Smart photo essay by the good folks at Mother Nature Network. I wonder how, collectively and sociologically, residents in big cities flip from high consumption to conservation. How long does it take for the collective conscience to evolve? On the other hand, my gut tells me that these efforts in top ranked cities with supposedly low rates of consumption, are off-set by any gains with high ownership of gadgets, multiple computers, and beer drinking.
Update: Just realized that the report was originally by Nalgene. So now I’m even more suspicious that this “study” is nothing more than a PR stunt to cover up for the company’s plastic BPA recall and sell more crap bottles. In fact, Nalgene hired a PR firm to help shape its image shortly after the reputation damaging recall. The PR firm, by the way, went on to win awards for its turn around “successes.”
But, that’s not my main problem with plastic water bottles. It has to do with embodied energy from using hot water to clean them, and energy intensity used to manufacture and market them.
I argue that reusable plastic or aluminum bottles use more energy over their lifetimes vs the equivalent of disposable bottles. This may be a hard thing to wrap your mind around, since we can see the waste from piles of wasted plastic bottles in our dumps, and, of course, floating in
our the earth’s oceans (not to mention it being pounded into our heads).
But look, hot water burns coal, and we use a shit ton of hot water to clean these bottles. Millions of gallons of hot water, I imagine. Disposable plastic bottles cost very, very little by way of embodied energy and natural resources. Disposables are not particularly marketed as a consumer item (what’s inside, is).
Reusables use highly complex manufacturing processes, more chemicals, more natural and man made resources than just simple plastic container. Sigg metal bottles depend on mining for aluminum, for example. Not to mention the special paint Siggs have that won’t rub off, melt away, or scratch easily (e.g., more chemicals, more energy to apply, and increased material sources expanding their ultimate supply chain, etc).
Reusables use less efficient shipping, since you can buy just one from, say, Amazon. Adding individual shipping to each bottle increases, on a unit-per-unit basis, its already large carbon foot print. Not to mention each bottle comes in cardboard packaging and with “instructions” in the form of more wasteful machine cut and machine inked paper, and plastic wrapping, all of which gets thrown away.
The silent-kicker, of course, is the energy used in marketing these products, again on a comparable unit-to-unit basis. Marketing increases the footprint of each “earth friendly” bottle. Not all of this is tangibly recognizable, but takes a quick thought experiment to see it. Marketing reusables uses tremendous amounts of electricity on so many levels - creating more printed marketing materials (a source of more embodied energy and resources), more computer power by way of computer design, and use of more electricity by the company’s marketing and PR staff to sell these supposedly environmentally good things. Reusables use more electricity, burns more coal, and consumes more resources than disposables. I assure you, you can live a healthy, environmentally friendly life without either of these products.