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Solving Phuket’s plastic problem: 7 reasons to stop drinking bottled water

Solving Phuket’s plastic problem: 7 reasons to stop drinking bottled water

With the global pandemic and the lack of tourists, you would think that our beaches would be pristine and clean, but you’d be wrong. Despite our lack of visitors, the beaches are still inundated with plastic water bottles, bags and cigarettes, which means some of it is coming from us.

By Palmer Owyoung

Sunday 24 October 2021, 02:00PM

According to the non-profit EcoWatch, cigarette butts are the number one form of litter, followed by food wrappers, plastic drink bottles, and bottle caps, and grocery bags. 

A recent study led by the Institute for Global Health in Barcelona concluded that bottled water uses 3,500 times more resources and causes 1,400 more times damage to the ecosystem when compared to drinking tap water. If that doesn’t convince you to stop drinking bottled water, here are seven more reasons.

1. Pollution ‒ The world uses over 100 million plastic drink bottles every day, of which we recycle only 1 out of 5. The rest end up in landfills, on our beaches and in our waterways.

2. It’s expensive ‒ Bottled water is 240 to 10,000 times higher than what you pay for tap water. You are paying for the branding, processing and transportation of the water. According to one estimate, you can save about B12,500 per year by drinking filtered tap water.

3. Your health ‒ Most people drink bottled water because they think it’s healthier, but it’s not. A study from the World Health Organization found that 93% of the most popular water bottle brands had microplastics in them. Because there haven’t been long-term studies on the effects on human health, we’re not sure what they are doing to us. But some preliminary studies suggest they may be linked to both cancer and infertility in humans and animals.

An investigation by the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) revealed that many major water brands carried toxic chemicals, including fertiliser residue and disinfecting products, above state safety limits. Many of the brands tested were also nothing more than tap water, despite costing up to 1,900 times more.

4. Taste ‒ In multiple taste tests, drinkers could not discern between bottled and tap water. 

5. Corporate profiteering ‒ Clean drinking water is a basic human right. However, the public has been complicit in allowing corporations like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestle to exploit us by continuing to purchase their products. The bottled water industry remains one of the fastest-growing on the planet and made US$200 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at 11.1% per year through 2028. Boycotting bottled water means that you recognise that public access to clean, safe drinking water is a right.

6. It’s depleting clean water ‒ It takes three bottles of water to make a single bottle of water when you account for the drilling for the petroleum to make the bottle and the processing and transportation of the water. As the population grows and droughts and other climate-related events hit us, clean water will become more and more scarce.  

7. Climate change ‒ We use 100 million plastic bottles every day around the world. This requires lots of oil to produce them, and all of that water is heavy and needs to be transported across the country. From the most commonly cited study, the CO2 footprint for 1.5 litres is about 200 grammes per bottle. The average water bottle drinking household will consume about 800 bottles per year, which translates to 160kg CO2 or the equivalent of driving 368 miles (592 km) with a car. 

What You Can Do

The easiest thing to do is to buy a Brita water filter for your tap. These cost under B3,000. You also buy a water filter jug or water filter bottle both cost less than B2,000 and can save you thousands over a year. You can purchase these online at Lazada.

Some people don’t like the taste of plain water or the flatness of still water. The answer is to buy a soda machine that allows you to make carbonated water at home. If you don’t enjoy plain water, you can buy flavoured syrup like Teisseire from Villa Market and add it to either sparkling or flat water. This will not only reduce your carbon footprint, but will also reduce the number of plastic bottles that you use. 

Beach clean-ups are one of the best ways to keep plastic waste from entering the ocean, killing wildlife, and entering the food chain. A newly formed Facebook Group called Phuket Beach Cleanup started by Brad Barichievy, a recent transplant from South Africa, makes it easy to help keep your local beach clean.  

You should also boycott the major bottled water producers and their subsidiaries. These include Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestle

Potential Solutions

Several major cities around the world, including Los Angeles, Paris, London and Amsterdam, have installed drinking fountains and water bottle refilling stations around their cities to provide free, clean drinking water to their citizens. You can find them by using the Mymizu app that lists 200,000 water refill stations around the world. 

In 2019, Patong took the Plastic Smart City pledge to eliminate its plastic waste by 2030. Installing and maintaining clean water refill stations along the beach would help to achieve this goal.

Other Solutions

One simple solution for keeping cigarette butts off the beach that we’ve been using in Kamala is to tie a used metal oatmeal can (plastic bottles will burn) to a nearby tree or bench. Smokers often congregate in the same areas and when presented with the option of using an ashtray, they usually will. This has kept thousands of cigarette butts off the beach and from entering the oceans. 

If Phuket wants to continue being a world-class destination, it needs a clean ocean with clean beaches, which means it needs to step up its game by solving its plastic waste problem.

Palmer Owyoung is an environmental activist working with the Kamala Green Club and the Global Sustainability Hub.

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maverick | 28 October 2021 - 15:59:54

Cigarette butts take years to degrade terrible for the oceans 

Taswegian | 28 October 2021 - 13:40:29

BTW Kamala Pete, cigarette butts are probably the most toxic and hardest litter to degrade naturally in the environment! Unfortunately, they are slowly being replaced by face masks!

Taswegian | 28 October 2021 - 13:37:26

Sorry Christy, I have a Soda Stream and the bottle that charges the water is reusable. Only teenagers use the small cartridges now, and apparently that is to sniff the gas and get high. We have moved on from those times, and can choose the amount of carbonation we like. Singha soda water is extremely bubbly! 

Kamala Pete | 28 October 2021 - 11:51:08

Cigarette butts are not in the same league as plastics. A butt is made up of paper, cellulose, plant fiber and some ash. All totally biodegradable within days. Sure, they are unsightly, but not environmentally damaging. 

christysweet | 28 October 2021 - 10:41:18

Those soda machines also produce waste in way of cartridges. The author seems unaware  that Singha offers soda in reusable glass- been patronizing the product for years. 

maverick | 28 October 2021 - 09:29:00

Plastics are not the problem, disposal and recycling are glass bottles also environmentally unfriendly, manufacture and transport carbon negative and they are not even recycled, they get crushed ....

maverick | 28 October 2021 - 09:26:29

For anything to change awareness has to be driven through schools , both environmental and climate awareness should be part of the curriculum together with nutritional awareness - Thai kids are being poisoned by food industry far too much process food and sugar which all comes in plastic bottles, bags or containers 

christysweet | 27 October 2021 - 17:49:07

Simple. Charge a 10 baht deposit on ANY plastic beverage. Set up recycling centers  in every neighborhood that will also dispense clean drinking water at minimal cost in reusable containers only. It's   good earner for  low incomers,  too. The amount of plastic lining every street is disgusting and it all ends up in the ocean. 

CaptainJack69 | 27 October 2021 - 13:06:28

Reality check here pal, it's not "us" doing this. There is zero awareness in general Thai culture about personal responsibility for the environment and the effects are plain to see anywhere 'locals' congregate. You're preaching to the choir here mate.

It could be as simple as 7-eleven staff asking customers if they want a plastic bag.

But no. Nothing.


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