Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Rosa and Rachel's "consumption" project

The Unknown's picture

On a daily basis, humans consume many beverages from plastic bottles. Whether it be water or an athletic drink, it is hard to actually realize the impact we make by purchasing these drinks. Seemingly, the only contact with a human we make when we purchase these items is between us and the person behind the counter or, sometimes, just a machine that drops the ice cold bottle down for us. In actuality, there are many interactions before this one. For many of the bottling companies, these interactions are international and far spread. We are going to make it our point to look back, look back to far before the drink touches our lips or enters our stomachs. We are going to discover all that goes into the creation of our hydration and discover all the contacts we miss out on.

The first plastic bottle was created by Alexander Parkes. He presented the invention at the Great International Exhibition in London in 1862 (United States Plastic Corporation 1).

In the U.S., 1,500 plastic bottles are used every second. That means that people in the United States used around 50 billion water bottles a year. Over $100 billion is spent on bottled water across the planet. Plastic bottles are manufactured from polyethylene terephthalate, which is a petroleum product. The amount of energy used in the production of bottled water is equivalent to 54 million barrels of oil. This oil could fuel 1.5 million cars for a year (Zion Lights 1).

Around seventy-five percent of the empty plastic bottles go to our landfills, oceans, lakes, and streams. It is possible that the bottles will never completely decompose. The tops on plastic bottles cannot be recycled.

Plastic bottles also propose a health risk. According to a 2008 investigation by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, some bottle water is polluted with untested industrial chemicals (Dell'Amore and Karlstom 1). This same study said this it is possible that bottled water is not any cleaner than tap water. Unfortunately, even if bottled water is not initially more harmful than tap water, over time, as bottles are used more than once, the bottles can release destructive chemicals.

Plastic bottles have a chemical in them called, Bispenol A (BPA) (Dell'Amore and Karlstom 1). This chemical causes the plastic to appear clear and rigid. BPA is connected to many health complications: cancer, neurological problems, early puberty in girls, giving birth long before one’s due date, decreased ability for womyn to get pregnant, and deficiencies in newborn babies. BPA enters infiltrates the body through contact with plastics, bottled drinks to name just one example. Large quantities of BPA have been found in at-risk pregnant women’s fetuses and placentas. A study that was completed in 2011 found that 96% of women in the U.S have BPA in their system (Zion Lights 2).

It takes over two gallons of water to purify every gallon of water. Bottled- water companies need to pump groundwater to sell back to people. This harms groundwater according to the Sierra Club.

Transporting and refrigerating plastic bottles keeps them cold and also burns fossil fuels. In turn, fossil fuels give off green house gases.

We chose plastic bottles as our item of focus because it is intrinsically relevant to our society today. With so much of our world being covered in plastic waste, it is clear that plastic bottles are an ever present part of our lives. Our extensive usage of these bottles has caused for crisis with the danger of garbage heaps never decomposing and becoming the world’s highest mountains. It would be easy to blame the rest of the world and assume no control but it must be taken into account that society is made up of individuals. We are the individuals that make up society and, in turn, contribute to the problems that it causes. It is easy to say that the economy is controlled by these overarching powers that we cannot control, but it is the buying power of the masses that truly puts the economy into play. With this in mind, we decided that the plastic bottle would be our object of focus for this experiment.

In order to track the trail that our bottles create on their way to our hands, we will have to back track through all of the major components of what makes up a bottle. We will look through all of the parts of a bottle, from the cap to the plastic cover with its brand, to the raw materials that go into their production, such as petroleum. Going back to the grassroots of our product is the only way to get a completely clear understanding of all of the different contact zones we encounter through consumption. In being as thorough as possible, we will be doing our best to respect the value that each individual has. Keeping sure to acknowledge that, even when only a company name is listed as the actors in production, the many individual members make up points of contact that were not formerly seen by our naked consumer’s eye. The idea that the bottles we keep for a few hours were days or weeks in the making is an expansive idea that is truly impressive. In light of the globalization of our world due to improvements in technology and communication, it is crazy to think that our farthest reaching contacts would come through liquid in a plastic jail.  

Works Cited

"100% Bio-Plastic Water Bottles Trickle Into Marketplace." Environmental Leader RSS. Business Sector Media, LLC, 8 Mar. 2010. Web. 19 Sept. 2014.

Dell'Amore, Solvie. "Why Tap Water Is Better Than Bottled Water." National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 10 Mar. 2010. Web. 19 Sept. 2014.

"History of Plastic | US Plastic Corporation." History of Plastic | US Plastic Corporation.United States Plastic Corporation, 13 Aug. 2003. Web. 19 Sept. 2014. <>.

Lights, Zion. "What's the Problem with Plastic Bottles?" One Green Planet. One Green Planet, 8 May 2012. Web. 19 Sept. 2014.           <>.