Is Bottled Water Bad for the Environment?

Water BottleHow much water does it take to make a bottle of water? The answer, critics claim, is greater than the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) admits. According to the results of a recently released IBWA report, the bottled water industry needs 1.39 liters (L) to produce 1 L of bottled water. That’s less water than is required for soda (2.02 L), beer (4.0 L), wine (4.74 L), or hard liquor (34.55 L).

So do environmentalists prefer Evian to Coca-Cola, microbrews to merlot, and anything that’s drinkable to Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam? Let’s quench our thirst for analysis before buying anyone the next round. The water activists who dispute the IBWA’s calculations accuse the beverage industry of underreporting the size of its “water footprint” as well as its “carbon footprint”. Do they make a convincing case?

Through a Glass Darkly

Environmentalists have long argued that bottled water is wasteful because it’s resource-intensive. Some activists have even claimed that bottled water is bad for the environment because plastic bottles require petroleum, a fossil fuel. Critics also cite pollution ranging from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to plastic water bottles that, when improperly discarded, litter city streets.

As conneissuers of mineral water will note, however, their favorite products aren’t always packaged in plastic. There’s Perrier with its signature green glass bottles, of course, but there are also brands such as Hildon and Saint Géron that feature clear glass. These mineral waters may be more popular in Europe than North America, but let the record show that not all bottled water is packaged in plastic.

Petroleum and PETE

If you take a look around your office though, you’re more likely to see co-workers sipping water from clear plastic containers. Most of these disposable bottles are made of polyethylene terephthalate, (PET or PETE), a lightweight plastic that’s clear, tough, and shatterproof. As the American Chemistry Council explains, PET plastics also provide an excellent barrier to oxygen, carbon dioxide, and water.

In recent years, PET water bottles have been criticized because of their alleged health effects. The Canadian Cancer Society separates myths from facts, but let’s keep our focus on the environmental debate. Like many other plastics, PET is made of petroleum hydrocarbons. This material is formed into bottles through blow molding or even thermoforming – processes that often require fossil fuels.

Carbon and Water Footprints

PET plastic’s “carbon footprint” doesn’t end there, however. After water bottles are filled, they’re moved to market by methods, such as rail or trucking, that typically burn fossil fuels. From production to transportation then, bottled water consumes resources that some environmentalists would prefer to leave in the ground. Even the extraction of the oil that’s used to make PETE requires fuel.

For critics of the IBWA’s recent study, however, there’s also a “water footprint” to measure. Although the industry claims that producing a 1-L bottle of water requires just 1.39-L of H2O, water activists cite processes that the IBWA has overlooked. For example, just drilling for the oil that’s used to make PET bottles requires groundwater. Water (and energy) is also needed to make paper labels and adhesives.

Then there’s the water used in PET manufacturing to consider. According to the Pacific Institute, “twice as much water is used in the production process”, meaning that “every liter sold represents three liters of water”. The group’s Bottled Water and Energy Fact Sheet does not explain how it calculated this estimate, and reserves most of its number-crunching for energy consumption.

Thirst for Knowledge

So how much water does it really take to make a bottle of water? If the IBWA’s estimate is too low, what would be the environmental impact of using bioplastics instead of PET? Are activists who would leave all of the petroleum in the ground accounting for how tractors typically burn gasoline, diesel fuel, or LP gas? Moving bioplastic bottles to market would also mean using vehicles that burn fossil fuels.

The bioplastic production process is especially important to consider, both in terms of energy usage and water consumption. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the bioplastics used for water bottles are all made in carbon-neutral factories. How does a bioplastic such as polylactic acid (PLA), which is derived from corn, compare to PET in terms of water requirements?

As the eco-friendly organization World Centric reports, producing one pound of PET plastic consumes 7.44 gallons of water. Producing PLA plastic is less energy-intensive and has lower carbon emissions, but requires more water – 8.29 gallons to be precise. PLA bioplastic also requires more water than polypropylene (PP), a thermoplastic polymer that’s used in commercial and industrial applications.

Join the Conversation

Are you thirsty yet? Join the conversation. Look for my post with a link to this blog entry on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. Elasto Proxy has pages on all of these social media websites, so all that’s missing is you! We also hope you’ll subscribe to our free e-newsletters, too. They’re a great source of information delivered right to your email inbox.

Inflatable Bike Helmets and Airbag Technology

Bike Helmet

Image source:

Doug Sharpe
President of Elasto Proxy

This is a picture of a woman wearing a bicycle helmet. The collar around her neck may look like a scarf, but it’s actually an airbag. If she falls from her bike, an inflatable helmet will deploy and provide shock absorption. The pressure will remain constant for several seconds, enabling her to withstand multiple head impacts during a cycling accident. After that, the Hövding begins to slowly deflate.

