The Effect of Plastic Water Bottles on the Environment

Introduction

In the past century, environmental issues have been on the center stage as core to man’s existence. The impacts and consequences derived from neglect of the same can be traced as far back as the ice age. Over the past decades, man’s industrious nature has shaken the balance that stood between his environment and the various climatic conditions that prevail in those settings.

As such, evils like Deforestation, air, noise and water pollution have been on the rise and consequently pose a threat to our own survival. This could be attributed to the rise in the global population accompanied by rapid technological and industrial advancement. These are among the key factors which have left a negative effect to not only the climate and the ozone layer, but also to our own health.

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However, in realizing the error of their own doing, nations have come together and put a valuable effort to restore, maintain and manage their respective eco-systems. This study shall look into the environmental implications presented by plastic water bottles. A detailed analysis of relevant literature shall be provided so as to highlight the effects of plastic water bottles to our environment. To this end, solutions on how these effects can be mitigated if not avoided shall also be offered.

Emergence of the problem

As the global population continues to grow rapidly, the demand for basic needs such as; food, water, shelter and clothing increases much faster. As such, industries and other providers are under constant pressure to produce and distribute these amenities to the ever demanding populace.

Arguably, water is by far the most important resource required by man. To this effect, the sale of bottled water has been seen as a feasible investment attracting lots of profits. However, issues have come up regarding the disposal of the empty bottles after use. While there are various campaigns promoting the proper disposal of plastic bottles, the number of empty plastic bottles polluting our environment is still very high.

Effects of plastic water bottles to our environment

The use of plastic has been very beneficial to mankind. Plastic containers can be used in making durable bottles, packaging and preserving food and liquid substances[1]. This can be attributed to the fact that plastics are water, oil, chemical and sunlight resistant making it the best and economical substance to use in the packaging of perishable and non-perishable substances[2]. Despite these benefits, the amount of plastic bottles pilling up in our waterways and landscapes is alarmingly making the situation a cause of concern.

Andrady states that, the environmental effects of empty plastic water bottles do not begin as a result of poor disposal methods but rather, from the manufacturing stage of these plastic containers[3]. In addition, the author states that the creation of plastic bottles requires a lot of chemical pollutants and fossil fuels which contributes to a high percentage of air pollution.

To further support this statement, the author asserts that some of the elements used in the creation of plastic contain toxic substances such as benzene and vinyl chloride. These substances have been documented as major causes of cancer and other human and animal ailments and birth defects.

In addition, during the production of these plastics, various forms of gases are emitted as well as liquid hydrocarbons which are known to affect the quality of air and soil. To this effect, it is evident that from the beginning, plastics are costly substances to our environment and should be avoided at all costs if the human race is to maintain the already fragile balance that exist between them and their environment.

Similarly, Stephenson points out the fact that plastics are durable as compared to other materials used to contain water[4]. The mere fact that it is durable is what makes it a proffered substance in the creation of water bottles. However, its durability also makes it a hazard to the environment. Being durable means that plastic is neither biodegradable nor degradable.

To this effect, it means that plastic substances may retain their original form for decades and the only process that affects them is granulation[5]. During this process, plastic substances do not decompose but instead, breaks down into smaller pieces. Animals and even children can easily ingest these pieces which in turn lead to various complications such as digestive problems.

In addition, the proponents of plastic use have argued that recycling is an effective method of mitigating the effects of plastic to the environment. Despite their argument, the fact still remains that a recycled hazard is still a hazard. On the same note, the recycling process has detrimental effect on the environment. Andrady confirms that during recycling of plastic substances, synthetic chemical constituents such as ethylene oxide and xylenes among other are emitted[6].

Besides having negative impacts on our environment, these chemical substances also cause serious damages to the human immune and nervous systems. In addition, they have been noted as having lasting effects on the blood and kidneys. With this in mind, the unsubstantiated claim that recycling is eco-friendly should be ruled out because it does not address pollution it only delays the inevitable truth.

On the same note, Goel states that plastic bottles among other plastic debris have been known to cause serious problems to marine mammals and fish. This he attributes to the fact that these animals often mistake small bottles for prey and end up ingesting them[7]. In addition, small pieces of plastic can also be ingested by fish thereby leading to digestion problems.

