Reusable bottles: untapped potential

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Plastic Island in Trafalgar Square. Art installation by Madrid-based Luzinterruptus, ‘an anonymous artistic group, who carries out urban interventions in public spaces’ using light. Here, they aim to highlight the issue of plastic waste in a piece commissioned by Lumiere London 2016. See more at www.luzinterruptus.com. Photo by Lola Martínez.

 

Who else thinks it is a bit ridiculous to buy water in a plastic bottle when you can get the same thing from the tap for free? Labelled with images of fresh waterfalls and crisp lakes, bottled water has entered the market as a legitimate item to purchase. However, this now everyday item has serious impacts on our environment, as well as our wallets. Fortunately, reusable bottles address these problems and present numerous practical advantages for anyone seeking to incorporate sustainable choices into their daily routine.

Buying a bottle of water means paying 1000 times more than the cost of tap water. Australians spend over $500 million dollars on bottled water per year, with each of us buying an average of fourteen bottles annually, and 99% of these costs relating to the production of the actual plastic bottle, lid and label.

The clear financial costs associated with our purchases are paired with the massive environmental impacts of producing, packaging, transporting and refrigerating bottled water. The amount of bottles purchased annually equates to 60,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia alone. The disposable plastic bottles are produced of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a material derived from petroleum hydrocarbons.
During the manufacturing process, at least 3 litres of water is required to produce just 1 litre of drinking water, and the waste and pollution of bottled-water manufacturing is further exacerbated by the subsequent energy used in the transportation of bottles via fossil-fuelled vehicles, and storage in energy intensive refrigerators.

The environmental damage continues post consumption, with a central concern with plastic bottles being the immense amount of waste they create. While plastic bottles can be recycled, a lot of them end up in the wrong place. They are one of the most common items to be found as litter in our environment, and though a large proportion end up in landfills, plastic bottles may take up to 1000 years to break down.

These 600ml villains are also a significant cause of harm in marine ecosystems, with many animals mistaking small broken pieces of plastic for food, and often dying as a consequence. In fact, the CSIRO estimates that 50% of damage in our oceans comes from littered beverage containers.

To help mitigate these kinds of environmental impacts and to reduce personal costs, there has been a gradual shift toward ditching unsustainable plastic bottles and returning to tap water, and with this, a range of reusable bottles that are both functional and stylish have been developed.

Keen to actively contribute to the movement away from wasteful plastic bottles, I recently bought a 500ml stainless steel water bottle. Stainless steel is a popular alternative to plastic for many reusable bottles, and is, in many ways, both more sustainable and more functional than plastic. In the last 2 months, I have continued to knock the assumption that I would eventually forget my bottle and be forced to counterproductively buy a plastic bottle anyway. Rather, the contrary has occurred; I use my bottle every day without fail, signifying how easily remembering to bring reusable items can quickly become part of a daily routine.

There are dozens of options for reusable stainless steel water bottles, with mine coming from the Australian brand Kabi. Kabi exclusively produces stainless steel water bottles, and is based on a sustainable business model, supporting local Australian charities and aiming to promote awareness and the use of reusable products. Most reusable bottles are relatively light, making them easy to transport from home to work or university. There are plenty of public fountains and taps dotted throughout ANU campus and inside libraries, providing no obstacle to frequent refills.

For those weak to the temptation of purchasing unhealthy bottled sugary drinks, try using a thermos to keep tea hot or smoothies cool as an alternative. Kabi bottles, for example, are made with vacuum sealed insulation, which allows them to keep drinks hot for 12 hours, or cool for 24 hours. This versatility is an undeniable advantage over plastic bottles, adding to the appeal of stainless steel products.

It is valid to note that materials other than plastic have their own environmental impacts, and stainless steel is no exception as there are energy intensive processes associated with the production. However, by keeping the same bottle, these initial environmental costs can be redeemed over time. Using a reusable bottle means there is less demand for unsustainable, disposable plastic bottles, that less waste is produced, and that fewer plastic bottles end up in landfills. Stainless steel also has the ability to remain out of the waste stream by virtue of its durability, and capacity to be completely recycled once its long lifespan is complete.

Whilst no sustainable choice is ever clear cut, overall, reusable bottles provide a logical means of decreasing the demand for the disposable plastic alternative. The economic and environmental futility of buying bottled water is clear when tap water is 1000 times cheaper and has a much smaller environmental impact. The next step is to rethink our choices when we realise that altering daily habits is an achievable goal.

Note: For those that need a little extra nudge in the sustainable direction, Kabi is offering 10% off to the first 50 ANU students to make an online order and use the code ANU10.

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