How you drink can be a game-changer for the environment

Published 7:58 am Monday, August 28, 2017

Protecting the environment is a big deal — we all know that. We only have one planet and we need to work to keep it clean and preserved. There are small things that you can do every day that add up to make a big difference for the environment, and you might not know it. For example, getting a drink is a little thing we all do many times a day, but it can have a smaller or bigger effect of the environment depending on how you do it.

Over the past few years, I’ve done a lot to change my drinking behaviors. I do not purchase any plastic one-time-use water bottles. I do all I can to avoid drinking out of any one-time-use containers, including fast food cups and to-go cups from sit-down restaurants.

When it comes to soda, I cut out a lot of it, but when I purchase soda, I no longer buy it in small plastic bottles, or even plastic two-liter bottles. Instead, I buy it in aluminum cans because cans are much more easily recycled than plastic bottles. According to the EPA, “aluminum cans can be recycled using less than 5 percent of the energy used to make the original product,” while “producing new plastic from recycled material uses only two-thirds of the energy required to manufacture it from raw materials.” So while it takes less energy to produce plastic from recycled plastic, it’s still a lot more energy than it takes to make new aluminum from recycled aluminum.

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Another place people often obtain plastic bottles is when they are drinking water. Drinking water is great for your health, but it can also be absolutely terrible for the environment.

Bottled water is an environmental nightmare. Water bottles may be recyclable, but it takes more water to produce each water bottle than the bottle itself can hold. According to NPR, Ertug Ercin with the Water Footprint Network said it can take six to seven times the amount of water that a bottle can hold to make the bottle in the first place.

So we are using lots of water to put just a little bit of water in a bottle that someone will use one time and may or may not recycle — but most of the time, plastic bottles aren’t recycled.

Even when plastic bottles are recycled, it still takes a lot of energy to turn them into reusable plastic.

The part that always confounds me is that the stuff in these bottles is just water. It’s the same thing you can get by turning on your tap. I definitely understand the convenience, but I always just have a reusable water bottle. And more often than not, there is a water fountain or sink near by where I can fill it up. Then I don’t have to worry about what to do with my empty water bottle if there isn’t a place to recycle it.

If you like bottled water because it’s “extra-filtered” or something like that, then you can even get reusable water bottles with filters built into their lids. But it’s probably not necessary. I’ve looked into how water treatment plants work and everything the water has to go through to get from there back to you. The water quality is very good and often, the water from your tap is more closely regulated for safety than bottled water.

No matter what you drink, if you want to drink it in an environmentally friendly way, your goal should be to avoid as much one-time-use plastic as possible. Here are some ways to do that:

• Buy full gallons of milk and the largest juice containers available, so you get as little packaging per ounce of liquid as possible (as long as you’ll be able to drink it all before it goes bad)

• Buy frozen condensed juices and drink mixes like Crystal Light, and mix them up in reusable pitchers at home. Those products often come in less packaging because you are adding your own water at home.

• Make your own iced tea on your stove, in the sun, or even in your coffee pot. Then you are just using a tea bag, which isn’t a lot of waste compared to buying tea in a plastic gallon jug. You can even compost tea bags.

• Bring your own reusable cup to fast food restaurants and ask if you can buy a drink but fill your own cup. Similarly, don’t get a disposable to-go cup after you eat at a sit-down restaurant.

• When someone asks you about your choice to use a reusable water bottle or reusable cup at a restaurant, let them know it’s to help the environment and waste less plastic and let them know they can do the same.

About Amanda Wheeler

Amanda Wheeler is the children and teen services librarian at the Lincoln County Public Library. She has a master's in zoology education from the University of Miami and has taught as an educator at the Cincinnati Zoo.

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