World Water Day is an international holiday, as decided by the United Nations, and each year highlights a specific aspect of water. In 2012 the theme was the importance of water and food security and management for sustainability. In 2011 it was water for cities, in 2010 water quality, you get the picture. 2013 is the International Year of Water Cooperation. Water cooperation is increasingly important as water is impacted by urbanization, pollution, and climate change, all while the demand for this human necessity is growing as fast as the world's population. Water cooperation will be key in a more globalized future; water is a shared resource which is not evenly distributed throughout space or time.
Looking at water issues, those of us located in a more developed country can see that we should be gracious for readily available water. The United Nations website for World Water Day tells us that 780 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. In most of North America and Europe water is taken for granted, if everyone on the planet had the lifestyle of the average North American or European we would need about 3.5 earths to sustain the population. Not only is the population growing fast, but it's growing where there is less water. 85% of the world's population lives in the driest half of the planet. Climate change will also continue to affect the world's water resources, water stress will increase in the drier parts of the world and summer water flows are expected to drop by 80% in parts of Europe by the year 2070. Combating a global rise in temperature could cost between $70 to $100 billion per year between 2020 and 2050, while about $13 to $19 billion would be related to water.
Narrowing in on bottled water we see the problems it represents on a more global perspective. It represents the lazy and troubling culture we've developed in disposable product packaging, which contributes to water pollution in more ways than one. It represents a trend which leads to the corporate control over our drinking water. It represents the way with which we take water for granted, but also how it is a basic necessity of humans and every other living thing on earth.
Pollution: Bottled water contributes to water pollution on so many different levels. PET plastic bottles are produced from oil and natural gas. Processes behind the extraction of these resources are not exactly earth friendly, look at fracking for one example, oil spills for another. The Pacific Institute estimated that it takes the equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil to provide energy for the creation of plastic water bottles. Pacific Institute also says that about 3 tons of carbon dioxide is released for every ton of PET, this doesn't include the amount of energy used or carbon dioxide released from transporting bottled water (think about the carbon footprint of shipping bottled water from Fiji). They estimate that if you filled each bottled one quarter full with oil that would represent the the amount of energy used. Bottled water doesn't only waste energy, it also wastes water; it likely takes twice as much water as in the bottle to produce bottled water, think of 60 ounces of water used to give you that 20 ounces of bottled water. The carbon dioxide released during creation and transportation of bottled water floats into the atmosphere (contributing to global warming, and not mentioning acid rain) and about 25% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere gets absorbed into our oceans contributing to a decrease in the pH of the ocean (more acidic), altering the environmental conditions and making it harder for sea life to live. The next problem is at the end of the bottle's life cycle, an overwhelming majority (around 70%) of plastic bottles do not get recycled and instead end up in landfills or our streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans (if you are interested in plastic pollution check out the links at the end of the article). When plastic bottles are wasting away, they're not actually wasting away. Plastics never actually decompose or break down properly, they just take a long time to turn into tiny little pieces of plastic called microplastics. These microplastics actually absorb additional toxins and are consumed by the smallest organisms in the food chain and effectively harm everything in the marine food chain, including humans.
Corporate Control: The bottled water industry only wants to profit from bottled water. That means that as water becomes scarce and corporations are still pumping it out of springs and rivers and other water sources there will be a problem. Privatization or commercialization leads to water that will not be available to everyone, or water that has a price based on supply and demand. Government systems should protect their citizens rights to water, not corporations eager to turn a profit on a basic right. To truly understand the impact this can have on a local scale (and imagine the impact on a global scale) please watch this bonus clip from the documentary Tapped:
Please take World Water Day to review your water habits and think about how you can make improvements with water conservation and cooperation while being grateful for the water infrastructure you might have in your community. Thank you for taking the time to read the article. Please comment with any comments, concerns, additions, etc., I look forward to hearing from you.