When these plastic debris’ are ingested, they may lead to blockages in the digestive tract, thereby inhibiting the marine life ability to feed efficiently[8]. Studies indicate that 50% to 80% of turtles found dead are known to have died due to the ingestion of various forms of plastics which lead to malnutrition, starvation and eventually, death[9]. As such, this has resulted to the reduction in the turtle’s population.

Furthermore, plastic bottles which find their way into the large water bodies such as rivers, lakes and even the ocean have been documented as a mode of transportation for alien species. Since these bottles can float, they are often carried by the tides to far places. As they float to different regions, there is always a possibility that they carry on them various plant and marine organisms to these non-native marine lives[10].

In addition, since the plastics travel slowly, they give the organisms’ ample time to adapt to different water and climatic conditions thereby making them potentially dangerous to the marine life of the host regions. This not only affects the marine environment but may also be hazardous to humans who rely on these waters for their livelihoods.

Similarly, burning of these bottles has been known to produce toxic fumes which lead to air pollution. In addition, these fumes when highly concentrated can cause acid rains which affects both plant and animal life. Also, acid rains often degrade the quality of the soil and reduce the oxygen levels in water bodies[11]. This leads to the infection and death of different species of both plants and animals.

Fish larvae are highly affected by water pollutants and experience deformities and some times end up dying at a very young age due to the chemical components that shed off plastics. What should be noted in this case is that fish larvae play a pivotal role in maintaining the balance between plant and animal life in the water bodies.

As Goel states, they are consumed by other fish and they in turn consume much of the bacteria that if left unchecked may have negative effects on the water bodies. With this disruption of their life cycle, the fish population is greatly reduced and the life of the already existing species is under constant threat of extinction[12].

On the same note, Harrison states that fish can be displaced due to the disruption caused by floating debris such as plastic bottles[13]. Whenever fish sense a change in their environment, they often opt to migrate in search of the optimum conditions. Consequently, this disrupts their life and breeding cycles.

This unwarranted migration has led to the death of many fish mainly due to infections, being preyed upon and abandonment of eggs which die off due to lack of a favorable environment for breeding. Due to this sad state of affairs, fishermen are forced to overfish from the little that is left. This in turn does not give the remaining fish a chance to repopulate thereby leading to the current situation whereby the demand of fish in the global market far outweighs the supply.

On a related note, when plastic bottles are thrown into the storm water drains or the sewerage system, they can cause serious blockages within these drainage pipes[14]. This leads to a situation where water stagnates. Stagnant water smells bad and is a great environment for algal and bacteria blooms.

The effects of these microorganisms to the environment as well as our health are well known. Ultimately, the effects that plastics have on the environment are serious and if no serious intervention is carried out, we all may perish from our own actions or lack thereof due to neglecting our environment.

Solutions to the problem

Plastic is among the worst pollutant in our environment today. The fact that it is a non-biodegradable substance made up of toxic chemicals makes it a great polluter of the earth, air and water[15]. With this in mind, it is a worthwhile endeavor to ensure that the use of this substance is reduced to a bare minimum.

The first and most important solution to this problem should therefore be to reduce the use of plastic bottles which will invariably lower its production. However, the implementation of this solution may be tricky since the use of plastic has penetrated in all aspects of our lives.

In a bid to reduce the pollution levels caused by these plastic bottles, the governments should implement various environmental friendly strategies to ensure that empty bottles are disposed off correctly. For example, increasing the fines charged for littering may be effective in deterring this habit. In addition, giving punishments such as collecting litter to offenders found littering may serve as an example to others all the while ensuring that all litters are effectively disposed off.

In addition, a significant policy is that of Tax rebates which will should be offered to bottlers who use other alternative containers. If such a policy is implemented, it will ensure that the toxic emissions created during the manufacturing of plastic are greatly reduced since this is among the most polluting stages of plastic bottles. In addition to this, all industries manufacturing plastic bottles should be mandated by law to plant trees which acts as carbon sinks thus reducing air pollution levels.

Birch and Wachter assert that individuals can do a lot on their own to reduce the carbon footprint[16]. America and China’s population are among the highest consumers of bottled water in the world. It is therefore important that they adjust their lifestyle if they are to reduce the levels of pollution caused by plastic bottles. This can be done by switching to other sources of drinking water like taps or even carrying water in greener containers.

