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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

The Environmental Impact of our Choices

Marc Morgan

We are all familiar with the 3Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This concept of managing our waste is now taught to our children as soon as they get into school. Many youngsters are learning it at home, before they get to school.

The 3Rs are the preamble to what is commonly referred to as the solid waste management hierarchy. The hierarchy presents management options in order of preference. Reducing waste is the option given highest preference and disposal is obviously the least preferred option for waste. Unfortunately, these options are not always easy to implement. Recycling provides a great compromise.

It is clear why reducing waste is more preferred than disposal, but why would reuse be better than recycling? Both options reduce the amount of waste making its way to a landfill. Right?

To illustrate the environmental impacts from reuse vs recycling; I will use single-use bottled water as an example. We are all familiar with these small plastic bottles. They can be found at conferences, gas stations, vending machines and in our home refrigerators. The Beverage Marketing Corporation stated in a recent report that in 2019 the average American consumed 43.7 gallons of bottled water; up nearly 4% from 2018. That amounts to more than 40 billion bottles annually. The production of plastic bottles alone accounts for the equivalent greenhouse gas emissions of 800,000 cars on the road annually.

There is no doubt that drinking water is a healthy choice, but what is the impact of all those bottles and is there a better option?

Green-minded grocery shoppers spend more time in the bulk-products aisle than your average consumer, given their preference for avoiding disposable packaging on single-use food items and products. Image: leyla.a, FlickrCC.

Single use plastic bottles are recyclable. According to the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), the recycling rate for PET containers (plastic beverage bottles) is less than 30%. Most single-use bottles are making their way into landfills and incinerators. Very often single-use water bottles are consumed away from home where recycling options may be limited. More than 45 million barrels of oil are required annually to produce our bottled water packaging.

Disposal is not the only issue with single use water bottles. According to a 2017 report by Food & Water Watch, nearly 64% of bottle water comes from a municipal water source. That means that consumers in the Upper Valley are spending more than 700 times the price of tap water because it comes in a bottle. This water is also traveling long distances. In some cases, bottled water is coming from the other side of the country; Nestle water has bottling plants in California. The environmental impact of transporting water thousands of miles cannot be ignored.

So, what is the alternative? Simple. Use a reusable water bottle. In one year, using a reusable water bottle prevents the creation of nearly 1,500 plastic bottles. That is a whole lot of plastic. Avoiding the creation of the bottle reduces the amount of waste making its way into a landfill.

Refilling at the tap also reduces your transportation footprint. Since many brands of bottled water are produced far from consumers, using local municipal water resources is not only good for the environment but will save you money.

The City of Lebanons Solid Waste Division sets the month of April aside as Refill NOT Landfillmonth. During this campaign, Lebanon partners with the Coop Food Stores by asking upper valley residents to think about their waste practices and to choose to reuse for the entire month. For the 2021 Refill NOT Landfill campaign, we are focusing on reducing the consumption of bottled water and asking folks to drink localat the tap.

This month, do your part to reduce single-use bottled water by: buying in bulk; if you need to, carry a water bottle, and if you are eating out, ask for tap water.

For more information about participating in this years campaign, check out www.lebanonnh.gov/1290/refill-not-landfill.

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