Hitting the bottle

Imagine. Multiple sides of an environmental issue appearing in the same publication. Who’d’a thunk it?

Last week in Green we had a story about the necessity of recycling bottled water containers (“Step away from the bottle,” Oct. 18), in which we published some elucidating statistics indicating that more than 60 million water bottles a day are thrown out in the United States, and America’s water bottles annually use 1.5 million barrels of oil.

Among other observations in the story, it was pointed out that tap water is as healthful as bottled water, and with a drop of lemon juice or a bit of filtering, the chlorine taste could be removed.

As you might guess, water bottling company representatives wrote letters lamenting the story (see Letters, page 4). Both these letter writers bring up good points, although neither invalidates the points made in the story. The fact that widely divergent ideas can co-exist in a single media source is one of the really cool things about this country.

So what are the ideas that are so intriguing as to warrant a second airing of the story?

1) Used water bottles make up less than one-third of 1 percent of the municipal solid waste that ends up in landfills today, or so says an industry trade group.

2) If bottled water were not available, 16 percent of consumers say they would switch to tap water. Most say they would drink sweetened beverages that contribute to rising rates of obesity and diabetes.

3) Consumers choose to drink bottled water.

4) Bottled water is regulated as a packaged food product by FDA.

5) One local bottler emphasized the need for recycling even further.

OK, so here’s the thing: We seem to have a consensus that consumers need to recycle water bottles. However, advancing the idea that since water bottles make up less than one-third of 1 percent of municipal waste, it’s not that big a deal, is pretty repugnant. That’s like saying, “Since murder is the rarest of crimes, we should be less concerned about it than cigarette-butt litter.” Moreover, many other industries could also argue that their share of the whole is tiny.

Be that as it may, it’s part of the dialogue. It’s part of the marketplace of ideas, advanced by a well-informed person. It’s up to you to decide whether 60 million water bottles is an infinitesimal problem.

Nobody’s saying bottled water is inherently evil, or that consumers should stop buying it if they want it. But the bottom line is that if people make a choice, they should be accountable for the end results of that choice.

So, bottled-water drinkers, recycle. Bottled-water bottlers, come up with a more environmentally neutral method of packaging your product. (How about milk-carton styled containers for the environmentally-aware crowd?) Everybody else, recycle more of everything, and when you hear arguments, listen to both sides, and then, think about them. You’ll be a better citizen for it.