Video by Mike DeVito and Joel Goldberg
Bottled water is one of those debates that just keeps getting recycled. It's a healthy alternative to bottled sodas and juices, so it was initially welcomed to vending machines and took off as America became more health-concious. But then came the environmental impacts - waste from discarded bottles, questions about the purity of the sources vs. tap water. Then the bans on bottled water, then the campaign against the bans - there's an awful lot of argument over just wanting something to drink.
The fact is, there's a lot of disagreement and both sides of the debate have made some questionable claims. If we look at our own habits, though, we'll find some truth - unless you're reusing that bottle you just bought, you've created some sort of waste. You're part of a chain now, a long chain that represents the life of plastic bottle. Of course you'll recycle it - you're browsing a green tech website right now, so that's a fair assumption to make - but if you look in any trashcan you're going to see that not everyone is so dedicated to preventing waste. It seems simple enough to recycle, it really does, but the problem is that you're coming up against the single biggest factor other than cost in consumer behavior: convenience.
Convenience drives markets in a big way. That's why, despite the backlash, bottled water sales are on the rise again. As bad as the waste problem is getting, no one can deny how convenient bottled water is. You grab it, you drink it, you get rid of the bottle - doesn't get more convenient than that. Compare that to the ultimate sustainable alternative, your own reusable bottle - you have to shell out over $10 for a good one, you have to wash it (or at least you should), and you have to remember to take it with you. Leave it at home and you go thirsty or break down and buy a disposable bottle.
So in the face of convenience, how do we move away from the waste? There's a couple of solutions out there but here in DC, on the GW campus, Planet Forward noticed one company, True2O, giving it a try. Their system is simple - you buy one of their heavy-duty plastic reusable bottles and use it for as long as you like, then when you're ready for a new one you return it to a True2O location for your 50 cent deposit back. Check out is done via an RFID tag linked to your account, which then feeds into a Facebook app that tracks your usage. The returned bottles go back to their processing plant to be cleaned and reused - according to founder Jim Margolis, the closed system allows them to essentially eliminate all waste.
Of course, True2O is just starting out with only a few partners - go into local a local 7-11 or CVS and you won't find the bottles there. So far, it's mostly just smaller-scale eateries and one grocery store. And then there's the question of where to fill up should you decide to reuse the bottle - on this campus in particular, there aren't a whole lot of filling stations. Finally, there's that ultimate question: will the 50 cent refund be enough to make sure the True2O bottles don't get thrown in with the recycling- or, far worse, the trash?
The answer remains to be seen, but at least they're trying something.
P.S. - Seriously, look in a trashcan today. You're going to be appalled by the amount of recyclable bottles in it.