Water bottles don’t grow out of the ground, although they are so familiar to us that it can seem that way. Before the bottles take their shape, the plastic they are made of has to be produced. This plastic is called PET (short for polyethylene terephthalate), and it is created with petroleum hydrocarbons by reacting ethylene glycol with terephthalic acid. Without getting too specific into the science of creating this plastic, it is important to point out that there are frequently impurities, because of the complicated process. Once the plastic is created, it is tested to make sure it is impermeable to carbon dioxide, as well as a few other factors that allow the bottles to hold a variety of drinks. After it passes these tests, it is ready to be manufactured.
Plastic bottles are created by blow molding. If you’ve ever seen a glassblower creating works of art, you probably have an idea of how this works. The plastic is heated up, stretched, and fitted into a mold that gives it the classic bottle shape. It then is cooled quickly, before the shape can change.
After the bottles are made, they are shipped to factories that produce various beverages, namely spring water. Here, the bottles are fun along conveyor belts where machines fill up the bottles with water and caps are screwed on top. The bottled are then packaged in cases, ready to ship to stores.
Here’s where you come in. You go to a grocery store and buy a case of bottled water. You take it home and pull out a bottle to drink. When you’re finished, you have a choice. Do you recycle, throw it in the trash, or litter?
Let’s look at what happens if you litter. Littering on the side of the road or in waterways is damaging to the environment. You may think that one little water bottle isn’t going to hurt, but 100 other people might think the same thing. If all of you discard your bottles on the side of the road, the best case scenario is an eyesore. The worst case scenario (which, unfortunately, happens often) is a disruption of the ecosystem, especially when it comes to animals attempting to ingest plastic.
Let’s try our second option: throwing a water bottle in the trash. Although this is not necessarily as harmful as littering, water bottles are a huge reason why our landfills are piling up and spreading out. This is bad for two reasons: 1. The more space landfills take up, the less space we as humans have to enjoy & 2. Rainwater that mixes with the trash can produce harmful toxins that make their way into our drinking water. The chemicals also kill off plants and wildlife on the way to us.
Our final option is recycling. Recycling plastic may be difficult (especially considering many plastic materials have been contaminated with non-recyclable components), however, it is worth giving it a try. When a water bottle is recycled, it is taken to a plant where it is broken down, separated from impurities, melted, and formed into pellets that can then be used to create new plastic products. Clearly, out of the three options, this is the most positive choice we have.
Just like humans, the life cycle of a water bottle can be unpredictable. Instead of letting nature kill itself by inappropriately discarding your water bottles, take one more step and recycle. Your health, your ecosystem, and the world as a whole will thank you.