The time and money spent by multinational corporations in lobbying for softer legislations on the use of plastic substances would be better spent on research of cheap and safe alternatives. The belief that such alternatives would be too expensive is aimed at discoursing opponents on the use of plastic bottles. There are existing scientifically proven alternatives for plastic but the big players have blatantly refused to embrace these choices.

According to Brebbia and Antunes do Carmo, alternatives for some of the substances (e.g. benzene) that cause water pollutions have already been found[17]. However, the authors point out that the prices of these substitutes may be slightly higher than those of the original product. This is because technological innovations are getting more expensive and the extraction and acquisition processes of these substitutes are also costly.

The shifts to these alternatives will save these industries millions of dollars in the future and ensure a safer and greener environment for generations to come. It is a fact that consumers will have to deal with high initial costs of the new technology; it is also obvious that this cost would be minimal in comparison to earth without the protective cover or aquatic life. Effects of the use of plastic not only affect the third world.

The United States and China have not been spared with hurricanes and floods taking toll on these two nations respectively due to unpredictable climatic changes caused by pollution. In addition, the significant drop in revenue from the fishing industry as well as the decline in the availability of fish indicates that something ought to be done to address this issue of pollution.

It is good news to note that action is being taken to reduce the effects of plastics in both global and national fronts; each and every individual has a role to play in conserving the environment and reduce pollution. Miller & Spoolman state that consumers can form the first group of environmentalists by combating the use of these plastics by shunning products composed of chlorine, phosphate, nitrate and polyvinyl compounds[18].

Furthermore, they can take their governments to task on proper guidelines regarding the disposal of empty plastic bottles by pressuring the relevant authorities into installing the necessary elements needed to dispose litter. In real fact, the most important weapon we have as individuals is education. In so doing, pollution will decrease and marine life will have a fighting chance for survival and repopulation.

Knowledge based solutions to our problems are so far the best techniques[19]. An informed society is likely to understand the consequences of its actions and as such use this knowledge to solve its challenges that it faces daily Individuals must raise their level of interest in environmental issues higher than it stands today.

The fact that few people know about pollution leave alone their knowledge on its effects is a grim statistic[20]. Furthermore, few people are aware of the role of the ozone layer, water basins and atmospheric soundness. In response to these sad realities, few people are thus aware of heath risks they are exposed to by the use of these chemicals. Education and awareness still remain the central keys to a healthy future generation of our world.

Human nature has a tendency to overlook the problems that do not affect an individual directly. Just relax and take a picture of the earth brown and withered, without the beauty of the green vegetation, and completely barren. This remains the future of our beloved planet Earth, completely brought to destruction by man; the most intelligent creature in existence. When that time comes, there will be no choice of repair.

Conclusion

The oceans and other environmental resources have over the years proved to be valuable sources of income, livelihood, food and transport to the human race. However, man’s lack of concern for these resources is increasingly turning into a cause for worry. Poor littering ethics of plastic bottles as well as other forms of pollutants brought about by man’s activity are affecting the quality of these resources all the while impacting negatively on the animal and plant life that depend on these environments for survival.

The fishing industry has also learned the hard way that preservation of the water sources is the only key to success in this trade. Low quality fish as well as a decline in the annual volume of fish harvests have in the recent past characterized this once so successful industry.

This study has in detail described the sad situation that exists in our environment. Pollution has been noted as a threat to existence and various aspects of pollution brought about by plastic bottles have been discussed. Examples of water, air and earth pollutants such as solid plastic debris, radioactive and chemical substances emanating from the production existence and disposal of plastic bottles have been documented as the leading sources of various forms of pollution.

How these pollutants affect all manners of life has also been discussed and the ripple effects of the same to the fishing industry highlighted. While it has been observed that the many nations are indeed directing efforts to mitigate pollution by conforming to the required standards stipulated by the global community, there is still much more that can be done to even better the current scores.

It has also been established that the vision for a greener environment can only be realized if the public and private sectors come and work together as a team. Solutions and recommendations have also been made as to how the government and the citizens can contribute in this important task of reducing pollution in future.

