We live in an era in which plastic consumption cannot be avoided by anyone. We all are ingesting microplastics and toxins from plastic on a daily basis – from the air we breathe to the foods and drinks we consume, and there isn’t much we can do about this. However, we all can start to become more conscious of the plastic we use and reduce our daily plastic intake, starting with how we consume the most important liquid in our ecosystem – water. According to many different studies, those who drink water from plastic water bottles are ingesting more plastic, compared to those who choose to avoid single-use water bottles and drink tap water.
Plastic containers always release tiny amounts of chemicals into the beverages or food they contain. As time passes and as temperature rises, the chemical bonds that hold the plastic together gradually weaken and leaching or toxin discharge tends to increase as well. Anyone who has lived in Cyprus, especially during the summer, will know that our island can get particularly hot, with temperatures often reaching 40 degrees Celsius. Therefore, plastic water bottles in Cyprus are likely to decay sooner than those stored in colder climates. Shops and kiosks may sometimes store their plastic bottled water in direct sunlight which further exacerbates plastic leaching, and the inside of a vehicle standing in the sun can heat up to 60oC. So logically, customers will unknowingly be ingesting higher-than-advisable daily quantities of chemicals.
Most of the plastic water bottles sold in Cyprus are made of polyethylene terephthalate, or PET.
The reuse of single-use plastic like most water bottles is not advisable for the same reasons but also because their daily reuse will often lead to cracks in the plastic which may advance leaching, and make them harder to wash properly so bacteria and fungi may grow once a bottle has been opened.
Reusable water bottles made of hard, durable plastic, have also been linked with some problems.
These are usually made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE – recycling code 1) or polycarbonate (difficult to recycle – code 7). To make them hard and shiny, manufacturers often use a compound called bisphenol-A, or BPA. This is an endocrine disrupter, which means it can interfere with normal hormone function, affecting an animal’s development, metabolism or reproductive system. Harms caused by BPA have been documented in many animals and some human studies. Some doctors recommend that women do not drink bottled water, specifically from Type 7 plastic bottles when pregnant, as they have been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage. Even products advertised as BPA-free often contain Bisphenol-S, an alternative with very similar properties.
As well as ingesting chemicals, if you drink bottled water you may be swallowing tiny plastic fragments. Microplastics are generally defined as pieces up to 5mm in size, down to microscopic particles small enough to be absorbed through the gut. In fact, a World Health Organisation (WHO) study found that in 93% of popular bottled water brands tested the water contained plastic fibres. While studies on the prevalence of plastics in drinking water, and the long-term effects of consuming these, are still in their early stages, it does not seem a great idea to experiment on our own bodies in this way!
Unfortunately, scientists are still not fully aware of the potential long-term effects of ingesting checmicals from plastic, but with years of such toxin accumulation in one’s tissues, there is a significant risk that this may lead to a variety of health problems such as developmental issues in children, fertility issues in both men and women, hormone disruption and various others.
Plastic has become a ubiquitous, highly versatile, cheap solution for most of our daily needs both in industry and our homes. But if we, the Cypriot community, could just alter one hazardous habit – that of drinking water from plastic bottles – we would see an immense positive impact on our island’s annual waste management issues and even possibly prolong one of life’s most essential aspects, our health.