Confession of a former plastic bottle junkie

This is the confession of a former plastic bottle addict – I was drinking water regularly from disposable bottles which I would discard them every few days. Spoilt by the conveniences of a throwaway society, there was no excuse for my behavior.

In our current time, groups and organizations encourage this addiction, feeling the need to give out free bottles of water at events, conferences (yes, even environmental ones) and corporate functions. Hospitality at the expense of the environment.

A sea of plastic bottles on Singapore’s shores
Every year, during the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore (ICCS), we get a glimpse of the tip of the iceberg problem with thousands of plastic bottles collected along our shores.

In the morning of 11th September 2010 alone, we collected 4,920 plastic bottles from various locations in Singapore. In another single cleanup at Sungei Seletar on 18th September 2010, 1,208 plastic bottles were taken off the shores! All this in clean Singapore? Plastic bottles, improperly disposed, certainly are the bane of our oceans and coastal ecosystems.

Plastic, plastic everywhere
Disposable plastic water bottles lining the shores of Sungei Seletar

A hazard to marine life
Plastic bottles pose a hazard to marine life. They can be mistaken as food by marine creatures and being non-biodegradable, they accumulate indefinitely – posing a permanent threat. The Wildlife Trusts estimated that in the UK alone, 177 species of reptiles, mammals and fish are at risk as a result of consuming litter at sea [see “Plastic waste threat to marine life,” by Juliette Jowit. The Observer, 16 Sep 2007]. Given its sheer volume, plastic is a significant threat in the ocea. Over a long period of time, plastic can break down into very small pieces which can enter the food chain. Even in Singapore waters, the microplastics are prevalent [Ng, K. L. & J. P. Obbard, 2006. Prevalence of microplastics in Singapore’s coastal marine environment. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 52(7): 761-767].

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“How long ’til it’s gone?” (click to enlarge)

Bring your own water bottle?
Going cold turkey can be tough. I am the North East Zone Captain for the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore, yet I have been unable to eradicate plastic bottles completely from my life. I have often succumbed to a the allure of a old bottle of isotonic drink after a workout. While dining out, I try to avoid bottled drinks and my choices are reduced to water – which sometimes comes bottled! And all my favourite drinks which I have mostly given up, such as green teas and fruit juices, all come in pretty plastic bottles.

So how did I reform myself? Well, I simply bring my own water bottle wherever I go!

In Singapore, water out of our taps are safe for drinking! So why are we BUYING water in bottles?

Disposable plastic bottles should be an alternative rather than the standard option. That would reduce the unnecessary impact of manufacturing plastic bottles and reduce littering on our waterways drastically.

Organisers of outdoor events can contribute to this effort to retrain the masses by actively encouraging everyone to bring their own water. They need only keep an emergency supply at hand – we have exhorted ICCS organisers to do likewise and they are responsive.

There are more options indoors – meeting participants can be provided with reusable glasses and jugs of water or be asked to bring their own water. We can’t behave the way we did twenty years ago; our impact on the planet has been excessive!

And if you should drink from a plastic bottle, the least you can do is recycle it. Proper disposal is important for clean plastic water bottles are recycled in Singapore. Do make the effort to collect and dispose them properly in recycling bins – we really don’t want to see them wash up by the tide on our shores, near or far!

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Recycling bins for the proper disposal of plastic bottles

Let’s drink to the good health of the oceans!

A year ago, I switched to carrying my trusty red water bottle wherever I go in the process, I no longer use a disposable plastic water bottle each week and have reduced my consumption by at least 52 plastic bottles. If we all doing this, think of our impact – or rather, our reduced impact!

While we drink to our good health, let us, in all good conscience, be able to raise our glasses to the good health of our oceans and seas too!

Article written in support of Blog Action Day

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