The effect of plastic water bottles may not seem huge on the local scale of Ottawa, Canada. But looking at the world as a whole, the effect is much greater. How many years do you think it takes for a single plastic water bottle to decompose? A decade? A century? Depending on the plastic, one bottle can take close to seven hundred years to decompose, if not more. As for the gallons of crude oil needed to produce the polyethylene terephthalate, commonly referred to as PET, the number lies in the millions each year. Ottawa may use a small number of bottles compared to the entire, world-wide figure, but it all adds up.
Making disposable plastic water bottles can be broken down into steps, starting with making the plastic and shaping it into a bottle. As mentioned, crude oil is needed for this step – lots of it. Following that is the treatment of the water, and the filling and capping of the bottles. Compared to the first step, both are relatively less energy-consuming. However, this does not mean they do not use a significant amount of energy nonetheless. Finally, there is the shipping, or transportation, of the bottles. This step of the process requires a huge amount of energy, which will vary only for the distance traveled and type of transportation. Unfortunately, bottled water is often marketed based on its location: spring water from the Tibetan mountains being one example. Altogether, before the bottle has even been opened and consumed, the cost of energy required to produce them is excessive in a time when we strive to conserve fossil fuels.
After a bottle is opened, it can be recycled or trashed. Recycling bottles is much better than simply throwing them out. One recycled water bottle can save enough energy to power a 60W light bulb for six hours, meaning the initial energy used in creating the bottles can be diminished. Statistics indicate only 61-68% of bottles in Ottawa are recycled, though. The others will end up in the trash, moving out of sight to a landfill far from home where it will sit for centuries on end before decomposing. Unfortunately, incinerating used bottles can have bad toxic byproducts that would affect the Earth as well.
However, if the bottle is neither recycled or trashed it will most often end up within the oceans or waterways. As well as potentially leaking toxic chemicals into groundwater, this will have a huge impact on the ecosystem and wildlife of the area. Since plastic degrades so slowly, as time goes on the problem grows bigger and bigger although it may not seem so from a local perspective.
The problem of the plastic bottle grows each day, but the first step has to start within the community. Based on the results of the survey we have collected, there is a general attempt to be eco-friendly whenever possible when it comes to plastic water bottles. In conclusion, while the local issue of plastic water bottles is highly important, keep in mind the perspective of the bigger picture to remember how drastic the situation can really be.