Want a drink? Skip the bottle

When you walk into the workshop for the Cortez City Council and you’re feeling thirsty, you can have a drink – by grabbing a paper cup and pouring from a pitcher of water. When you attend a meeting of the Montezuma County commissioners, you can get a drink, also in a paper cup, from a nice water machine sitting at the back of the room. If you prefer, there are also water fountains out in the hall.

Thank you, elected officials, for giving us this choice. At too many other meetings we may attend – of various groups or committees – our only choice is to grab a plastic bottle of water off a table. That’s despite the fact that almost everyone realizes that bottled water is one of the worst ideas ever developed in the commercial world.

When it first came out, many people thought it would never become popular. Why on earth would consumers pay money to buy water in bottles when they could get it from a tap? But, as it turned out, people liked the convenience of having their own handy container of water, and were willing to pay a pretty amazing amount for that.

Decades later, most of us know that the real problem with bottled water isn’t its cost – if you are able and want to pay for it, why shouldn’t you? No, the real problem is the plastic. Discarded containers are trashing up the world. According to a recent article by the journalism nonprofit The Intercept, just 9 percent of the plastic waste in the United States was recycled in 2015, and four-fifths of all the plastic ever produced “has ended up in landfills or scattered all around the world.”

Plastic, you see, does not recycle easily. It can’t be broken down into its basic component parts, and there is little demand for products made out of recycled plastic. According to the article, the U.S. now incinerates six times the amount of plastic it recycles, pouring pollutants and toxic ash into the air.

So if you imagine that it’s okay to drink bottled water as long as you haul the empty bottles to the recycling bin, think again.

The fact is, there’s really no reason other than convenience to drink bottled water. It isn’t necessarily purer than tap water – a study last year found that 93 percent of the bottled water sampled contained microplastics, little bits of broken-down plastic that are going into your body. Other studies have found that much bottled water is merely municipal tap water stuck into an attractive container, while other brand are contaminated with pollutants or bacteria. Remember, municipalities are required to release annual reports on the quality of their water – companies selling bottled water are not.

There are, of course, a number of wasteful plastic items for which we need to be developing alternatives, including plastic bags, clamshells that food comes in, plastic lids and straws, and so on. But one of the easiest items for us to do without is bottled water.

Sure, we’ve all bought a bottle here or there when we were thirsty and didn’t have an easy way to get a drink otherwise. But there’s no excuse for bottles of water to be the only alternative offered at local meetings. It really isn’t difficult to get a pitcher, fill it up, and set out some paper (not Styrofoam!) cups or reusable glasses. If you’re really worried about water quality, filter the water. Yes, the filter will be in a plastic container, but it will produce a lot less waste than flats of bottled water.

We aren’t even asking that groups stop offering the bottles – just that they provide people an alternative.

As we transition into a hotter, more crowded, and more polluted world, protecting our water supply and our environment is going to become more and more crucial. Yes, the Bible says that humans are supposed to have dominion over the earth, but it doesn’t say we should simply make a giant mess and wait for God to come clean it up.

Drinking less bottled water is an easy step toward making things better.

From Editorials.