Portelli: Ban on plastic water bottles an effective way to reduce waste

The town of Concord, Mass. is making legislative history by becoming the first community in the nation to ban the sale of single serving water bottles smaller than one liter. Enacted in Jan. 2013, the bill seeks to reduce the number of plastic water bottles and encourage the use of tap water. The ban is an important step to reducing energy consumption and waste as part of a larger effort to protect the environment.

According to Environmental Working Group, Americans consume approximately 50 billion bottles of water each year. Of those 50 billion bottles, 80 percent end up in landfills even with recycling programs.

While many agree that fewer plastic bottles would decrease waste, the new bylaw has been met with criticism.

Leaders from major beverage industries like Coca-Cola say that the new ban restricts freedom of choice. They argue that water bottles produce the same amount of waste as do any other bottled drink.

But unlike other products such as Coke or Pepsi, water can be consumed through filtered faucets or water fountains. Rather than criticize efforts to clean up the environment, beverage companies should be exploring greener options for their products.

A majority of the public believes that bottled water is safer to consume than tap water, which is not necessarily the case. While most bottled water comes from springs, more than 25 percent comes from a public supply. According to Reader’s Digest, “Most people are surprised to learn that they’re drinking glorified tap water, but bottlers aren’t required to list the source on the label.”

Bottled water is tested less frequently for bacteria and chemical contaminants. The rules for bottled water allow for some contamination of bacteria like E. coli and other parasites. Tap water, however, prohibits the contamination of any bacteria.

A ban on bottled water would also decrease the country’s demand for oil. Most water bottles are composed of a plastic called polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Seventeen million barrels of oil are used to produce PET water bottles every year.

Jean Hill, leader of the Concord campaign to ban bottled water argued, “I am hoping that this will be a call to action to other towns and states that will also start restricting single serve bottled water purchases, and that will eventually lead to a reduction in wasted resources, pollution of waterways and wildlife, and global warming.” About 90 universities across the country have also banned the use of bottled water on campuses.

According to Mother Nature Network, schools like the University of Vermont and Dartmouth College have installed “hydration stations” to provide students on campus access to filtered water and eliminate the need for disposable bottles.  

Bottled water is a convenient product. But if other, more environmentally friendly forms of bottles such as tin or glass can become the norm, plastic bottles will eventually be obsolete.