EIGHT REASONS … PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES

EIGHT REASONS TO RETHINK USING PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES: 

June 21st marks Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. The other half of our planet will move into winter then, but for those who share my half, we’ve already had proof that we’re headed to heat. (E.g., In mid-June Oman’s highest temperature for the day touched 49 ˚C —120 ˚F — in the capital.)

However, this blog is not about heat, nor about climate change, nor about the refugees it causes due to droughts and floods — though please note that June 20th is World Refugee Day. This blog is about bottled water. (Statistics vary; I did my best to use generally accepted numbers.)

About Water

First let’s rethink the value of water — the gift that dates to the stars and required billions of years to accumulate on our planet. All life (that we know about) started and survived because of it. Presumably, all future humans and species will depend on it. Water plays a key role in religious rituals such as baptisms. Water is essential for growing crops, providing beauty and renewal; it cools us …. Sister Water merits our respect and care!

About Plastic Water Bottles

In 1973,  a DuPont engineer patented polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, the first to be used for bottling water. Its light weight and resistance to breaking seemed advantageous. But would people buy a free product?  Indeed they have, and while it’s sometimes necessary, the rest seems to be nothing but clever advertising and dependence on convenience. What follows applies to all plastic bottles, but focuses on water because there are easy alternatives.

Even Pope Francis has asked us to reduce use of both plastic and water. From Laudato Si’:

There is a nobility to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle. Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption  ….. (par. 211)

Here are eight reasons to rethink the use of plastic water bottles:

1. You testify that drinking water is a human right, not a for-profit commodity —

Water is absolutely essential in maintaining human life, and nothing can substitute for it. On 28 July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights. ( Resolution 64/292)

2. You save the water used to make plastic bottles — 

For a true water footprint, consider all freshwater used in production: water used for drilling the petroleum for the plastic, water used in production, water used making packaging. It takes a minimum of 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water, but amounts could be up to six or seven times greater when everything is considered.

3. You save the water put into the bottles — 

Activists throughout the world strongly object to having their water bottled and sold back to them. The damage to their loved locales cannot be repaired. Companies take scarce water and sacred water. It’s a matter of justice! There are 50 billion water bottles consumed every year, about 30 billion of them in the U.S. Do the math.

4. You save the energy used to make and transport plastic bottles — 

Producing, packaging and transporting a liter of bottled water requires between 1,100 and 2,000 times more energy on average than treating and delivering the same amount of tap water, according to the Pacific Institute. Scientists of the Pacific Institute estimate that just producing the plastic bottles for bottled-water consumption worldwide uses 50 million barrels of oil annually—enough to supply total U.S. oil demand for 2.5 days. We all know how fossil fuels damage our climate.

If you imagine that every bottle of water you drink is about three-quarters water and one-quarter oil, you’ll have a pretty accurate picture of how much energy it takes to put that bottle of water in your hand.

5. You prevent pollution from bottles which, even if recycled, take years to disintegrate — 

There is no “away” to throw things to. About 13 percent of empty bottles are recycled, where they are turned into products like fleece clothing, carpeting, decking, playground equipment and new containers and bottles. (Three cheers for the companies that do this!)

The bottles not properly recycled end in landfills or in the ocean. Those fragments absorb toxins that pollute our waterways, contaminate our soil, and sicken animals. Plastic trash also absorbs organic pollutants like BPA and PCBs. They may take centuries to decompose while sitting in landfills, amounting to endless billions of little environmentally poisonous time bombs.

Plastic bottles and plastic bags that break down into smaller fragments over time are the most prevalent form of pollution found on our beaches and in our oceans. Every square mile of the ocean has over 46,000 pieces of floating plastic in it! Millions of pieces of plastic debris float in five large subtropical gyres in the world’s oceans. But even more plastic might be on the oceans’ floor, doing damage we can’t yet study.

