The battle between the planet and plastic bottles: which side will you take?

Written by
Mais Hassan
April 25, 2021

This blog was written as part of our partnership with UNESCO’s Trash Hack campaign. Trash Hacks are tips and tricks to help reduce waste which can lead to big ideas for the planet. Find out more or post your own #TrashHack on social media: https://www.trashhack.org/

Mais Hassan, a young girl from Syria, who is a passionate advocate about the health of the planet and the fight against plastic bottles. Find out her tips on how to reduce plastic consumption and become more sustainable.

Mais with her favorite reusable bottle

Mais with her favorite reusable bottle

Hello fellow humans! My name is Mais Hassan, from Syria, the place you’ve probably heard about in the news. In a country torn by war, we still have somehow an ordinary life, and probably like yourself, we belong to this earth and care about its health. I know I care about it a lot.

In particular, I’m very concerned about the 8 million tons of plastic we throw in the ocean every year.  I am now writing to you, basing my considerations and words on scientific facts that you cannot close your eyes to, in the hope that, after reading it, you will never buy a plastic bottle again!

I imagine that sometimes when you go out, you think to yourself: if needed, it is very easy to buy a plastic water bottle from anywhere and then throw it away when you finish it, compared to a reusable bottle which will take more effort by (washing and) filling it up by yourself and carrying it ‎around.

So why you should not choose your convenience?

Key figures on plastic bottles

Let’s start by saying that it takes about 1.39 liters of water to make 1 liter of bottled water, which ‎means that a ‎substantial amount of H2O goes down the drain during production, and that ‎doesn’t include ‎the amount of water that’s used to make the bottles themselves‎.

In ‎‎2016 we consumed 400 billion plastic water bottles around the globe, the equivalent to 1 ‎million plastic water bottles per minute, or 20,000 bottles per second. Approximately only ‎‎9% of all plastic gets recycled, while the remaining 91% ends up in landfills or leaches into ‎our oceans.‎

In addition to its danger on the environment, buying bottled water is like “pouring money down the drain”.  Bottled water costs from $0.89 ‎per gallon to $8.26 per gallon, compared to fractions of a penny for water from your tap. ‎That makes bottled water thousands of times more expensive than tap water and a meaningless solution, when possibly preferable tap water. And if you’re a Syrian you wouldn’t want to spend your $35 salary on water!

When it comes to your health, you should know that disposable water bottles can be made of bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is an industrial ‎chemical added to plastic to make it stronger and has been linked to liver and ‎prostate cancer, heart disease, and cognitive problems in addition to asthma ‎and diabetes. Studies have found that the chemicals can leach from the plastic ‎bottle into the water if the bottles were subjected to heat, and the risk became ‎even greater overtime as the bottle began to crack and show signs of ‎degradation. Because of this, experts don’t recommend refiling single-use plastic ‎water bottles‎.

Now I would like to raise another point: “bottled water is cleaner than tap water”. There are still many parts of the world where tap water isn’t drinkable (2.2 billion people still lack safe drinking water), but in places with drinkable tap water it can be healthier for you than bottled. The label on your bottled water may depict a peaceful mountain stream, but that doesn’t mean the water inside is pure and pristine. According to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 25% of bottled water is sourced from…the tap, surprise! It’s just filtered or radiated before being sold at a substantial price markup. Moreover, traces of phthalates, mold, trihalomethanes, and arsenic have all been found in bottled water over the years. Only relatively recently did the FDA start regulate bottled water for E. coli, thanks to advocacy by the NRDC.

Despite all these facts, the worldwide consumption of plastic is still rising. In 2016, 480 billion ‎plastic bottles were ‎sold, and it’s predicted that the number of bottles sold yearly will ‎increase to 583.3 billion in 2021.

The need for everyone to act

At this point, my friends, I want to highlight that most of our problems come when we choose our convenience instead of choices’ impact. So, after you are now aware of these numbers and facts, what can you do to reduce plastic consumption and become more sustainable?

Step 1:

First, choose to refuse single-use plastic drink bottles, always carry your own ‎reusable alternative with you. Be sure to choose a socially responsible and ‎environmentally friendly alternative, such as a reusable bottle made from stainless steel, ‎glass, or safe aluminum.

Step 2:

If you forget to bring your water bottle along with you, don’t panic. You can look for a ‎fountain if it is safe with your local COVID situation, ask a cafe for a glass of water, or purchase a glass bottle of water and reuse it.

Step 3:

Go further with your impact by encouraging and supporting businesses and schools to provide ‎refillable water stations instead of selling bottled water.

In addition, if you live in a country with scarce water resources, look for larger solutions instead of lots of small water bottles or containers and replace them from other materials than plastic, if possible.

Step 4:

Now you could think: “Ah it’s such a burden, why is it all on me, what’s my government doing?” Well and since you asked, of course, there’s much a government can do to provide you with every reason to not use plastic, but you should be part of this change acting as promoter of institutional progress.

Each government must establish its own targets, considering national and local circumstances. The measures can include:

  • Prioritizing clean drinking water being accessible to all
  • Legislate restrictions on single use plastic distribution
  • Promote water refill stations and reverse vending machines in public places
  • Require retailer rubbish responsibility‎
  • Recognize leaders cutting plastic waste to ‎propagate their practices, like you eventually.

The only way to end our dependence on single-use plastic is for everyone to be aware and informed about the facts, recognize the problem, understand and respect the challenges present at every level, both individual and institutional, and act accordingly to address them.

And always remember that our tremendous attraction to plastic, coupled with over-consuming, discarding, littering, ‎and thus polluting, will eventually turn back on us in the future making always more difficult to find a safe and clean source of water to drink!

So, my dear friends, in the Planet vs. Plastic Bottles battle, you should now know who to choose and what you can fight for!

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