Everyone knows that plastic water bottles are bad for the environment. We have all seen the documentaries, news warnings, and countless protests over the producing and selling of this prevalent product. As a world, we always agree with what we are told is harming wildlife and then move on to the other things that keep our agendas busy. There just isn’t enough time to think about the effects of plastic on the local ecosystems nearby when we are rushing to finish homework, catch a marching band practice, or walk our dogs. But now, scientists are giving us another reason to keep plastic on our minds and it’s all summed up into one word: microplastics.
At McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, a lab that specializes in water quality protection conducted an experiment on five of the most popular water bottle brands. Their testing involved adding a dye to the Dasani, Aquafina, Eska, Naya, and Nestle Pure Life bottles, then filtering that water to be examined under a microscope. McGill’s team of scientists were looking for signs of microplastics or extremely small plastic debris that are now found everywhere from the breakdown of industrial waste.
Microplastics are created constantly, including when car tires wear and tear against the road and when tiny fibers fall off of our clothes in the washing machine. About one million plastics bags thrown away each minute, leaving behind these particle contaminants that escape into our water. Any trash found in streets or parks break down and end up in our water systems. In thirty years, researchers say there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Plastic might as well be given its own place in the food chain as so many of the marine life is found mistaking this manufactured substance as food. If a fish were to mistakenly eat consumer waste and then we were to eat the fish, wouldn’t we too would be eating plastic?
The revolutionary invention of plastic bottles, can be dated back to the 1970’s, and one of the advertisers working on this new product was Alison Hunt. Now a consumer researcher, Alison Hunt with CBC’s, The Marketplace commented that if she had know about what plastic water bottles were doing to environment today, they might never have taken on the project. “Well, now that we’re in a different, we’re in a different climate, I don’t think that bottled water today would be launched,” Hunt said on The Marketplace.
To this day we still see plenty of advertisements for bottled water, continuing to use the same approach they employed when the product first came out. Phrases such as “pure” and “natural water” are some of their biggest attention grabbers. Water bottle companies such as Dasani and Aquafina even say on their packaging, “uses local water supply” and “from public water sources” then filtered to be as they call it “the taste of purity.” Alison Hunt said to CBC in an exclusive interview, “It could come out of your tap, and you could put in into a bottle, but you pay really high margins on it.”
Several weeks later, when the test results from the University of McGill come back, ⅗ of the water bottles are found with sums or pieces of microplastics. Many of these plastics are recognizable as rayon, a material used in clothing, and polyethylene, used in making plastic bottles.
Now scientists are scrambling to find out what this means for human health. So far the level of microplastics found in the water bottles we purchase at our grocery stores and from vending machines are not enough to cause any severe damage. Although, with the direction plastic is taking in industries, it won’t be long before microplastics will grow to be a bigger issue. Unfortunately, there are practical reasons to buy plastic water bottles.
“I don’t like to carry around my water bottle around all day, I feel like plastic water bottles are more disposable, easier to use. You don’t have to fill it up,” Lizbeth Frausto (10) said. Frausto makes a good point; most consumers buy plastic water bottles for the simplicity of being able to throw them away.
On the other hand, the trash has to end up somewhere and due to the increase in discarded materials, our waste management systems struggle with the next big question: Where should we put all of this trash? In effort to decrease or even eliminate our excess garbage, communities are working together to improve.
“I think it’s really cool now, how like, they’re getting water bottle refillers at schools and in many places. So that kind of encourages people to bring their own water bottles,” Alice Gray (9) said.
Still, we have a long way to go. It takes time to change human habits, so maybe we change the material instead. If water bottles were made of substances edible to the animals inhabiting our oceans, then we may be able to postpone or even eliminate our waste in water.
Even so, plastic water bottles are a big problem and unless we want the oceans, lakes, and rivers we swim in to disappear, we need to make careful decisions about what we buy. It has been said before, but nonetheless great advice, invest in a reusable water bottle. You may even end up saving money by having to purchase less plastic bottles day-to-day, and public spaces are making it easier than ever to find water fountains. No matter what, we need to make a change in how we let advertising influence what we buy and make our own decisions. The tiny choices we make create a difference.