One day last summer I was shopping in a camping shop. I find the product I want and go to pay. At the till I am offered a special deal – a half price product from a selected range of items which include a very attractive clear plastic drinks bottle. I express interest in it and the assistant hands it to me. You see, I’m interested in drinking bottles because I replaced our refillable aluminium water bottles for lightweight stainless steel ones. Why did I do that?
Well, the previous bottles we used, the aluminium ones, are lined with a coating to ‘ensure a fresh, clean taste and no metallic aftertaste’. And the manufacturer of those bottles reassuringly say that the chemicals that make this coating are now ‘non toxic and fully compliant with all EU and FDA regulations.’ Although given the slow rate of legislation I wouldn’t be convinced that means they’re completely safe.
More importantly though the lining of the new bottles don’t contain the chemical BPA or Bisphenol-A. I’ve written about BPA before. It’s widely used in plastics that come into contact with food and is implicated in breast cancer and other diseases. Throughout Europe it is being banned for use in baby bottles, because of concern that the heating of the bottle makes the chemical more harmful. Amongst the campaigners I know there is a general concensus that the baby bottle ban is just the start, and that a total ban on BPA will follow. Eventually. (Note, in France last autumn MPs voted almost unanimously to ban bisphenol-A in food containers, saying the evidence is now overwhelming that it causes serious health effects).
So the lining in my aluminum bottle doesn’t contain that chemical. At least it doesn’t now. Aluminium bottles made before 2008 do contain BPA and I don’t know when ours were made. So that’s why I replaced ours with stainless steel bottles from Cool Green Attitude. There is an article here that discusses the pros and cons of different bottles and stainless steel is considered a better choice than other plastics.
It’s also interesting to note that just over a year ago, in November 2010, a number of major food producers, including Heinz, announced that they are phasing out use of BPA and looking for alternatives, because of growing concern about its safety. An interesting move because they are not waiting for the FDA or EU to ban the chemical. They are listening to concerned consumers.
But why do I use a refillable bottle in the first place? Plastic bottles of water are everywhere, and they’re cheap. But, they are not sustainable, that is they create too much waste.
There is a great short animated film, The Story of Bottled Water by Annie Leonard that explains the situation. In it she explains how companies have ‘manufactured demand’ for bottled water by scaring us – implying that tap water is dangerous, and by seducing us – with images of nature and purity on bottles. Fact is in most parts of USA and in all the UK tap water is safe to drink. She says it’s time we ‘took back the tap’. And we can do that by using a safe, refillable water bottle.
Because have you ever wondered about what happens to a plastic bottle of water once it’s been drunk? Annie Leonard tells us that in the USA a staggering 80% end up in landfill or incinerators. The other 20% are ‘recycled’, although in fact that actually means that huge quantities are shipped to India, literally dumped in someone else’s backyard.
And many bottles, and other plastics, are finding their way into a ‘plastic soup’ that is floating and swirling around in the Pacific Ocean and growing at an alarming rate. It’s called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. And it’s huge. Some reports say it’s twice the size of the USA. A soup of plastic bits that are consumed by fish and make their way back into our food chain. So ultimately we end up eating the chemicals in plastic. And there’s another Garbage Patch in the Atlantic, you can see photos here.
The problem is that plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it simply breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces, but doesn’t ever go away. That’s the problem.
Back to the camping shop. I look at the bottle and see that it says it’s ‘BPA free’ and I comment to the assistant about that. ‘Oh,’ he says, ‘what’s BPA?’ Five minutes later he’s still listening to me as I proceed to fill him on on just exactly what BPA is. And, as he stands there clutching my till receipt, I also tell him that BPA is used in the thermal paper till receipts, like the one he is holding. And that in France they’ve now stopped BPA in receipts because it rubs off and is found on paper money and onto our skin.
The assistant then says, ‘Oh yes I heard something about that.’ He looks at the receipt as he hands it to me, and asks, ‘Why don’t they just ban it then?’
I wish it were that simple, don’t you?