Used Water Bottles


Americans consume seven billion gallons of water a year, one little bottle at a time. A person has to wonder what becomes of all those empty bottles and how are they are impacting the environment. Water bottles are made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a derivative of crude oil. PET is a high quality grade of plastic and quite durable. Reuse of the plastic bottle, which would appear to be a viable option, is not recommended. 


The plastic contains synthetic organic chemicals called phthalates. Phthalates are used to increase the flexibility and durability of the plastic, but the phthalates will leach out of the plastic as the plastic ages. The phthalates readily leave the plastic and enter whatever the plastic comes into contact with, such as the drinking water in the bottle or the creek the discarded bottle found its way to. Phthalates have been found in both ground water and surface water due to the leaching factor that is then compounded by the great number of discarded bottles. The full effects of phthalates on the environment and ultimately in the health of people are still being studied.

Discarded Bottles

The high quality plastic in water bottles is in great demand by recyclers yet, according to estimates by the Container Recycling Institute, more than 80% of these plastic bottles are thrown away. Earth Policy Institute reports that in 2005, 52 billion plastic bottles and jugs were burned, went to landfills, or worse, they became litter. Millions of discarded bottles never make it to the landfill, but are littered along our highways, county roads and city streets. And, there is not a city street, county road or highway in this entire nation that is immune to the “bottled water syndrome”. These discarded bottles are such a part of our every day environment that they have become “invisible”, so much so that we don’t even notice them scattered along the roadways or cluttered around our feet. 

Decomposing Bottles

We probably would have been buried under them by now if it were not for the rain. No, the rain does not decompose them, scientific estimates put the time it takes for the empties to decompose at 400 to 1000 years. The rainfall and subsequent runoff merely moves them down the street to the storm drain or ditch on their way to the nearest creek or lake and eventually as far away as the ocean. 

Vast eddies of littered plastic bottles have been reported, spinning endlessly on the ocean’s currents. One of those bottles could be a bottle you saw lying at the edge of the street or in the road ditch recently. Landlocked as we may appear, storm drains transform each of our yards into beachfront property via area creeks and rivers within our small watersheds which in turn become a part of the larger watersheds and ultimately, our connection with the world’s oceans.


Two million plastic beverage bottles, that’s the number of bottles used in the United States every 5 minutes, according to Food and Water Watch, a consumer rights organization based in Washington D.C. That is a very large number of plastic bottles to wrap your mind around, but that number can be reduced one bottle at a time. There are simple, inexpensive alternatives to bottled water. If it is the taste or smell of your tap water that is the big turn off, an inexpensive, point-of-use carbon filter will turn most tap water sparkling fresh for just pennies a glass. Sometimes just storing a pitcher of water in the fridge over night will do the trick. Use a stainless steel thermos for water on the go. They are easy to clean, well insulated and unbreakable. There is a cure for the “bottled water syndrome”. Turn on the tap! It will protect your environment and your future.