If implemented, these changes no matter how little will at the end make a vast difference in the lives of many people as well as the ecological balance that supports such existence. It is therefore upon each person to see that they fulfill their roles in this quest in order to secure a greener and safer future not only for future generations, but also for the animal and plant life that depend on the ecosystems for survival.

Bibliography

Andrady, Anthony. Plastics and the environment. NY: Wiley-IEEE, 2003.

Bagad, Anjali. Environmental Science & Engineering. NY: Technical Publications, 2009.

Birch, Euginie and Susan Wachter. Growing greener cities: urban sustainability in the twenty-first century. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.

Brebbia, Carla and James Antunes do Carmo. Water pollution VIII: modeling, monitoring and management. USA: WIT Press, 2006.

Goel, Paul. Water Pollution – Causes, Effects & Control. NY: New Age International, 2006.

Harrison, Roy. Pollution: causes, effects and control. USA: Royal Society of Chemistry, 2001.

Hassan, Rashid, Robert Scholes and Neville Ash. Ecosystems and human well-being: current state and trends: findings of the Condition and Trends Working Group of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. USA: Island Press, 2005.

Michelle Allsopp and others. Plastic Debris in the World’s Oceans. Netherlands: Greenpeace International, 2010.

Miller, Tyler and Scott Spoolman. Living in the Environment: Principles, Connections, and Solutions. NY: Cengage Learning, 2008.

Miller, Tyler and Scott Spoolman. Sustaining the Earth: an integrated approach. NY: Cengage Learning, 2008.

Stephenson, John. Bottled Water: FDA Safety and Consumer Protections are Often Less Stringent than Comparable EPA Protections for Tap Water. CA: DIANE Publishing, 2009.

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John, Stephenson, Bottled Water: FDA Safety and Consumer Protections are Often Less Stringent than Comparable EPA Protections for Tap Water, (CA: DIANE Publishing, 2009), 18.
Anthony, Andrady, Plastics and the environment, (NY: Wiley-IEEE, 2003), 69.
John, Stephenson, Bottled Water: FDA Safety and Consumer Protections are Often Less Stringent than Comparable EPA Protections for Tap Water, (CA: DIANE Publishing, 2009), 19.
Tyler, Miller and Scott Spoolman, Living in the Environment: Principles, Connections, and Solutions. (NY: Cengage Learning, 2008), 139.
Anthony, Andrady, Plastics and the environment, (NY: Wiley-IEEE, 2003), 71.
Paul, Goel, Water Pollution – Causes, Effects & Control, (NY: New Age International, 2006), 75.
Michelle Allsopp and others, Plastic Debris in the World’s Oceans,(Netherlands: Greenpeace International, 2010), 9.
Michelle Allsopp and others, Plastic Debris in the World’s Oceans,(Netherlands: Greenpeace International, 2010), 7.
Michelle Allsopp and others, Plastic Debris in the World’s Oceans,(Netherlands: Greenpeace International, 2010), 7.
Michelle Allsopp and others, Plastic Debris in the World’s Oceans,(Netherlands: Greenpeace International, 2010), 8.
Paul, Goel, Water Pollution – Causes, Effects & Control, (NY: New Age International, 2006), 76.
Roy Harrison, Pollution: causes, effects and control (USA: Royal Society of Chemistry, 2001), 227.
Euginie Birch and Susan Wachter, Growing greener cities: urban sustainability in the twenty-first century, (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 114.
Anjali Bagad, Environmental Science & Engineering, (NY: Technical Publications, 2009), 63.
Euginie Birch and Susan Wachter, Growing greener cities: urban sustainability in the twenty-first century, (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 113.
Carla Brebbia and James Antunes do Carmo, Water pollution VIII: modeling, monitoring and management, (USA: WIT Press, 2006), 54.
Tyler Miller and Scott Spoolman, Sustaining the Earth: an integrated approach, (NY: Cengage Learning, 2008), 186.
Rashid Hassan, Robert Scholes and Neville Ash, Ecosystems and human well-being: current state and trends: findings of the Condition and Trends Working Group of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, (USA: Island Press, 2005), 95.
Tyler Miller and Scott Spoolman, Sustaining the Earth: an integrated approach, (NY: Cengage Learning, 2008), 19.

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