Safety Meets Comfort

Made in Sweeden, the Hövding airbag helmet is a lightweight but tech-heavy alternative to those traditional plastic-and-Styrofoam helmets that many bicyclists accept but dislike. Available on the Web and in some European stores, this innovative protective device is also a YouTube sensation. So how reliable is the Hövding? Are cyclists sacrificing safety for comfort?

The answers to these questions can be found in the sensors and algorithm that enable the Hövding to distinguish safe biking from cycling accidents. Designed by mathematicians, electrical engineers, and airbag experts, the electronics-equipped collar causes the airbag to deploy during a crash – but not if raindrops or leaves fall atop the cyclist’s head.

When inflated, the Hövding’s airbag provides a larger area of head protection than traditional bike helmets. There’s also a “black box” that captures 10-seconds worth of accident data for subsequent analysis and algorithmic improvements. The company would like bicyclists involved in accidents to share their data, but does not actively monitor Hövding usage.

Electronic Components and Rubber Materials

Bicyclists who wear the battery-powered Hövding can recharge the device via USB connections on computers or mobile phone chargers. The battery lasts for about 18 hours, and uses LED lights and an audible alert to signal that power is low. For cyclists who demand not only comfort and safety but also fashion, there’s a selection of colorful shells for the collar.

During an accident, however, even the most fashion-conscious bicyclist will be grateful for the Hövding’s plain-looking but reliable airbag hood. Made of strong nylon fabric, it won’t rip when scraped against the ground. Like traditional bike helmets, however, the Hövding doesn’t offer whole-head protection. To preserve the bicyclist’s field of vision, the face remains exposed.

The hood’s super-strong nylon is important, but so is the gas inflator that fills it with compressed helium. Housed in a holder inside the collar, this gas-filled canister rests on the cyclist’s back for proper weight distribution. Specifications for the canister aren’t listed on-line, but its control valve probably uses an NBR seal that can withstand helium and aging while maintaining proper pressure.

Rubber Seals and the Evolution of the Airbag

Years ago, I toured an airbag factory. As the co-founder and co-owner of a company that provides custom sealing solutions, I remember thinking how even the mixing machines that make airbag collars require inflatable seals. I also remember learning how airbag technology is tailored to an automaker’s specific needs, and how airbags must account for speed and force.

Automotive airbag technology has evolved significantly since airbags first became required safety features. Airbag injuries, especially to children, have sparked both technical advances and regulatory changes. Today, both passenger cars and light-duty trucks are equipped with sensors that cause front airbags to deploy with less force – or not all. Airbag shapes and sizes are different, too.

Hövding’s technology is impressive, but how well will its airbags last over time? Given a choice between using compressed gas or gas-producing chemicals, North American automakers opted for the latter. In addition to space considerations, engineers worried that a compressed gas canister might not remain at pressure for the life of the car. This concern shows why seal selection is so important, and how a rubber seal must meet all of an application’s requirements.

Join the Conversation

Would you wear a Hövding inflatable air helmet on your next bike ride? Do you need sealing solutions that meet demanding requirements for aging and pressure, and that must resist a compressed gas such as helium?

Join the conversation. Look for my post with a link to this blog entry on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. Elasto Proxy has pages on all of these social media websites, so all that’s missing is you!  We also hope you’ll subscribe to our free e-newsletters, a great source of information delivered right to your email inbox.


Would You Fly on a Spacecraft Made of Aerospace Plastics?

Tissue-Equivalent Plastic (TEP)
A block of tissue-equivalent plastic (TEP) Credit: UNH

Clyde Sharpe
President of International Sales

Is aluminum the best choice for building the bodies of space vehicles? Pure aluminum lacks the tensile strength needed for airplanes and helicopters, but aluminum alloys with magnesium and silicon are materials of choice in spacecraft. Pound for pound, alloys such as aluminum 6061 with T6 temper are stronger than some steel alloys. Aluminum aerospace alloys offer flame and chemical resistance, too.

So why would scientists and engineers consider plastic parts instead? Although aluminum alloys are lightweight – a key consideration in applications where every pound or kilogram counts – they provide relatively little protection against the high-energy cosmic rays that would harm humans on a mission to Mars. High-performance aerospace plastics offer additional benefits as well.

Tissue-Equivalent Plastics (TEP)

Spaceflight exposes travelers to several forms of radiation. Radiation belts around Earth trap charged particles from the Sun, which also erupts in solar flares that release intense radiation. Cosmic rays from objects outside our solar system also bombard spacecraft with high-energy particles. Like solar flares, these cosmic rays can also cause electromagnetic interference (EMI) with spacecraft instruments.

Astronauts with the Apollo program were subjected to only minor doses of radiation because they were outside of Earth’s orbit for just a few days. A manned mission to Mars, or even a long-term stay on the Moon, would require scientists and engineers to develop space vehicles with much more shielding. At the same time, any such “space age” material must all meet all other mission requirements.

