BMOB this week was not about Bringing My Own Beer (though that is a subject I appreciate) but about bringing my own water bottle on a trip this week. Embarrassingly, this one of the few times I have actually remembered to pack my own water bottle on a trip, so a tiny pat on the back for me for finally remembering to do this! Because, while a small step when done alone, it is a step that collectively, with many more of us doing it, has the potential to make a big difference.
We here in the US consume A LOT of bottled water. How much? According to Ban the Bottle, a group who makes it its business to know such facts, the average American used 167 disposable water bottles, but on average only recycled about a quarter of them. Making plastic water bottles to quench America’s thirst uses about 17 million barrels of oil: enough to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year, or power a couple hundred thousand homes.
Plus, its a waste of money: eight glasses of water a day at U.S. tap rates would cost you less than a buck a year; that same amount of bottled water is about $1,400. On top of all that, there’s no evidence that for the vast majority of those drinking bottled water there are any benefits to said water over just drinking water from your municipal water source; in many cases your bottled water IS from a municipal drinking water source or its equivalent.
The above figures don’t even touch on the waste, inefficiency and inequities of extracting, transporting, and distributing said water. Nor does this wastefulness speak to the many inequities that are involved in the ways in which some bottlers have claimed water rights that undermine local control of water supplies. Some striking examples include Nestle’s aggressive search for groundwater to bottle in many small communities across the US, and the controversies over Fiji Water including tax evasion, unsubstantiated claims about carbon neutrality that some have labeled “greenwashing” and questions about involvement with government corruption.
So, there are plenty of reasons to not buy bottled water. But one overwhelmingly difficult-to-overcome reason we do: convenience. Bottled water is everywhere- its at airports, in convenience stores, at your kid’s soccer game; heck, schools often see it as the benign alternative to soda. Its just easy- grab it and go, and then, more likely than not, throw it in the trash. Or on the road. Or in the storm drain.
Overcoming something that is so much of a societal norm is hard. But actually taking the step is not that hard. In some spots, my own city included, we are starting to wake up to the importance of making water available for the pennies it actually can cost from a municipal source from drinking fountains and filling stations. This makes it easier for the consumer to fill and refill a reusable water bottle, saving money and fossil fuels along the way.
The hard part is remembering to actually bring my water bottle! Its a lot like remembering to bring my reusable bags to the grocery store. I don’t always remember, but every time I do, its one more drop in the ocean of change we need.