The link below is to an article that takes a look at the 2018 Whitely Awards for Nature Conservation.
Shopping can be confusing at the best of times, and trying to find environmentally friendly options makes it even more difficult. Our Sustainable Shopping series asks experts to provide easy eco-friendly guides to purchases big and small. Send us your suggestions for future articles here.
We have many options when it comes to how we drink water, given the large range of consumer products available, and Australia’s high standards of tap water.
But which option is the smartest choice from an environmental perspective?
According to the waste management hierarchy, the best option is one that avoids waste altogether. Recyclable options are less preferable, and landfill disposal the worst of all.
For water bottles, this suggests that keeping and reusing the same bottle is always best. It’s certainly preferable to single-use bottles, even if these are recyclable.
Of course, it’s hardly revolutionary to point out that single-use plastic bottles are a bad way to drink water on environmental grounds. Ditching bottled water in favour of tap water is a very straightforward decision.
However, choosing what reusable bottle to drink it out of is a far more complex question. This requires us to consider the whole “life cycle” of the bottle.
Cycle of life
Life-cycle assessment is a method that aims to identify all of the potential environmental impacts of a product, from manufacture, to use, to disposal.
A 2012 Italian life-cycle study confirmed that reusable glass or plastic bottles are usually more eco-friendly than single-use PET plastic bottles.
However, it also found that heavy glass bottles have higher environmental impacts than single-use PET bottles if the distance to refill them was more than 150km.
Granted, you’re unlikely ever to find yourself more than 150km from the nearest drinking tap. But this highlights the importance of considering how a product will be used, as well as what it is made of.
What are the reusable options?
In 2011, we investigated and compared the life cycles of typical aluminium, steel and polypropylene plastic reusable bottles.
Steel and aluminium options shared the highest environmental impacts from materials and production, due to material and production intensity, combined with the higher mass of the metal bottles, for the same number of uses among the options. The polypropylene bottle performed the best.
Polypropylene bottles are also arguably better suited to our lifestyles. They are lighter and more flexible than glass or metal, making them easier to take to the gym, the office, or out and about.
The flip side of this, however, is that metal and glass bottles may be more robust and last longer, so their impacts may be diluted with prolonged use – as long as you don’t lose them or replace them too soon.
Health considerations are an important factor for many people too, especially in light of new research about the presence of plastic particles in drinking water.
Other considerations aside, is may even be best to simply buy a single-use PET plastic water bottle and then reuse it a bunch of times. They are lighter than most purpose-designed reusable bottles, but still long-lasting. And when they do come to the end of their useful life, they are more easily recycled than many other types of plastic.
Sure, you won’t look very aspirational, but depending on how many uses you get (as you approach the same number of uses as other options), you could be doing your bit for the environment.
Maintaining reusable options
There are a few things to bear in mind to ensure that reusable bottles produce as little waste as possible.
Refill from the tap, as opposed to using water coolers or other bottled water that can come from many kilometres away, requiring packaging and distribution. Unsurprisingly, tap water has the lowest environmental impacts of all the options.
Clean your bottle thoroughly, to keep it hygienic for longer and avoid having to replace grotty bottles. While cleaning does add to the environmental impact, this effect is minor in comparison to the material impacts of buying new bottles – as we have confirmed in the case of reusable coffee cups.
To reduce your environmental impacts of a drink of water, reusing a bottle, whether a designer bottle or a single-use bottle you use time and again, makes the most sense from a life-cycle, waste and litter perspective.
The maintenance of your reusable container is also key, to make sure you get as many uses as you can out of it, even if you create minor additional environmental impacts to do so.
Ultimately, drinking directly from a tap or water fountain is an even better shout, if you have that option. Apart from the benefit of staying hydrated, you will reduce your impacts on our planet.
Humans may be Earth’s apex predator, but the fleeting shadow of a vulture or the glimpse of a big cat can cause instinctive fear and disdain. But new evidence suggests that predators and scavengers are much more beneficial to humans than commonly believed, and that their loss may have greater consequences than we have imagined.
Conflict between these species and people, coupled with dramatic habitat loss, is causing unprecedented predator and scavenger declines. Nearly three-fourths of all vulture species are on a downward spiral. African lions are projected to lose half of their range in the coming decades and leopards have lost upwards of 75% of their historic range. Many bat species are facing extinction.
In a recent paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution, we summarised recent studies across the globe looking at the services predators and scavengers can provide, from waste disposal to reducing car crashes.
The many roles our fanged friends play
Animals that eat meat play vital roles in our ecosystems. One of the most outstanding examples we found was that of agricultural services by flying predators, such as insectivorous birds and bats.
We found studies that showed bats saving US corn farmers over US$1 billion in pest control because they consume pest moths and beetles. Similarly, we found that without birds and bats in coffee plantations of Sulawesi, coffee profits are reduced by US$730 per hectare.
It’s not just birds and bats that help farmers. In Australia, dingoes increase cattle productivity by reducing kangaroo populations that compete for rangeland grasses (even when accounting for dingoes eating cattle calves).
This challenges the notion that dingoes are solely vermin. Rather, they provide a mixture of both costs and benefits, and in some cases their benefits outweigh the costs. This is particularly important as dingoes have been a source of conflict for decades.
Predators and scavengers also significantly reduce waste in and around human habitation. This keeps down waste control costs and even reduces disease risk.
For example, golden jackals reduce nearly 4,000 tons of domestic animal waste per year in Serbia and over 13,000 tons across urban areas in Europe. Vultures can reduce over 20% of organic waste in areas of the Middle East. In India, vultures have been implicated in reducing rabies risk by reducing the carcasses that sustain the stray dog population.
One piece of research showed that if mountain lions were recolonised in the eastern United States, they would prey on enough deer to reduce deer-vehicle collisions by 22% a year. This would save 150 lives and more than US$2 billion in damages.
Weighing up the costs and benefits
Although these species provide clear benefits, there are well known costs associated with predators and scavengers as well. Many predators and scavengers are a source of conflict, whether it is perceived or real; particularly pertinent in Australia is the ongoing debate over the risk of shark attacks.
These drastic costs of predators and scavengers are rare, yet they attract rapt media attention. Nevertheless, many predators and scavengers are rapidly declining due to their poor reputation, habitat loss and a changing climate.
It’s time for a change in the conservation conversation to move from simply discussing the societal costs of predators and scavengers to a serious discussion of the important services that these animals provide in areas we share. Even though we may rightly or wrongly fear these species, there’s no doubt that we need them.
The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of Dr Hawthorne Beyer and Alexander Braczkowski.
Christopher O’Bryan, PhD Candidate, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland; Eve McDonald-Madden, Senior lecturer, The University of Queensland; James Watson, Professor, The University of Queensland, and Neil Carter, Assistant Professor, College of Innovation and Design, Boise State University