The Convenience of Destroying the Planet: The Cost/Benefit Enigma

Human blood is made up of 90% water – drinking water literally keeps you alive! Many of us are constantly trying to reach the water goals that health professionals have set out for us. Harvard Health recommends drinking 4 – 6 cups of water every day. This is a great goal, and one each one of us should strive to reach, however, the vessel through which we reach this goal can vary and can be potentially problematic.

The Problem: Plastic Water Bottles

They’re everywhere! Like many other plastic products, plastic water bottles are single-use and manufactured to be consumed and promptly tossed into the trash. And SO many end up in the trash! In fact, 60 million water bottles are disposed of every day in the United States. Out of these 60 million, only about 20% are recycled, so about 50 million end up in landfills. Sadly, water bottles take 500 years to break down on their own, so they are taking up a lot of space.

How bad is it?

Plastic water bottles are typically made of PET plastic, or Polyethylene Terephthalate. You may have heard about this type of plastic before, as it is responsible for most plastic packaging products on the market, but what you may not know is that it is made from crude oil – 17 million barrels of crude oil each year, in fact! That is enough oil to fuel over a million vehicles for a year! Worse, drilling and fracking for oil is incredibly harmful to the environment.

What about recycling? 

As mentioned earlier, only about 20% of the 60 million water bottles disposed of every day are placed into a recycling bin. Just like it says on the label, plastic water bottles are 100% recyclable! There has been some controversy on whether the water bottle top can be recycled, but according to the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recycler’s executive director, the plastic industry is now recommending that both the bottle and the lid be recycled together to avoid mixed messages and to increase the number of plastic materials that are being recycled. However, the convenience of the water bottle can sometimes extend to the convenience of the trash can. PET plastics can take over 500 years to break down and, even then, they leave behind harmful toxins. While PET plastics are notoriously difficult to recycle (the process is known as downcycling), organizations all over the world are making an effort to turn these recycled water bottles into textiles for clothing, fabrics, bags, or rugs. Purchasing these products supports the motion to reduce, reuse, and recycle discarded plastics into something new and beautiful.

 But it will go away someday, right?

In theory, yes. Plastic water bottles take 500+ years to break down in landfills – but do they really? While the mass of the plastic (the space that it takes up) will break down over several centuries, the chemicals that they contain leach into the grouch and leak into water systems, poisoning terrestrial and marine life.While the bottle will be gone, its essence will continue to impact our Earth forever. In addition to plastic poisoning, it is estimated that over 100,000 marine animals die every year from plastic consumption and 90% of dead seabirds are found with plastic in their stomachs. This plastic is eaten and cannot be passed, so it stays in the stomach until the animal essentially starves to death.

Are they even safe?

Many people buy bottled water in an attempt to drink safe, clean water. They’re under the impression that the water that they are purchasing is somehow superior to the water that they would be getting in a glass from the tap. Bottled water is regulated on a state level and different states have different regulations – some states don’t bother to regulate their bottled water at all! According to the National Resources Defense Council, some popular bottled water companies literally put tap water into plastic bottles and sell it! Even if you aren’t concerned about drinking tap water, remember the chemicals in the bottle the holds your water? From the moment the water is bottled, those chemicals begin to leach into your water, along with BPA, a chemical in PET plastics, which disrupts hormones and mimics estrogen. While there are limitations on the chemicals that are in city tap water, there are no regulations on the chemical levels that are allowed to be in bottled water. Laboratory testing has shown that water that has been in a plastic bottle at least 10 days has significant levels of Phthalates and BPA.

The Solution:

The solution to plastic water bottles is simple – avoid buying them! In most cases, consumers avoid sustainable products due to the additional cost, but, in this case, bottled water costs much more than tap water which is, in most cases, nearly or completely free! According to Consumer Reports, a year’s worth of bottled water would cost $350, whereas the same amount of tap water would cost about 48 cents. For those who are concerned about the sediments in the water coming from their home faucet, a sufficient water filter is a one-time investment of about $20. An eco-friendly stainless steel or bamboo bottle can be bought for under $30, and it could last a lifetime! At Potter Park Zoo, we encourage you to bring your own refillable water bottle when you visit to fill at numerous places around the park. If you come to the zoo and forget your reusable bottle, we also sell a reusable souvenir cup that can be used time and time again! However, if you would like to start with purchasing your own reusable bottle, you can find some sustainable options below:

  • S’Well™
  • Made from food-grade stainless steel
  • Keeps hot liquids hot and cold liquids cold
  • BPA/BPS free
  • Sold at
  • LARQ™
  • Uses UV-C LED light to both eliminate bacteria in the water and clean the bottle
  • Keeps hot liquids hot and cold liquids cold
  • Donates 1% of your purchase profit to Save The Planet, a nonprofit organization that strives to fight climate change
  • Sold at
  • Yomious Bottle™
  • Made of food-grade glass, with a silicone sleeve, and a bamboo lid
  • Conveniently dishwasher safe
  • Sold on
  • Welly™
  • Made from stainless steel and renewable bamboo
  • Comes with a removable infuser to flavor your water with tea or fruit
  • Keeps hot liquids hot and cold liquids cold
  • Sold at

The water bottle problem has a simple solution. A one-time purchase of a reusable bottle and a pledge to ditch plastic water bottles will make for a healthier you and a healthier planet. Remember that the choices you make matter!