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Trouble With Bottled Water

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The Trouble with Bottled Water

1. What's in the Bottles

One problem has to do with what's in the bottles themselves. The Earth Policy Institute reports that 1.5 million barrels of oil per year, which is enough to fuel 100,000 cars for that same year, are required to satisfy Americans' demand for bottled water. That's because PET, or polyethylene terephthalate, the plastic used in water bottles, is derived from crude oil. And, according to the Earth Policy Institute article "Bottled Water: Pouring Resources Down the Drain," by Emily Arnold and Janet Larsen, this oil is being used to make some 2.7 million tons of plastic each year for bottling water around the globe.

2. What the Bottles Are in

Unfortunately, most of these bottles, four of every five, end up in landfills, according to Pat Franklin, executive director of the Container Recycling Institute, a Washington group that promotes recycling. Jared Blumenfeld and Susan Leal in their essay "The real cost of bottled water" published in the San Francisco Chronicle report that more than 1 billion plastic water bottles end up in California's trash alone each year.

The National Association for PET Container Resources in Sonoma, California, puts the national figure at 3.62 billion plastic bottles for 2004. According to the Container Recycling Institute, 86 percent of plastic water bottles used in the United States become garbage or litter.

Why is the presence of so many bottles in landfills a problem?

Incinerating used bottles produces toxic byproducts such as chlorine gas and ash containing heavy metals.

Water bottles buried in landfills can take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade.

The bottles leak toxic additives, such as phthalates, into the groundwater.

3. Where the Bottles Are

Arnold and Larsen also point out two major problems with the location of water bottling plants. First, bottled water must be transported long distances, which involves burning massive quantities of fossil fuels. They explain that almost one-fourth of all bottled water must cross national borders to reach consumers.

Second, the communities where water is extracted suffer a disproportionate loss to their own water supplies. The writers point to water shortages in Texas and the Great Lakes region near bottling plants.

4. What's in the Water

The Natural Resources Defense Council conducted a four-year study of the bottled water industry,



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