Reducing our impact, one bottle of water at a time

Sep 9, 2008 at 10:04 p.m. ET

It's so easy to pick up a case of water at the market each week. I usually have two cases in various states of dissemination -- one in the house and one in the car. But even though the bottles are recyclable -- and we do recycle them -- I've started feeling not right about the whole thing. The bottles take up so much space in the recycling bin, and our town water isn't that bad, is it? Good to recycle instead of throw in the garbage, of course, but isn't it better not to make the waste at all?

Water Bottles
Recently, when our town went to a pay-as-you-throw system with single stream recycling (meaning we pay for each bag of garbage we throw out, but don't have to sort recyclables), we were all required to think more about what we were throwing away. I'd been a fair-weather composter before, but now I'm strict and consistent. Same with every kind and size of recyclable. We've been careful enough that it now costs us less to get rid of our garbage on a monthly basis then it did before. Yay us!

But the bottles. The seemingly endless number of plastic bottles. How to get rid of all those bottles

Upon evaluation, I determined that it was a two-fold issue: quality of water and ways to transport it. Both easy issues to solve.

First the water

While our town water isn't bad, it's not fabulous either. The easy answer is to get some kind of a water filtration system. The easiest of filtration is the pitcher solution - a pitcher with an integrated filter. I tried that once. It was like playing chicken to see who would fill up the pitcher regularly, so eventually gave up. Then there are the filtration systems integrated to the house's water system. Too much.

The compromise is a filtration system that fits on your kitchen faucet. And that's what I did - I purchased a not top of the line, not bottom of the line filter system that attaches to my ordinary kitchen faucet, and I can turn the filtration on or off as needed. Why, after all, do I need to wash dishes with filtered water?

It was easy to install and the resulting water tastes pretty good.

Then it's the bottles

Next it was ways to transport the filtered water. Again, easy to address, but a touch more expensive. I've seen those cool aluminum water bottles with fun designs and in cool colors - but for one each for a family of five? It's not so cheap. Did I jump the gun in buying that filtration system? I could reuse plastic water bottles, of course (another way to recycle), but I can't keep up on the latest research as to whether it is or is not okay to use those over and over again. Lately it's not.

I decided to do the math, and that convinced me. Right now, we spend probably $30 a month on bottled water (six cases a month) -- a shocking $360 a year! The faucet filtration was $30, and replacement filters are $15. At 5 filters a year, that's $75. So -- $100 for all the aluminum water bottles, $105 for the filtration system plus filters...that's $205. Still a $155 savings over a year. That may not seem like a lot, but every bit counts, right? For the second year, the savings is even higher. We'd have only the replacement filter costs the second year, so our savings would be $295.

So I did it. I did it all.

Emphasizing the reduce part of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle"

Each of us has our own water bottle now in a funky design. I think we're drinking more water overall. And I'm thrilled to have a slightly smaller recyclables bucket to lug to the town transfer station each week. Whether this keeps up, only time will tell, but we're making the effort. Every little bit helps.

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