Bring Your Own Bottle (…and fork, and napkin, and mug…)

TINY BUT USEFUL: To live a more intentional lifestyle, there are plenty of tiny, but useful, ways in which you can alter your everyday routine to live more sustainably. This recurring publication with Evergreen Girls will focus on very small, simple, and specific ways to treat our planet just a bit better each day.

Plastic, bottled water has become quite the invasive species to our planet.

What started as a niche marketing campaign geared toward the elite corporate workforce in the 1970s is now the United States’ favorite, fastest-selling commodified beverage that we have been convinced we need.

Picture courtesy of Ban the Bottle

We have completely bought into this “manufactured demand” that doesn’t even guarantee a “higher quality” of water. In 1999, the Natural Resources Defense Council completed a 4-year review of the bottled-water industry, concluding that “there is no assurance that bottled water is cleaner or safer than tap. In fact, an estimated 25 percent or more of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle—sometimes further treated, sometimes not.” And still, we see bottled water everywhere.

Bottled water is sold at coffee shops and concert venues. It is given out at little league games and work meetings. There are entire aisles dedicated to it at the grocery store, where it is purchased in packs of 30 and kept in pantries, car trunks and purses.

Plastic bottled water is literally everywhere, whether we asked for it or not, and it is devastating our environment.

It seems obvious to write a sustainability post about preventing the use of plastic water bottles. Duh, everyone knows this one! But based on our current consumption and acceptance of single-use plastic, it is worth reiterating: according to Ban the Bottle, Americans alone used around 50 billion plastic bottles just in the last year.

But what about recycling? As long as I recycle the plastic water bottles I use, does it even matter? Not quite. While the idea of recycling is lovely, our current recycling system cannot meet the rate at which we use plastic. Of those 50 billion plastic bottles, only 23 percent even gets sent to recycling, leaving about 38 billion water bottles in our landfills and oceans each year.

Picture courtesy of hydratelife.org

And that plastic isn’t going anywhere soon–National Geographic recently released a report that measures the average lifespan of a piece of plastic to be 400 years, continuously breaking down into smaller pieces that eventually end up back in our water and food supply. At this rate of use, and with the average lifespan of plastic, we cannot depend on a recycling system to save us.

Picture courtesy of CNBC

Before we get into how to use less bottled water, it is crucial to note that not everyone has access to clean, public drinking water that they can put in a reusable bottle.

While 90 percent of our water systems meet the EPA standard of quality, cities like Flint, MI have suffered from inequitable access to clean drinking water and longstanding exposure to high levels of lead contamination for ages. In cases like Flint’s, single-use, plastic-bottled water, should absolutely serve as a function of necessity, especially in regard to the public health and safety of its residents.

But in all other cases, our norm should not be to serve or consume plastic-bottled water out of needless habit. We must refuse to use single-use, plastic-bottled water by being prepared with our own reusable bottles.

Being prepared means carrying your own reusable bottle at all times. And before you tell yourself that it is too inconvenient, think back to the other items you keep on you at all times (probably your phone, your keys, your wallet)–why not carry one more item that prevents plastic waste and keeps you hydrated all at once?

If you are relentless about carrying your own reusable bottle, not only are you cutting back on the potential of plastic waste but you are modeling to others that they can (and should!) bring their own reusable bottle too.

Modeling less wasteful habits is crucial to the environmental movement because it exposes people to new options, and with new options come new norms.

Photo courtesy of Natural Mom Gear

While there is debate about how long it actually takes to form a habit, if you think of your reusable bottle as you do your phone, keys, and wallet, it should become pretty commonplace to always have one on you.

Ryan knows what’s up! Photo c/o Google images

Your challenge is to be diligent and uncompromising on this one – always carry your bottle. Always! It is too easy not to. Get to the point where you do not remember the last time you needlessly used single-use, plastic-bottled water. Get to the point where you do not even want to be seen with a bottle of Deer Park or Dasani (it will happen faster than you think).

So where should you get started? My advice is to invest once in a high-quality bottle that will last you a lifetime (emphasis on a singular bottle–I have found that when I own too many reusable bottles and cups, I clean them less, and therefore use them less–having just one nice bottle ensures that I care for it and use it regularly).

Some high-quality (pretty much plastic-free!) ones to check out are HydroFlask, KleanKanteen, and Liberty Bottles, just to name a few.

Proof of just how many reusables you can fit in your backpack: a container for snacks/leftovers, a water bottle, a coffee mug, a metal straw, a utensil keychain, and a handkerchief.

Do you already bring your reusable water bottle everywhere? No fear–there are LOTS of ways you can step up your zero-waste game and be prepared. Some things I have added to my checklist:

It is well past time that we challenge the norm of single-use plastic in this tiny but useful way. To #createlesswaste in your daily routine, live out the Scout Motto and be prepared–with your own bottle, cup, utensil set, or whatever you can remember to carry.

You can show us your reusable gear by tagging @evergreen_girls_ with the hashtag #weareevergreengirls and #tinybutuseful

Sheila is a self-proclaimed sustainability nut based out of Baltimore, MD. She is a director at a city nonprofit that works to grow Baltimore’s urban tree canopy, and in her spare time, likes to get outside and see as much live music as possible, as well as perform improv comedy. Sheila is mildly obsessed with the #createlesswaste movement, and the notion of simple living and the joys it brings us, especially after her year of service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. She believes that a more sustainable lifestyle can and should be something that is accessible and achievable, at many levels, for all people. The title Tiny But Usefulcomes from one of her favorite lines in Mary Oliver’s Upstream.