According to researchers from the University of New Hampshire and Southwest Research Institute, tissue-equivalent plastics (TEP) have promise. Using observations made by the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER), the researchers determined that TEP, which simulates human muscle, provides better shielding than aluminum against radiation in space.

High-Performance Aerospace Plastics

The advantages of high-performance plastics are well-known in the aviation and aerospace industries. Plastics are approximately 50% lighter than aluminum and, unlike other metals, do not corrode. Modern polymers also provide a high degree of design freedom and can be fabricated into custom components. Fiber-reinforced plastics (FRP) offer increased strength and resistance to deformation.

Aerospace manufacturers also use transparent plastics, a lightweight, impact-resistant alternative to glass. Plastics with modified sliding properties are recommended for dry applications under extreme conditions because of their lubrication properties. High-performance aerospace plastics also offer high thermal and mechanical stability, inherent flame resistance, and a low degree of thermal expansion.

Join the Conversation

Would you fly on a spacecraft made of plastic parts? To join the conversation, look for my post with a link to this blog entry on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. Elasto Proxy has pages on all of these social media websites, so all that’s missing is you!  We also hope you’ll subscribe to our free e-newsletters. They’re a great source of information delivered right to your email inbox.

The global aerospace market is growing, and Elasto Proxy will continue to bring you insights about the role of high-quality rubber and plastic components. As a supplier of sealing solutions to the aerospace industry, our custom fabrication capabilities include hatch seals, door and window seals, interior sealing products, and thermal and acoustic insulation for airframes aircraft engines. Keep in touch!

Will Wind Energy Power Your Company’s Future?

Wind Generation in Brazil
Wind energy is helping to power Brazil, the world’s seventh largest economy

Clyde Sharpe
President of International Sales

What do Brazil, the Great Plains, the North Sea, and northern China have in common? They’re parts of the world where the winds blow strong and the potential for wind energy is incredible. Once criticized for its complexity and cost, wind power projects now generate nearly 300 gigawatts (GW) of electricity worldwide. That’s nearly triple the electricity-producing potential of Brazil alone.

Water, Wind, and Renewable Energy

What does wind power mean for Brazil, a land of plentiful rivers and dams – and home to the world’s seventh largest economy? Although hydropower will remain Brazil’s main source of electricity, experts remember the drought-driven energy crisis of 2001. Today, Brazil’s High Wilderness Wind Complex – the largest collection of wind turbines in Latin America – is nearing completion.

“Wind is the perfect complement for the hydro base that we have in Brazil,” explains Mathias Becker, president of Renova Energia, the São Paulo wind energy company that’s building High Wilderness in Brazil’s semi-arid northeast. “When it rains, we don’t have wind. When the wind blows, there is no rain.” For Becker, whose initial investment of $5000 is now a $1.5-billion business, the future is bright indeed.

Brazil’s energy demands are growing so fast that energy production must increase by 50% over the next decade just to keep pace. Russia, India, and China are also expanding their power generation capabilities to avoid an energy crunch. Today, more than 25% of the world’s wind power capacity is in China, an economic powerhouse that produced over 75,000 megawatts (MW) of wind energy last year.

Electricity and Economic Growth

Will wind farms help Brazil to avoid blackouts like the one much of the nation experienced in 2001? Will windmills provide 10% of the nation’s generating capacity by 2021, an ambitious goal but one that would provide almost enough power for São Paulo, South America’s largest city? For other wind-driven parts of the world, can wind turbines support not just consumer demand but economic growth?

In the United States, wind power is now nearly 50% of all new electricity-generating capacity. Here in Canada, where Elasto Proxy is headquartered, the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) predicts that wind farms will add another 1,500 megawatts (MW) to the grid by year’s end. Europe leads the way in offshore wind farms, with the London Array producing enough electricity for a half-million homes.

If your business supports green power projects like wind farms, now is the time to strengthen your supply chain to service existing installations and meet growing demand. Whether you make solar panels, hydroelectric turbines, windmills, or wind turbines, your company needs to know that it can count on high-quality, on-time deliveries of rubber and plastic products such as sealing and insulation.

Wind Energy Technology Goes On-Line

Recently, Elasto Proxy connected with wind power partners at IHS GlobalSpec’s Wind Energy Technology event. Visitors to our virtual tradeshow booth learned how we supply high-quality rubber profiles for windmill blades and nacelles. With over 20 years’ wind energy experience, Elasto Proxy also designs and fabricates door seals, hatch and lightning gaskets, acoustic insulation panels, and anti-vibration mats.

This year’s Wind Energy Technology event is over, but you can still connect with Elasto Proxy on-line. Contact our solutions providers via our website, or visit us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and now Google+.  Ask about our sales office in China, and what our trade missions to Brazil could mean for potential partners like you. Subscribe to our newsletters, too.

The world’s wind power market is growing, and Elasto Proxy will continue to bring you insights about how wind energy can strengthen your company’s bottom line. Keep in touch!