Bottled water: why plastic is harmful and is it worth switching to filtered water
Part 1. Mass production
The first plastic food containers appeared after the war, in 1947, but were relatively rare due to cost and rather low consumer qualities. Glass for the time being won.
But in the fifties, polyethylene, known at that time for half a century and used in specific industries, for example, for cable insulation, received a new scope. The chemists of the now defunct company Phillips Petroleum were the first to succeed in popularizing plastic; the research group developed a chromium oxide catalyst that accelerates the polymerization of materials. The polyethylene obtained by them already in the 1960s began to be actively used in the packaging of a variety of products. And in 1973, DuPont engineer Nathaniel Wyeth hit the glass container with a decisive blow, developing a technology for producing bottles from the well-known since the early 1940s polyethylene terephthalate (PET) - lightweight, inexpensive and suitable for recycling thermoplastics. Wyeth's patent allowed plastic bottles to withstand the internal pressure of sparkling water - and in a matter of years, PET conquered the market. All modern plastic bottles that you see in stores - this is the same patent.
Today, dozens of different polymeric materials are used for food packaging. The most common is high density polyethylene (HDPE), from which almost all plastic containers for non-food products, say, canisters for automobile oils, are made. Food packaging, including bottles for drinks and water, is usually made from the aforementioned polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or polycarbonate (PC).
In total, more than 300 million tons of plastic are produced annually in the world, and this amount is constantly growing, despite all environmental measures. On average, 20–25% of plastic goes to recycling or destruction, but the rest is corny thrown away - primarily due to the human factor. Most people are too lazy to engage in separate waste collection, and sometimes even get to the garbage cans becomes an impossible task.
Therefore, we turn to the second question: what harm does plastic cause to an individual person and to humanity as a whole.
Part 2. Local problem, or is it harmful to drink from plastic?
The more debris on the planet, the more harmful the environment in which we live, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. We call this a system problem. But much more often people are concerned about the local issue of their own health, rather than the ecological situation in the Pacific Ocean.
So, you buy water in a plastic bottle. What's happening? What harmful substances enter your body? Do they threaten poisoning? Do they cause cancer? To be honest, there’s practically nothing to worry about, otherwise plastic containers would have been banned for a long time. There are a number of assumptions and hypotheses that claim that contact of various types of plastic with water leads to carcinogenic compounds entering the liquid, but there is no direct evidence for this.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is closely involved in research in this area. Until 2010, almost all FDA reports ended with the conclusion that they lacked statistical material. But in January 2010, the FDA suddenly released a lot of material about the potential dangers of plastic containers for food and water, and, moreover, described very specific diseases and their causes. In particular, bisphenol A (C 15 H 16 O 2 ), one of the most important components of plastic and a participant in the same "plastic revolution" of the 1960s, was recognized as a dangerous substance. It was proved that when heating or prolonged storage of food in a container containing bisphenol A, it really goes into food and can lead to serious poisoning, in particular, damage to hormonal function and a decrease in the amount of sex and thyroid hormones produced by the thyroid gland. Therefore, in a number of countries around the world, after the publication of the report, the use of plastics containing bisphenol A was prohibited in containers for baby food and bottles for feeding. Different articles emphasize that the first, even before the publication of the report, Canada did this, but this is not entirely true, because back in 1997, Japan rejected bisphenol - according to the results of its own local studies.
There is also a number of studies on this subject. All results come to one conclusion: you can store water and food in plastic. But not too long (for different plastics - different terms). And it’s not worth heating at all, especially above 60 ° C.
It is worth noting that polyethylene terephthalate, from which the lion's share of all bottles are made, is still considered safe for health, it contains no bisphenol A and other potentially harmful substances. But recall: the FDA has been thinking about bisphenol for more than 10 years. And then I thought of it. So rely on the doctors, but don’t be bad. In addition - we note separately - the same bisphenol is often found in packages, where it should not be by default, since it is removed at the production stage. But, apparently, not completely.
