Everyday Enviro with Elise: Fill, sip, and repeat to reduce single-use plastic water bottles

By Elise Catterall 24 November 2023

With Australia being one of the largest consumers of bottled water globally, Elise talks about opting for reusable water bottles filled directly from the tap to be healthy, safe, and sustainable.

Come in, the water’s fine.

Earlier this year the ABC reported that Australia is one of the biggest consumers of bottled water globally. It is second only to Singapore. The interesting thing about that is that on a recent visit to Singapore, there were prominent signs near taps in hotels and in public spaces advising that tap water is not only safe to drink but is also recommended to minimise the impact on the environment of single-use plastic water bottles.

With such high consumption in Australia, where there aren’t any significant public health concerns about tap water, it made me wonder whether we should adopt similar campaign.

Tap water in Australia is strictly regulated by the NHMRC, with over 250 guidelines in place to guarantee its safety. Whilst these stringent standards can assure us that the most concerning contaminants are contained, many people are clearly still concerned about consuming water from the tap.

Whether it is concern about what we might ingest, or a taste and odour issue, or just the convenience of picking up a bottle of water while out and about, it is clear that something is making Australians reach for single-use bottles so regularly and consistently that we are topping the global list.

The massive impact of single-use plastics – especially water bottles particularly due to their composition of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) - probably doesn’t need to be restated here as it isn’t new news, but it seems the message is not getting through, so here’s a summary:

Plastic Pollution: The sheer volume of discarded plastic from single-use water bottles is staggering. Estimates indicate an annual production of over 480 billion plastic water bottles globally, with only a fraction undergoing recycling. This substantial amount of plastic finds its way into landfills, water bodies, and oceans, persisting for centuries and causing harm to wildlife while disrupting ecosystems.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The manufacturing and transportation of single-use plastic water bottles play a substantial role in greenhouse gas emissions, intensifying the impact of climate change. The energy-intensive process of extracting and processing oil, the primary component of PET, releases harmful emissions into the atmosphere. Additionally, transporting bottled water over long distances further contributes to carbon emissions.

Water Consumption: The bottling process entails the extraction of large volumes of freshwater from natural sources, placing stress on water resources, especially in areas experiencing water scarcity. This extraction has the potential to adversely affect local ecosystems and deplete groundwater reserves.

Microplastic Pollution: Over time, plastic undergoes degradation, forming smaller fragments known as microplastics (fragments that measure less than 5mm). These microplastics infiltrate the environment, contaminating soil, water bodies, and even the food chain. The presence of microplastics can harm marine life and potentially pose health risks to humans. The low recycling rate of plastic water bottles (estimated to be around 36%) is a significant factor in this the bottles end up in landfill.

So, what is the solution? The answer to that is to understand what the causes are, as touched on above. If it is a concern about what is in tap water, then this can be addressed by using a good quality water filter. If it is about convenience – that needs behaviour change: having a good refillable bottle at your disposal, planning ahead, making sure you have your reusables with you before you leave the house. There are so many public filtered water sources out and about these days – parks, universities, and other public spaces (for example, the Circular Quay) – as long as you have your bottle, you are set.

If we all use the water sources available to us, it will have a huge impact – for the environment: less plastic waste, lower carbon footprint, conservation of resources, energy savings, and water conservation; and for us: cost savings, and even promoting the wider use of tap water.

I use a water filter and drink my tap water from refillable bottles and feel completely confident that it allows me to be safe, healthy, and sustainable. I hope you can do the same.

Elise Catterall
Elise is a writer, photographer, and naturopath with a passion for nature. She completed a Master of Public Health in 2017 through the University of Sydney. Her photographic work focuses on flowers and plants as a way of celebrating nature. She has been writing for Planet Ark since 2017, sharing positive environment stories, personal environmental experiences and perspectives.