Sustainability Column: Your Plastic Water Bottle Will Outlive You

Maggie Dunn, Sustainability Intern

Just a heads up: when the Jonas Brothers make their famed time travel journey to the Year 3000, that red solo cup that you took two sips out of and then left in the bathroom will still be around to greet them. What an image, right? All jokes aside, what a lot of people don’t seem to realize is how long their plastic sticks around after they use it. We use so many different pieces of plastic every day that listing them all would take up more space than I’m allowed in this article. However, I think it is important to bring your attention to some of the plastics that you don’t even realize you use, and some of the single use plastics that you can cut out.

Maybe the first thing you do in the morning is head into the bathroom to get ready for your day, starting with brushing your teeth. You’re already using a plastic toothbrush (the average lifespan of which is 3-4 months) and a tube of toothpaste. Some oral hygiene companies like Crest are doing away with the tubes of toothpaste or plastic mouthwash bottles in favor of tablets that you can chew.

Next, maybe you’ll shower (hopefully). As you can imagine, the array of hair products, facial scrubs and body wash bottles adds an overwhelming amount of plastic to your life in the first 15 minutes of your day.

Plastic is present throughout your day, such as when you cook food, use your phone or buy something that comes with packaging. A lot of this plastic is single use. There has been a lot of hype around straws lately (which is good, don’t get me wrong) but this doesn’t even begin to cover it. Think about the rest of your coffee cup—what about the cup itself, or the lid? Simply opting out of a straw does not mean that you have gone plastic free. That cup is also only used once. You throw it away and never think about it again.

Now, let’s talk about why single-use plastic is so terrifying to someone like me (and hopefully after this article, to you as well). Plastic takes forever to break down. That toothbrush you used this morning? It will take 500 years or more to decompose. That straw that you thought to yourself “oh, I’ll be bad just this one time, it’ll be fine?”—100 to 500 years. A plastic water bottle can take anywhere from 450-1,000 years to decompose—so please stop buying those big packs at Price Chopper. We have water fountains here; use those.

Remember that plastics don’t actually biodegrade, they just break up into smaller and smaller pieces. This, coupled with the fact that plastic was only invented in 1907, means that every piece of plastic ever made is still on Earth today. The idea of that is staggering. This is why we’re having so many problems in the ocean. Marine animals are mistaking pieces of plastic for food, eating it and dying because their stomachs cannot break up the material. This makes them think they are full so they stop eating.

But hey, there’s still recycling, right? Think again. China has refused to continue to recycle the plastic of the United States and other western countries. Instead, large amounts of plastics are simply ending up in landfills or being incinerated. NPR estimates that by 2030, “an estimated 111 million metric tons of plastic waste will be displaced because of China’s new law,” meaning countries will have to find other places to put their plastic.

Unfortunately, without China recycling our plastic, all of the plastic that we as individuals use only adds to the problem. As a result, it is imperative that we are conscious of what we use and that we hold ourselves accountable for our choices. Try to reduce the single use items that you use every day—they really add up. Furthermore, we as consumers need to hold companies responsible. We have seen the changes that can come from popular pushback. For example, Starbucks redesigned their entire cup to eliminate the need for a straw—but the rest of the cup is still plastic, so there’s room for improvement. We as people and consumers have the power to change the products that companies put out by using more environmentally conscious products, like the Listerine tablets. Let’s demand better for our planet. Otherwise, our great-great-grandchildren may have to contend with our solo cups or toothbrushes one day—how embarrassing.

Contact Maggie Dunn at [email protected].