Water, Water Everywhere and Nary…

May 2, 2008 at 8:14 pm Leave a comment

There was an article in the Guardian some weeks back about how our drive to consume “pure” bottled water is devastating the planet, and it is filled with liters of insomnia-inducing factoids:

It takes 162g of oil and seven litres of water (including power plant cooling water) just to manufacture a one-litre bottle, creating over 100g of greenhouse gas emissions (10 balloons full of CO2) per empty bottle. Extrapolate this for the developed world (2.4m tonnes of plastic are used to bottle water each year) and it represents serious oil use for what is essentially a single-use object. To make the 29bn plastic bottles used annually in the US, the world’s biggest consumer of bottled water, requires more than 17m barrels of oil a year, enough to fuel more than a million cars for a year.

…the question is: what happens to our enormous pile of empties? The answer isn’t encouraging. Most are landfilled (Americans throw 30m water bottles into landfill every day) or, in the UK, increasingly incinerated, where only a tiny proportion of their energy value can be recovered; the rest becomes environmental pollution, particularly in the ocean where, as the plastic slowly fragments, it poses a serious threat to wildlife.

It transpires that our every-day hydration (eight glasses a day is generally thought a good amount) can be met by a low carbon footprint (the mains structure is comparatively efficient and uses little energy) that is rigorously tested (by the Drinking Water Inspectorate) to standards above and beyond its bottled cousin and which in the event of any contamination would be immediately recalled – again, this is not the case for bottled water. All we consumers need do is to turn on the tap.

Some of it is news, some of it is common sense, but some of it is actually not an option, despite what you’ve read. Many buildings in Forest Hills are old and spit out brownish-colored water. I live in one such pre-war building that has scary-looking water. Thus we distill our drinking water. But just tonight I learned from a reliable source about how inadequately treated NYC’s water is (treatment in the low-level form we have today is actually fairly new, too), enough so that as soon as I post this, I’m going to research filters for our shower heads and sinks. People tend to focus on drinking water, but apparently what gets into you via a steamy shower (through absorption by skin and inhalation) is much worse than what you ingest. It’s a well-kept secret, just how far behind the United States (and New York in particular) is in treating its water before it arrives at your tap.


Young scavengers in the Philippines sort through a mountain of plastic bottle waste.
© J.Tanodra / UNEP / Peter Arnold Inc.


Entry filed under: Forest Hills.

Clean Up, Everybody, Everywhere Cinco de Mayo

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