The controversial, but still direct harm when using plastics is supplemented by global harm to the environment - we mentioned this above. They drank from a disposable plastic bottle, threw it away. They didn’t seem to do much harm to themselves, but to the world around them - yes. And this accumulated harm leads to poisoning of the earth and animals, and through them it returns to us with a rebound.
So, where does all this garbage go if it doesn’t get to the processing plants.
Part 3. Pacific trash stain, or where plastic floats away
In 1988, based on an analysis of a number of ocean currents and an assessment of plastic drifting with them, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States published a report that predicted the existence of a place that all ocean debris was aiming for. This zone was conditionally called the Great Pacific Garbage Spot and was rather a fantastic object than a real landfill, because at the end of the 1980s it simply did not exist. Experts simply calculated where light garbage will accumulate in a few years - when it becomes enough to seriously affect the environment.
At the same time, the 1972 report on plastic waste in the Sargasso Sea was extracted from nonexistence - it predicted the appearance of a North Atlantic garbage spot, that is, a similar zone in the Atlantic Ocean. But in the early 1970s, no one took it seriously.
In 1997, oceanographer and traveler Charles Moore took part in Transpac, a race on yachts across the Pacific Ocean. Returning home to San Francisco, he went along an unfamiliar ocean route and unexpectedly found himself in an area covered with a continuous layer of plastic waste, which did not seem to interfere with the boat's sail, but greatly spoiled the view and, in addition, did not smell very good. Thus, Moore discovered the very one predicted 9 years before him, the Great Pacific garbage spot. Subsequently, he wrote a series of studies on the topic, swam purposefully and generally became one of the world's leading experts in the field of ocean pollution. And 13 years later, in 2010, scientists discovered the third zone of garbage accumulation as a result of currents - the Indian Ocean trash spot.
Thus, today there are three main areas of plastic accumulation in the ocean. The largest spot, the Pacific, is about 700, 000 km², that is, for you to imagine, the size of Texas. It is important to understand here: no, this is not a dense continent from garbage that you can land on. This is just a layer of bottles and other waste floating on the surface of the water and, in principle, does not interfere with ships. Even more precisely: most of the garbage belongs to the so-called micro-waste - from 2 nm to 5 mm in diameter. Plastic dust is the scourge of almost all world beaches, for example, on other beaches its amount, mixed with sand, reaches 30% of the total coverage! The sources of such "microplastics" are mainly production, in particular cosmetics and clothing.
The garbage spot is scary because it can hardly eat marine creatures that live close to the surface, as well as birds that hunt fish. So this is a dead zone. The shark will not eat you there. But you will not experience the great joy of staying in the trash.
Naturally, plastic does not only accumulate in spots. It is nailed to the shores, part of it is drowning, part is getting entangled in algae, not to mention how much garbage is thrown out on land. Today, 270 million tons (!) Of plastic waste floats on the surface of the ocean.A natural ecosystem that uses plastic as a natural habitat is called the plastisphere . In particular, microplastic in garbage spots has become home to more than 1000 species of bacteria and algae. Some types of bacteria contribute to the rapid decomposition of plastic in the natural environment, but others, on the contrary, lead to the processing of plastic waste into substances that are potentially harmful to the environment. [RICH_HTML type = imageset] [/ RICH_HTML]
Part 4. Looking for an alternative
Environmental pollution is treated differently. One of the effective methods is the ban of bottled water, legally introduced in several territories. The first such territory in 2009 was the small Australian town of Bendenoon in New South Wales. For Bundenoon, it was not difficult - a tiny settlement for 2500 people had only 6 stores, and they excluded bottled water from their assortment. Nobody forbids to import bottles privately.
The second such city in 2012 was the 17 thousandth Corcord (Massachusetts, USA). Unlike the Australians, the Americans formulated the law quite difficult, "banned" only certain types of plastic bottles.
Also, by 2016, 82 schools and universities around the world refused to use bottled water on campuses. The IBWA, the international bottled water industry association, reacted strongly to these initiatives, condemning the decision of residents and students.