“Besides providing food and raw materials, the oceans provide various essential environmental benefits such as air purification, a significant role in the global carbon cycle, climate regulation, waste management, the maintenance of food chains and habitats that are critical to life on earth.” (from Cardinal Turkson’s recent statement to the United Nations)

6. You protect fish, birds, and humans from effects of plastic pollution —

Birds and their young die from eating and being strangled by plastic debris in oceans and on land strewn with plastic pollution. These ingested chemicals can then affect humans when we eat contaminated fish. Not only are we severely harming the land, air and water around us, but the rest of the world has to pay the price for our thoughtless over-consumption. Our children and generations to come will be dealing with the problems we caused.

7. You avoid the toxins that can leach from plastic bottles — 

A thorough study by CertiChem found that more than 95 percent of the 450 plastic items tested proved positive for estrogen after undergoing sunlight, dishwashing, and microwaving. Even BPA-free products tested positive for released chemicals having estrogenic activity.

8. You save lots of money!

And so

Where safe drinking water is not available due to scarcity or pollution, plastic water bottles are needed. Otherwise, to protect the future of our beloved (and only) planet, our water and food supply, our climate, our oceans — use a thermos with tap water. Many varieties of faucet filters and pitcher filters exist. Group events can supply pitchers of water and glasses — or drinking stations with compostable cups. Some cities, universities, stores (e.g., Selfridges) and tourist areas (e.g., the Grand Canyon) have banned the sale of bottled water; some supplied drinking stations. Alert those who are unaware. To quote Pope Francis again: There is a nobility to care for creation through little daily actions.

Do You Know Where You Live?

Inventions like GPS and Google Earth help us to know where we are. Settle for those, however, and you know only a partial answer to the question: Do you know where you live?

But first, a simple quiz.

1. What do you call this?

2. What do you call this?

If your answers were not sunrise or sunset, congratulations! You can probably skip to the end.* For the others:

Unlike those who flatly rejected what scientists Aristarchus of Samos, Nicolaus Copernicus, and Galileo Galilei had discovered, we’d probably all answer this question correctly:       Does the Sun circle the Earth each day?

We KNOW that it does not, but misleading “evidence” still prevents our integrating that knowledge. In spite of knowing better, most people think of themselves on a flat Earth with the Sun doing the traveling. Not too surprising, actually. That’s what it looks like.

Many of us can thank Brian Swimme for an experience that helps us FEEL ourselves part of a huge planet rotating a full rotation each 24 hours while also whirling around the Sun. In Hidden Heart of the Cosmos, pp. 26 – 30, Swimme suggests we try an experience in the evening. Since I can look east to Lake Michigan, it was easier for me to try it in the morning. Here’s what I did:

When the night sky began to lighten, I went to the beach and consciously rooted myself in the sand on which I sat. I gradually expanded that realization to my neighborhood, city, state, country, hemisphere, the entire planet; and inward to Earth’s atmosphere, crust, mantle, and core. How immense! By then it was not too challenging to imagine myself part of the whole.


As Swimme recommends in Hidden Heart, I found Venus which, he explains, is “65 million miles from the Sun, about a third closer than the Earth, which is 93 million miles from the Sun. [All the planets] are moving in a single plane around the Sun.” While numbers aren’t essential, do remember that Venus is one third closer to the Sun.


In addition to the importance of depth perception for this experiment, it is also important to envision how huge the Sun is — its volume is  approximately a million times the size of Earth.

Keeping those relationships in mind, I pictured the gigantic Sun NOT MOVING below the horizon. (It does move slightly, but not around us.) As the first sliver of the Sun appeared and slowly became larger, I FELT that I was tipping toward it. I FELT the urge to grab the ground. This was a very new — and disorienting — experience!

However, that’s not the only way we are moving. Brother Sun is powerfully whirling our Earth and the other planets around it by its gravitational power. If the Sun lost this pull, we would “sail off into deep space.” Wow!

In my experience, once FELT, never forgotten. Life goes on and I no longer lose my balance concentrating on this. But I am always deepening my consciousness of moving east, especially when I look at the lake. I always note where East is when I go someplace new because I need to know which way Earth and I are traveling in the bigger picture.

The Solar System, however, is not the last word about where we are. Our Solar System is a speck within the Milky Way Galaxy, which is but one of billions of galaxies in our universe. I think our consciousnesses need to evolve before we can comprehend the full extent of where we are — and how united we are on our precious planet. We can each contribute to that evolution!

