By Jeffrey Corbin
Water is one of the most important resources on Earth, and almost every academic discipline can point to issues related to it. Life on Earth originated in the oceans, and the chemistry of all living things still bears the imprints of that origin; projects to store and deliver water for human use are some of the most ambitious human engineering projects of the ancient or modern eras; water is commonly evoked in art and literature; and the flooding that followed Irene and Lee this summer showed us water’s physical power.
This week, Union College has focused on water from a variety of perspectives. Hopefully everyone has had a chance to hear some of these perspectives, whether in a classroom presentation, a Common Lunch forum, or one of many informal discussions that have taken place this week.
A key motivation for this campus-wide event is to focus on the many environmental issues related to water – water pollution, use of plastic as a convenience to deliver water, and the effects that climate change may have on the world-wide distribution of water.
I would like to focus this column on the use of plastic water bottles on campus. Every week, approximately 1800 plastic water bottles are sold in the C-Store, Dutch, vending machines and other outlets on campus. That is almost one bottle per person per week.
Even if every bottle is recycled (which is not the case), the manufacturing of all of those bottles is resource-intensive and wasteful. Research published in the journal Environmental Research Letters estimates that it takes 50 million barrels of oil to produce the plastic water bottles used in the U.S. each year. And every bottle of water that is sold actually uses three bottles of water to manufacture.
Bottled water is not necessarily safer for you, either. While tap water is subject to stringent federal Environmental Protection Agency testing for contaminants and bacteria, bottled water is subject to different regulation. Testing of 22 major brands by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that every brand had at least one tested bottle that exceeded recommended levels for contaminants or bacteria.
In another study of 25 bottled water brands published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, researchers found that most of the samples exceeded the EPA’s limits for mercury, thallium and thorium.
Finally, if you have a bottle-a-week habit, it is costing you a bundle. One bottle of the cheapest water will cost you $31.50 per year; one SmartWater per week will set you back over $200.
By contrast, tap water is essentially free. You can get a refillable bottle for under $15, and even a Bobble to filter-on-the-go costs only about $25.
This week, consider going cold turkey on your bottled water habit. Use drinking fountains. Dig your Sigg out of the closet – you can refill it with filtered water in Reamer, College Park Hall or Shaffer library, with more locations to come.
Sign U-Sustain’s pledge to Just Say No to Bottled Water. It will be good for the environment, good for your health and good for your wallet.