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5 Reasons to Say No to Bottled Water Forever | Part Two | Bad for the Environment

 

Thank you for checking back in with this week’s continuation of our “Say No to Bottled Water” blogs series. This week’s Reason #3 is so immense that it deserves its very own blog solely unto itself. We hope you learn something valuable here and be sure to share this so others discover the truth behind the convenience.

3. Its [really] bad for the environment.

 

The first aspect of the intense environmental impact of bottled water is the production of it and all that goes into it. Then, once it’s produced and consumed by us, where it ends up at adds a whole other dimension. 

In 2017, the US produced 35.4 million tons of plastic. Of that, 77% ended up in landfills and only 8% was recycled.

The recycling rate is a good deal higher when it comes to PET bottles and jars (which is one of the main materials used for bottled water) at 29%. However that still means that of every ten bottles of water you and your family consume, only 3 get recycled. The rest end up in a landfill where they never go away and just break down into smaller pieces, that then attract those PBT chemicals mentioned earlier – which get into our waterways, contaminate our soil, sickening the animals and plants that we then eat.

 


One of the ways in which we’ve tried to innovate management of this problem is something called waste-to-energy technology where we essentially burn the plastic for fuel. We do this for about 12 percent of our plastic here in the U.S. The problem is, this process can release dioxins, acid gases and heavy metals into the air. Some experts lobby fiercely against this technology, saying we’re simply trading one type of pollution for another.

And then there’s the stuff that ends up in the ocean. According to the Ocean Conservancy, “Approximately 8 million metric tons of plastic flows into the ocean every year, most from mismanaged waste streams on land.” 

Take, for example, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, whose volume of garbage equates to about the same weight as 500 Jumbo Jets and covers a surface area that’s two times the size of the state of Texas. It’s estimated (conservatively, I might add) that there’s about 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic floating in this patch, which The Ocean Cleanup describes as “a plastic count that is equivalent to 250 pieces of debris for every human in the world.”

 

 

And we’ve just covered where plastic ends up. We haven’t even touched on the environmental impact of its genesis.

Bottled water, it turns out, is an energy-hungry product. First of all, energy is needed to find the water source, capture it, and send it to the bottling plant. Then, once there, energy is needed to cool the water, package it and transport it to all us happy-go-lucky, and highly convenienced consumers.

While there’s a bunch of factors that impact the true cost of all of this, like the distance of the consumer to the water source and the water source to the bottling plant, as well as the type of packaging materials used, etc – one group, the Pacific Institute, did a very detailed assessment that spanned several years on only two facets of this energy drain: (1) the making of the plastic materials themselves and (2) the formation of that plastic into the bottles we actually use here in the US.  They found that for these two tiny variables alone, it takes 17 million barrels of oil to produce the plastic that made up the bottled water supply that Americans consumed in a year. The researchers of the Pacific Institute put it in perspective when they write that that amount is approximately “enough energy to fuel more than 1 million American cars and light trucks for a year.”

Remember PET or Polyethylene terephthalate, one of the fun chemicals I mentioned plastic is composed of in part one of this blog series? Turns out it is produced from fossil fuels – petroleum and natural gas primarily, though it also uses several other types of energy as well. 


Brace yourself, I’m going to throw a series of numbers at ya: since the mid-2000’s we produce approximately one million metric tons of PET in a year specifically for bottled water. The European plastics manufacturing industry found that producing one ton of PET resin requires 103,000 MJ of energy, which includes the energy of transporting the resin and then turning it into bottles. 


That means one million tons of PET, like that which we use in a year, requires roughly 100 billion MJ of energy. One barrel of oil contains around 6000 MJ, so producing those bottles requires 17 million barrels of oil. And as previously mentioned, that’s the same amount of energy used up by one million American cars running for a year. Math is fun, isn’t it? Maybe a little sobering in this case.

And remember, this number doesn’t even include the energy needed to then pump the water, process it, transfer it and refrigerate it. By some estimates that I looked up, we use approximately an additional 50 million barrels of oil to accomplish that feat.


And all this for what? For a resource that we are blessed to have available to us for free in this country.  A resource that city services and companies like ours endeavor to make safe and available for you with a fraction of the cost, when all’s said and done.

Are the practices of this seemingly simple product really in alignment with our values as a culture? Especially here in Idaho, where we have a smaller community and understand the value of the Earth’s natural splendor and abundance. I would think not, but we all have to make that decision for ourselves. We hope this blog and the others still yet to come helps inform that decision a little more towards the side of long term sustainability.  

Contamination Watch: PFOA & PFOS

BY SHERIKA TENAYA

 

You may hear them quietly mentioned in the media under the unassuming acronym of PFAs, which stands for per-and polyfluroalkyl substances – a name that hardly describes the prolific and destructive nature of America’s not-so-new class of star contaminants.