It is difficult to say how logical the legislative ban on bottled water is. The civilian trend that has recently been manifested in Europe and the USA is much more characteristic - the voluntary refusal of buyers from bottled water and the transition to filtered water in their own refillable bottles. This trend is confirmed in particular by a significant drop in demand for bottled water - people are unlikely to drink less, but the peak of sales is already far behind.
Modern water filters are based on the principle of reverse osmosis - we have already written in sufficient detail about this, it is worth reading. In short, osmosis is a phenomenon that occurs in a system of two solutions of different concentrations, separated by a membrane that passes through solvent molecules, but not dissolved substances. The solvent from a less concentrated solution penetrates through the membrane into a more concentrated one until the concentrations are equal. But if a sufficiently high pressure is applied to a more concentrated solution, then the solvent will move in the opposite direction - this is called reverse osmosis. In a filter based on this principle, the solvent is water, which penetrates through the membrane, separating from the salts dissolved in it.
Similar filters are produced all over the world, in Russia, in particular, by Aquaphor company. First of all, they are beneficial for people who consume a lot of water and at the same time are quite rigidly related to its quality - these are families with small children, athletes, people with poor health, and so on. But we must not forget that if you do not take care of yourself, then the strongest health can easily and poorly become weak - so it is better to take seriously what we drink and what we drink and the ecological situation as a whole. in the country and on the planet.
In order not to exaggerate, we note that in some areas filtered water will most likely not compete with bottled water, and these varieties will exist in parallel, without interfering with each other. In particular, if you need a bottle of water at the airport, you will immediately buy it, and will not wait for you to return home to pour filtered. By the way, it’s a good idea to install sources with reverse osmosis filters in public places, and next to it there is an automatic machine issuing small bottles (at many European airports drinking fountains are used for this).
Summing up, we can say: firstly, the use of filters at home can slightly reduce its own negative impact on the environment and, in particular, waste production. Secondly, it is much cheaper than buying bottled water. And thirdly, you will know for sure that in the water you consume there is neither bisphenol A nor other toxic impurities. Even if they are present in the water supply, reverse osmosis will do its job.
|PET, polyethylene terephthalate. The most common material in the manufacture of bottles for drinks, water and other food liquids. Safe, non-toxic, suitable for recycling.|
|HDPE, high density polyethylene. It is widely used for non-food household liquids - dishwashing liquid, liquid soap, motor oil, as well as for garbage bags. Not recyclable, recyclable. In principle, it is not harmful to health, since it is not used in the food industry and can withstand temperatures up to 70 ° C without consequences.|
|PVC, polyvinyl chloride. It is used for storage of detergents and other non-food products, as well as in heavy industry, for example, for the production of pipelines and so on. When heated, it begins to release toxic substances and becomes extremely toxic, therefore it is not used in the food industry, but - we note - it is often found at home for packaging combustible substances, say, white spirit or kerosene. As you might guess, their reasonable user just won’t think of heating.|
|LDPE, low density polyethylene. It is used in the manufacture of rigid containers for products, as well as for bags and bags. Safe, does not contain harmful substances that can react with food. Recycled and reused.|
|PP, polypropylene. The most common plastic for the manufacture of refillable food containers. It is absolutely safe, it is used when storing baby food, resistant to temperatures.|
|PS, polystyrene. It is used for thermal insulation of buildings, as well as for the production of disposable tableware, for example, we often drink tea in a station cafe from a polystyrene cup. At the same time, with strong heating, it begins to release toxic substances, therefore, throughout the world, its use in the food industry is gradually being abandoned. The main reason for the low speed of this process is the cheapness of the material.|
|Other plastics that do not belong to any of the above six groups. In fact, these are all plastics from which non-food containers and devices that are not in contact with chemically active substances are made. Smartphones, automotive plastic, TVs, in general, all-all-all. Именно поэтому стоит категорически избегать покупки продуктов в упаковке с маркировкой «7». А такая маркировка нередко встречается на больших 19-литровых баллонах с питьевой водой. Вы просто не знаете, из чего конкретно сделана эта ёмкость, и вероятность присутствия там того же бисфенола А очень велика.|