FAST FACTS ON DISPOSABLE BOTTLES

  • Americans throw away about 82% of the 42.6 billion plastic water bottles purchased every year.
  • Tap water is cleaner, cheaper, smarter and healthier than store-bought, bottled water.
  • It is unknown exactly how much plastic waste is in the oceans, but estimates range close to 100 million tons.
  • Plastic bottles are among the most prevalent source of pollution found on our beaches and in our oceans.
  • Plastic debris kills about 1 million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals every year.
  • As it breaks down into small particles, plastic releases harmful chemicals into the ocean water, creating a kind of toxic plastic soup.
  • There are 5 known gargantuan garbage patches in the oceans, the most well known of which is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Estimates vary, but the patch is thought to be anywhere from the size of Texas to twice the size of the continental US.

 

THE PROBLEM

  • Sales of bottle water in America have skyrocketed from 3.8 billion units in 1997 to approximately 42.6 billion in 2010. (Container Recycling Institute)
  • Americans throw away 35 billion plastic water bottles every year—about 82% of the bottles created. (EcoWatch)
  • The “purity” of store-bought bottled water is a hoax. Tap water in the US is subjected to multiple daily tests for bacteria by the EPA, the results of which are available to the public. Bottled water is only required to undergo weekly tests, with private results available only to the FDA. (Ban the Bottle)
  • PET plastic water bottles account for over 121 million tons of waste every year. (BottlesUp)
  • Of the total plastic waste generated in 2013, only 9 percent was recovered for recycled. (EPA)
  • Annually, 17 million barrels of oil are used to manufacture single-use plastic bottles. (Ban the Bottle)
  • Plastic waste and debris enters the oceans via poor waste management practices, intentional or accidental dumping, littering and storm water runoff. (NOAA)
  • It is unknown exactly how much plastic waste is in the oceans, but estimates range close to 100 million tons. (The Telegraph)
  • There are 46,000 pieces of floating plastic in every square mile of the ocean. (UN, 2006)
  • Nearly 10% of the plastic produced around the world each year winds up in the ocean, 70% of which sinks to the ocean floor, where it will likely never degrade. (UN, 2006)

 

THE IMPACT

  • Single-use plastic bottles, along with disposable plastic bags, are among the most prevalent sources of pollution found on beaches around the world. (Ocean Conservancy)
  • It is unknown exactly how long it takes for a plastic bottle to breakdown, but estimates range from 450 to over 1,000 years, leaving plastic waste to drift in the ocean for untold years. (Postconsumers)
  • Caught and collected by ocean currents, plastic debris forms “islands” of floating garbage, of which there are at least five known examples: three in the Pacific and two in the Atlantic. (Earth Magazine)
  • According to a study performed in 2001, plastic particulates outnumbered plankton 6 to 1 in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. (Plastic Free Seas)
  • UV rays cause plastic to photodegrade (plastics won’t biodegrade). As the molecular chains break apart, the material breaks down into tiny particulates, most measuring less that 10 mm in diameter. (HowStuffWorks)
  • Plastics begin to photodegrade at rates much faster (roughly a year) and temperatures much cooler (polystyrene begins to degrade at 80°F) that previously thought. As they photodegrade, plastics release toxins like BPA and styrene into the oceans. (National Geographic)
  • These smaller fragments of plastic also absorb pre-existing pollutants in the ocean, like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and DDT, becoming, essentially, tiny poison pills that contaminate soil, waterways and animals upon digestion. (Mother Nature Network)
  • Through entanglement and ingestion, plastic debris kills approximately 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals every year. One study revealed that 95 percent of marine bird carcasses found on North Sea coastlines had hard plastic waste in their stomachs (at an average of 45 pieces per bird). (The Telegraph)
  • On PCBs: "Animals that ate food containing large amounts of PCBs over short periods of time had mild liver damage and some died. Animals that ate smaller amounts of PCBs in food over several weeks or months developed various kinds of health effects, including anemia; acne-like skin conditions; and liver, stomach, and thyroid gland injuries." (The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry)

 

THE SOLUTION

  • Statistics like these can be overwhelming, but not all hope is lost. The solution to our planet’s plastic waste issue is to promote and embrace a cultural shift away from single-use, disposable products.
  • Investing in a reusable stainless steel, glass or toxin-free plastic bottle can eliminate over 240 plastic disposables every year. (BottlesUp)
  • Reusable water bottles are ultimately cost-effective, too. Greeniacs.com estimates that bottled water costs up to 10,000 times more than tap water per gallon.
  • And there’s good news too! 2008 was the first year that the number of PET bottles discarded in landfills decreased from the previous year (from 2,140,000 tons in 2007 to 1,950,000 tons in 2008). The number of HDPE bottles decreased, too (from 590,000 tons in 2007 to 530,000 tons in 2008).
  • According to research published in Biomacromolecules, we may, in the future, be able to decrease the presence of BPA in the environment more safely and reliably. BPA-containing plastics can be treated with ultraviolet light and heat, then exposed to a fungus (which is already in use as a tool during environmental cleanup) and burie. After one year, the study found that the fungi had completely consumed the plastic and left no trace of BPA. While it’s not currently in use, new research and findings like these highlight the innovative thinking that’s happening every day to lead us to a brighter, greener future.

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