel Brown, TMC MediaWire Blogger


Kelly Davis-steel
Kelly D4 years ago


anne r.
Tom R4 years ago

Recyling is necessary and not just a kind gesture. The enviornment is polluted and notonly land fillsbut animals suffer by a throw away society. Bottles the worst

Angie V.
Angie V5 years ago


Greg S.
Greg Shea5 years ago

Unfortunately, it is an absolute must to RECYLCE these concerns. Every day there are knew devotees to the Cause(s).

Bottle caps are a major issue with plastic bottles. See:

Here in the Cowichan Valley the main recycling center collects bottle caps separately, and makes sure they are recycled.

I am pleased to see that we can switch to another form of "organic" plastic (i.e. hemp).

Paper should be totally organic and if disposed of properly can be ultimately recycled (since trees regrow). Mind you where I live we are cutting down our beautiful forests then shipping our "raw" logs overseas (e.g. China). We lose jobs and amazing ecologically valuable nature that could be sustainably managed (like they are doing in Wisconsin).

I don't feel "guilty" at all about using paper towels, rather than "cleaning" or disposing of rags.
The electricity use is also a concern, but not really problematic (i.e. making paper towels vs. using a washing machine).

San Francisco has a by-law against the use of plastic bags. Why doesn't everyone?

I will NEVER drink water from a plastic bottle again (or soda pop, etc.) for that matter.

Greg Shea (Lake Cowichan)

Daniel M.
Past Member 7 years ago

The basic building block of plastics is cellulose taken from petroleum, but toxic petrochemical compositions are not the only way to derive plastics. Plastics can be derived from plant cellulose, and since hemp is the greatest cellulose producer on Earth (hemp hurds can be 85% cellA recent technological advance with biodegradable plastics made from cornstarch has led to a new material based on hemp. Hemp Plastics (Australia) have sourced partners who have been able to produce a new 100% biodegradable material made entirely from hemp and corn. This new material has unique strength and technical qualities which have yet to be seen before, and this new material can be injection or blow-molded into virtually any shape using existing moulds, including cosmetic containers, Frisbee golf discs, etc.ulose), it only makes sense to make other organics, instead of letting our dumps fill up with refuse.
The possibilities are endless with hemp plastics and resins, and bio-composites. Virtually any shape and purpose can be fulfilled by bio-composite plastics. Hemp plastics are already on the rise, it is only a matter of time before we will see the need to grow hemp in the United States to meet our demands.

Renee L.
Renee L8 years ago

I have a solution for all of you if you can afford it. There are water treatment systems out there to correct practically all water. We have de-salinization (removes salt from salt water), we have chlorination to kill bacteria, we have ultra violet light treatment to kill whatever chlorine doesn't. We have water conditioners to remove harness and iron. Ultimately, we also have reverse osmosis. It fits under your sink, it is relatively inexpensive compared to paying 40 cents a gallon. For about $150 you can have one installed on your kitchen sink. It removes 99.9% of impurities from your water.
My family used to own and operate a water treatment and conditioning business, I know water. I refuse to drink well water, there for I will buy bottled water. I care about what kind of water I drink because your body is primarily made of water. It is crucial to your survival.
Again, I absolutely refuse to drink flouride or chlorine. Even if you need a chlorination system to clean up your water, still filter it to get the chlorine out. You wouldn't drink bleach would you?

Thomas S.
8 years ago

That having been said, I live in a very progressive community but our water quality has taken a noticeable dip in the past 10 years. As I tell you this, please keep in mind I'm a wine, liquor, cigar and cuisine aficionado, so I have a sensitive palate. When I left here for the big apple in 1998, I had been using a Britta pitcher for my water, and it worked great. The water tasted like it came from a mountain stream. When I returned here 5 years ago, the Britta pitcher, which also worked quite well in NYC, was useless. We purchased 1 gallon quality, non-pourous plastic bottles and we get our water at our local food coop. There are machines there that triple distill and ultraviolet treat the tap water, leaving it even better than the Britta water used to be, delicious. We payed 38 cents/gallon 4 years ago, it's 49 cents/gallon now. The local warehouse-sized supermarket has a similar machine and charges I think less than 40 cents/gallon. A small price, I think, to pay for your health, and no waste.

Thomas S.
8 years ago

Your water must be pretty bad Rosalinda for it to require sweetening to be palatable. Have you seen an analysis of your local tap water? I'd be concerned if I were you. This never happens, but I have to wholeheartedly agree with Renee here, we have no way of knowing all the illness caused by our water.

Many of here on Care2 DO try to get our government to take proper measures to keep our tap water clean, I certainly think it should be, but there is a lot of opposition from big industry who have, of course, purchased much of our government some time ago and continue to increase their holdings. The result? The dumping of tons of chemical waste into rivers. Mercury levels have increased dramatically over the decades, particularly in the last 8 years as a result of deregulation. It would be nice if big industry could be trusted to do the right thing and properly dispose of their waste, but of course greed wins the day, we need these laws.

It should also be mentioned that recent studies have shown that a variety of pharmaceuticals are showing up in public water supplies. We consume so much, that we pee it out and it ends up in the water.

Rebecca D.
Rebecca D8 years ago

We often have no choice but to buy bottled water. Living in rural Australia our house is supplied with boar water which has its good days but most of the time is undrinkable, and due to the drought most of the time our tank is empty. If you want to buy water to fill it by truck its usually a 3 week wait. So i'll continue to drink bottled water.

Renee L.
Renee L8 years ago

Tell me something Rosalinda, How in the world is it safe to drink mass quantities of known carcenigens? Both chloride and flouride build up in your body. When you span a lifetime of drinking those horrible chemicals, what do you think happens. It even says right on your toothpaste, DO NOT INGEST!
Think about this Rosalinda, when did cancer start getting out of control in this country? Think about when they started putting flouride in drinking water, hmmm wasn't that back in the 60's. In the 70's, cases of cancer started rising. Coincedence? I do not think so. I refuse to drink chlorinated (bleach) and flouridated water. I will filter it out using reverse osmosis or buy filtered bottled water. Why do you think people from the early 1900's live longer than most people born after 1950? It is the chemicals that we now deem safe that we put in our food and drinking water. Appalling.