 

What is it?

 

The two most common types are perfluoroctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluoroctane sulfonate (PFOS), and they are used in things like pesticides, firefighting foam, non-stick cookware coatings, food packaging, stain repellents, paint, cleaning products, textile and leather products, metal plating, electronics and the like.

 

These man-made chemicals are in no way naturally occurring in our world and are, in fact – as of the early 2000’s – no longer allowed to be manufactured in the US.

 

A blessing, to be sure, but not enough to keep us safe. Especially since the EPA’s Significant New Use Rules (SNUR) still allow for them to be used in a few, “highly technical” applications and allows for existing stocks created before the SNUR came into effect to still be used.

 

The problem is, the same thing that makes them so useful in these various applications is the very thing that makes them so destructive for us and our environment: they have a unique ability to withstand high temperatures, water, grease, as well as strong acids. They simply don’t go away or degrade over time.

 

During the manufacturing process, large amounts of these compounds were released into the air, soil and water around these flurochemical facilities. As of May 6, the Environmental Working Group reported 610 different sites spanning across 43 different states. That’s a bare minimum of 446 different communities with detection of PFAS contamination in their tap water supplies.

 

And keep in mind, these numbers are impacted by the fact that some states are slow to focus on detection of these compounds – so the numbers may very well be much higher.

 

Where is it?

 

In their anionic form, they are water soluble and can transfer easily from the soil to the groundwater, where they are carried far and wide. Indeed, PFOS have already been found to be bio-concentrated at concerning levels in fish.

 

So how do we get exposed? The biggest culprit is the water you drink and bathe in, next is the ingestion of food grown in contaminated soil as well as ingestion of farmed fish – but you could also be exposed when you use commercial products, and even from inhaling particulate in the air over which PFC-containing planes have passed by.

 

If you live near a garbage dump site, a military base, a section of land where firefighters work or practice (or have in the past worked and practiced), and of course, near a flurochemical production facility – you are more than likely exposed.

 

What are the impacts on my health?

 

To be totally honest, they haven’t done much testing on the impact on human bodies, although we do know some things, for example – toxicology studies show that PFOS and PFOA are readily absorbed after eating/drinking/inhaling and accumulate primarily in the serum, kidney and liver.

 

We know that PFOS and PFOA have half-lives in humans ranging from 2 to 9 years, depending on the study. This lengthy half life basically means that these chemicals hang out in your system, increasing the burden on your detoxifying organs over time and more than likely resulting in chronic toxicity. Indeed, chronic exposure to PFOS and PFOA has been shown to lead to the development of tumors in the liver of rats.

 

Speaking of which, let’s talk about the research done on animals in regards to these chemicals:

 

Acute- and intermediate-duration oral studies on rodents show that they can have “concerning impacts” on rodent growth development, reproductive system, neuroendocrine system and can also mess with the rodents’ fatty acid metabolism and may deregulate metabolism of lipids and lipoproteins. Translation: wonky energy, screwy hormones, increased toxicity, stress on the heart, and several other potentially dire effects. 

 

And let’s not forget about cancer. In May 2006, the EPA Science Advisory Board said that, in regards to the PFOA cancer data, it is consistent with the EPA guidelines for the Carcinogen Risk Assessment descriptor and are “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”

 

What can I do?

 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there’s three ways to filter for these contaminants.

 

The first is through activated carbon treatment, which is effective because it is highly porous and also provides a large surface area to which contaminants may absorb. It  is made from organic materials with high carbon content such as wood, lignite, and coal; and is often used in granular form called granular activated carbon (GAC).

 

GAC has been shown to effectively remove PFAS from drinking water when it is used in a flow through filter mode after particulates have already been removed and has been shown to work well on both PFOA and PFOS.

 

The second method is high-pressure membranes, such as reverse osmosis, which have been shown to be  extremely effective at removing PFAS. According to the research, more than 90 percent effective, to be exact.

 

Finally, there’s ion exchange. Ion exchange resins are like tiny powerful magnets that attract and hold the contaminated materials from passing through the water system. The negatively charged ions of these PFAs are removed with anionic resins. However, these can be a bit more spendy.

The Simple Solution:

 

In removing PFOA & PFOS, our K5 Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water System gets the job done and, further, has been certified by the industry’s NSF/ANSI 58 standard for removal of these contaminants, as it has both the high pressure reverse osmosis membrane mentioned above as well as the activated carbon, covering both types of contaminants mentioned here.

 

When it comes to the health and well-being of your family, it’s important to give some deep contemplation towards your values and personal responsibility when it comes to preventing or minimizing toxin exposure to those who rely on you for their well-being. We all have a responsibility as modern day humans to evaluate how we can be as effective as possible in keeping our personal environment, as well as our communal environs, as safe and sustainable as possible.