Writing on the spot…

On the third of january, 2013, an article was published on the BBC website reporting on the recent ban of the sale of water bottles smaller than 1 litre in the town of Conchord, Massachusetts, USA.

In the article it is stated that ban is the result of a three year campaign led by Ms. Jean Hill, with the aim of reducing waste and encouraging the use of tap water. The campaign was inspired by Ms Hill’s grandson, who informed her about “a vast floating island of plastic waste in the Pacific Ocean.” The ages of Ms Hill and her grandson are not stated in the article, nor whether the grandson oberved the floating waste island personally, though it is not an unknown phenomenon. Indeed, a google search for `plastic waste pacific ocean’ renders many articles and images related to the phenomenon, which even has its own wikipedia article.

In fact, there are two such patches in the pacific ocean, the Eastern and Western patches. Together they form an area twice that of the United States [Dautel, 2009]. Whilst neither can be considered a true island, it is certainly true that each area has a higher than average density of plastic goods, not limited to water bottles less than 1 litre in size. It is estimated that the patches contain 100 million tons of garbage. The swirling vortexes of wind and waves that maintain the patches are known as gyres, and are associated with the Coriolis effect. Plastic items form 80% of the patches, consisting mainly of discarded fishing nets, clothing, and plastic bags, as well as bottles and other paraphernalia. It is not known what percentage of the patches can be directly attributed to waste water bottles from the town of Conchord, Massachusetts, though it can be reasonably assumed that the amount of waste directly contributed by Ms. Hill and her grandson is negligible.

Another town aiming to reduce its output of waste plastic bottles is Bundanoon, New South Wales, Australia. The residents of this town voted almost unanimously to ban the sale of plastic water bottles in 2009, which was also reported by the BBC. It is not stated if the ban was limited to certain sizes of water bottle, as in Conchord, Massachusetts. Residents of Bundanoon were instead encouraged to use tap water, and refill their reusasble bottles from fountains in the streets. It was not stated in the previous BBC article if there were any plans in Conchord, Massachusetts to provide residents with access to fountains to refill their water bottles, though one may reasonably question the necessity of this, given that the ban is limited to the sale of small bottles of water only, and does not include small bottles of other drinks. There is also a legal exemption to the ban, in the case of emergencies.

In both BBC articles it was mentioned that the bans were met with uproar by the bottled water industry, who insist that bottled water forms part of a modern healthy lifestyle. Obviously there are both health issues to be considered here as well as the environmental issues, however given the potential for the increased sales of fizzy soft drinks over bottled water, the interested researcher may wish to pay particular attention to the future dental health of the residents of Conchord, Massachusetts.

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About nicolajrolfe

Dr. Nicola J. Rolfe is currently looking for her next opportunity to make a big splash in East Kent industry.
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