Next time you look out at the stars — which, with a little imagination, we can do during the day — stop for a moment to consider the reality of where you really are! When I do, it challenges me to reject the dated concept of heaven as “above,” and to consider what Jesus meant when he spoke in Aramaic about heaven. According to visioncraft.org/aramaic/intro.htm, “D’bwashmaya conjures the images of light, sound, and vibration spreading out and pervading all. In essence, then, ‘heaven’ is conceived not so much as a place but as a dimension of reality that is present everywhere.” And that challenges me to deepen my conception of the divine – all because I know where I live!

* To date, we do not have universal terms to replace “sunrise” and “sunset” because too few live in the reality of where they are. Please share (in comments) updated language that works for you. Thanks!

 

Where Did You Come From?

For me, a fast answer could be “Chicago.” A better truth requires the love story of my parents —  and the love story of each of their parents, and the love story …. Stories within stories, all embedded in mystery!

Do you ever wish you had asked your grandparents more questions, or listened more carefully  to the stories of their lives? Our own stories make little sense untethered from the stories of our parents and ancestors — all the way back.

Because so many people spend time and money tracing their ancestry, at least 100 genealogy sites exist. Seekers are proud to trace ancestors back centuries, usually the farther back the better. This image (from http://gcbias.org/ 2013/11/11) traces males in red and females in blue. I googled “How many ancestors can one trace?” but the genetic complications were too overwhelming to summarize here.

Still, we know we had to have a beginning. Shakespeare, through King Lear, assures us that Nothing can come of nothing; Julie Andrews, playing Maria in The Sound of Music, reminded us of that in her beloved song, “Something Good.”

In A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson begins his Introduction with a splendid travelogue detailing our beginnings. The following excerpt follows his section on atoms:

But the fact that you have atoms and that they assemble in such a willing manner is only part of what got you here. To be here now, alive in the twenty-first century and smart enough to know it, you also had to be the beneficiary of an extraordinary string of biological good fortune.

After some information on species, he continues:

Not only have you been lucky enough to be attached since time immemorial to a favored evolutionary line, but you have also been extremely — make that miraculously — fortunate in your personal ancestry. Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth’s mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result — eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly — in you.

But wait! There’s more! How amazing it is that planet Earth hosts life at all! One or more life-giving planets besides ours might eventually be discovered, but consider how rare it/they will be in this universe of billions of galaxies, each with billions of suns!

In our lifetimes, scientists have learned how, after our universe began, stars formed,  died and exploded material that formed into new stars until one resulted in our galaxy, our solar system, our planet, us. Scientists recently detected light from the oldest space dust, galaxy A2744_YD4. (C.f. image at right.) It began its journey 13.2 billion years ago, when the universe was only 600 million years old!

Curt Stager, in Your Atomic Self: The Invisible Elements That Connect You to Everything Else in the Universe, gives us this poetic account:

To look into the night sky is to survey distant gardens in which the elements of life are ripening, and your body is a composite harvest from these cosmic fields. Throughout history, people have spoken of the earth as our mother and the sun as our father … In an atomic sense, however, it would be more accurate to think of the earth and the sun as our siblings, because they both formed from the same star debris as the elements of life within us. Earth is indeed a kind of surrogate mother to us in that our bodies are derived from it, but we exist today only because our true celestial star mothers died long ago.  

If one has a pulse, this information results in wordless awe and reverence for the profound mystery of all being and the spirit within it.

No less a scientist than Albert Einstein wrote many profound things about this. Among them:

Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is indeed quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.

Einstein believed the following:

The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness.

One last quote, from Ilia Delio in a recent National Catholic Reporter’s Global Sisters Report:

Teilhard de Chardin … thought that we must reinvent ourselves religiously, and he set about his life’s work toward this goal. We have yet to realize, however, a new synthesis between science and religion, a type of religion that is at home in an unfinished universe.

I think co-creating that synthesis is at the heart of ecospirituality. One starts with “Where did I come from?”  and continues the love story with “What does it mean to reinvent myself religiously?” No doubt the life, death, life motif so evident throughout the universe story and at this liturgical season provides an important clue.