Plastic is plaguing the environment left and right and one of the single biggest contributors is the use of single-use plastic bottles. This includes water bottles and those used for other beverages, like sodas and sugary sports drinks, and the demand for them is only increasing despite global efforts to stem plastic usage in the bud.
Plastic bags and bottles ravage the Earth from production to disposal, and yet humans buy approximately one million bottles per minute, according to Euromonitor, a market research group. Those numbers are expected to increase by another 20% by 2021, which will devastate climate, beaches, oceans, and all of the animals that reside in these areas.
According to figures from Euromonitor, humans bought 480 billion plastic bottles in the year 2016, which is 300 billion more than the numbers from a decade ago. To make matters worse, less than half of those bottles was collected for recycling and only about 7% of those collected were turned into new bottles. Manufacturers complain that using recycled plastic ruins the appeal of the bottles and that it costs more to use these materials, which will fall on the consumer.
Experts speculate that this demand for 20,000 bottles per second has been exacerbated by the on-the-go, urban culture that has taken over in cities in China and the Asia Pacific region. With an increased population comes a rise in the demand for PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles, which is why Chinese citizens bought 73.8 billion bottles last year, up more than 5 billion since the year before it.
“[China] is a critical country to understand when examining global sales of plastic PET bottles, and China’s requirement for plastic bottles continues to expand,” said Euromonitor’s head of packaging, Rosemary Downey.
It’s not enough that reusable water bottles are trending right now because that doesn’t help the nations who can’t trust the cleanliness of their tap water. This surge in buying plastic bottles is also largely driven by developing countries, where disposability is more important than sustainability and being eco-friendly.
“This increase is being driven by increased urbanization,” Downey said. “There is a desire for healthy living and there are ongoing concerns about groundwater contamination and the quality of tap water, which all contribute to the increase in bottle water use.”
If municipalities would clean up their water or work to provide safe drinking water to certain regions for the first time, it’s likely that plastic pollution, especially when it comes to bottles, would decline dramatically and slow the environmental health crisis that is building every day.
Sadly, it’s estimated that approximately 5 to 13 million tons of plastic leak into the ocean every single year, ultimately to be worn down into fragments that float in the water column and can sometimes become a part of one of the many garbage patches. Fish, sea birds, and other marine life will eat the specks of plastic or even consume larger pieces, which can eventually kill them. Since humans consume a variety of fish from the ocean, these plastics can also make their way onto our dinner plates.
“The plastic pollution crisis rivals the threat of climate change as it pollutes every natural system and an increasing number of organisms on planet Earth,” said Hugo Tagholm, the CEO of Surfers Against Sewage. “Current science shows that plastics cannot be usefully assimilated into the food chain. Where they are ingested they carry toxins that work their way on to our dinner plates.”
There are several solutions that groups and experts have suggested to reduce the number of plastic bottle usage, ranging from cutting bottles out cold turkey to encouraging a payment system to use plastic bottles. While some places, like San Francisco, banned the sale of plastic bottles, other groups advocate for what’s called a circular economy. In the circular economy, plastic bottles would be used, recycled, refilled, and reused, effectively reducing waste. Surfers Against Sewage is currently campaigning for a deposit return system to be implemented in the U.K., which the equivalent of CRV that is collected in the U.S. that can be returned to people that recycle their bottles or cans.
If you aren’t compelled by these reasons to stop using plastic bottles, consider what your beaches will look like once plastic dominates the world even more. Remote islands with little to no beach clean-ups have shown evidence of extreme pollution along their coast and upwards of 18 tons on their beaches, revealing what the future of even the nicest beaches will be. Consider purchasing a reusable water bottle today and making a huge difference for the environment.