Let’s make 2020 the year we give up bottled water

One Change: One million plastic bottles are sold every minute, and only half are recycled

Almost one million plastic bottles are bought every minute around the world. Of these, fewer than half are recycled – the rest will take more than 400 years to decompose in landfills.

From soft drinks to shampoo and household cleaners, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles have become all-pervasive. The introduction of this lightweight material transformed the retail sector in the 1970s and beyond  – but its affect on the environment has been devastating, with a massive increase in plastic waste finding its way into the oceans and harming marine life.

Despite efforts to reduce the presence of single-use plastics, progress is extremely slow. The EU voted to outlaw 10 single-use plastic items, including straws, forks and knives by 2021, and by 2029 at least 90 per cent of beverage bottles will have to be collected and recycled. Imports of plastics to Ireland, however, show that there’s still plenty of it coming into the country (last year imported plastics had increased in value to €1.67 billion).

Meanwhile, the build-up of plastic waste continues. This year it is estimated that more than half a trillion plastic bottles will be sold globally.

So what can we do about it? Drink more tap water, for a start. An estimated 183 million litres of water were bought in Republic of Ireland in 2017, according to Drinks Industry Ireland. Buying bottled water when there is no alternative – or a boil water notice has been issued – is one thing; buying it as a lifestyle choice is a whole other issue, and a big part of the problem with our throwaway, on-the-go culture.

Bottled water requires up to 2,000 times the energy used to produce tap water. Consider its production, transportation and refrigeration – and it’s easy to see how. These days most cafes and restaurants are pretty good at setting out jugs of water for customers (instead of urging us to order still or sparkling). If you’re not a fan of the taste of your tap water, you can have a small filter tap installed at your sink for a reasonable fee, or purchase a filter jug for your fridge. Many fridges also now have built-in filter taps.

And don't forget your reusable water bottle. If you're out and about – or doing some new year's exercising – check out Refill Ireland's website for a handy map of nearby water fountains. It's great to see Dublin Airport has also introduced refilling water stations for travellers, and here's hoping lots more towns and cities across the country start to roll them out over the next year too.


One Change is a weekly column about the changes - big and small - that we can all make in our daily lives for the good of the planet