Plastic is cheap, convenient, disposable, and recyclable. Or, at least that is what we have been lead to believe. It turns out that none of these things are true. And new concerns are being raised about the safety of the chemicals contained in plastic water bottles.
The average American uses 215 plastic water bottles per year. The plastic bottle you use and throw away today will still be here tomorrow, and for about 500 years after that. Maybe it is time we all put some thought into where those single use plastic bottles came from and where they are going.
Plastic begins its life as a petroleum product. It has been estimated that 15 million barrels of oil go into plastic production annually, with a staggering 1.6 million barrels going into the production of plastic water bottles alone.
Once the oil has been refined and separated into its component parts, the resulting ethane and propane are then heated to convert them into ethylene and propylene. These petroleum derivatives are then mixed with various chemicals to harden and/or soften the product creating the materials we know as plastic.
Phthalates, are the most common chemicals used in the production of plastics. Phthalates can cause liver damage, damage to kidneys, and reproductive issues. Vinyl chloride, another chemical used in the plastic production process can cause permanent liver damage, immune reactions, nerve damage, and liver cancer in high doses. And finally the most infamous of the three, Bisphenol A (BPA) is another common chemical used in plastic production that has been getting a lot of press lately. BPA is an estrogen-like endocrine disruptor that can disrupt sexual development in addition to causing a host of other health problems.
Temperature extremes can cause chemicals used in the production of plastic water bottles to leech into the water inside. These dangerous chemicals have been banned in many countries around the world, but at the time of this writing remain they remain legal for use in plastic containers that come into contact with our food and water supplies. They do not even require a warning sticker.
When we think about the amount of plastic we come into contact in our daily lives, perhaps it is wise to be concerned. Nobody knows how dangerous long-term exposure to these chemicals really is, but it could mean a high cost for all: higher cancer rates, liver failure, and even the feminization of males and masculine traits in females.
And plastics aren’t going away. Plastics are not biodegradable; rather, they are photodegradable. Sunlight breaks plastics down into smaller and smaller pieces, but it does not decompose. Plastic is now invading natural habitats of creatures around the globe. These creatures are mistaking the plastics for food and ingesting it. Large numbers of animals are dying off through plastic ingestion, and those that are surviving are bringing plastic particles back into our own food supplies through secondary sources.
Plastic water bottles are cheap, convenient, and disposable, but growing bodies of research are beginning to question the long-term costs of excessive plastic usage. When you consider all of the unknown risks in the continued use of plastics, water bottles really aren’t cheap at all. They could be costing our children for many generations to come.
Is your life too plastic?