We recently had the pleasure of interviewing the very charismatic and enterprising owner of Beard Monster. Austin Pressley owns and operates his business out of Peachtree City, Georgia specializing in handcrafted beard care oils, balms, and washes along with mustache waxes and complimenting gifts and accessories. This DesignAShirt patron piqued our interest quickly as he offers uniquely formulated products for a very unique breed of clientele, the free spirited and unequivocally masculine bearded man.
What inspired you to start Beard Monster?
Austin Pressley- I've always worn long hair and facial hair. I learned about beard oil and tried it, and liked the results. When I looked into the ingredients and realized it was made of olive oil and fragrance, I was flabbergasted. Did I just pay $20 for a bottle of olive oil?! I wanted to make a better product for a better price, and knew that with a little effort, I could.
Which product was the first ever offered?
A.P.- Our beard oils were the first products we offered. I introduced our five main scents at the same time, along with a sample pack with a small bottle of each. We were originally selling on Etsy, and our first sale came through a couple of days after we opened up.
What if any, are your views about beards as a form of self-expression?
A.P.- Beards are as unique as the hair on our heads, and can be every bit as useful for self-expression. I think beards have become an important part of the expression of our identities as men, too. Grow them long, or keep them short if you choose. Braid them, stick flowers in them. Let them express who you are. I've always been a bit wild, so I have always had long hair and some degree of beard. But a beard can reflect the opposite, with a shorter, neater trim. There's a lot you can say with your beard that you can't really express with a smooth face.
You have a passionate fan base, what is about your brand that compels such devotion?
A.P.- The Beard Monster brand appeals to what some might call a "niche." Every other beard product company out there sells men on the idea that with their product, you'll become a dapper, well-coifed gentleman. As though every bottle of their beard oil came with an Armani suit. That's not the kind of guy I have ever wanted to be, and not the kind of guy my lady (and business partner) is interested in. Other beard companies try to appeal to the bearded man's desire to be George Clooney. We appeal to the men who would rather be Rob Zombie. The public has responded, I think, because that's a lot more men than anyone thought.
Why do you feel beards have made such a strong comeback in recent years?
A.P.- The "metrosexual" movement was something of a rejection of traditional notions of masculinity. And rejecting tradition in favor of a new way of thinking is great! But I think when men started "manscaping" and slipping on pink cardigans, we were going to far in the opposite direction. A lot of guys (myself included) saw that and pushed back. I didn't feel the metrosexual thing, and I showed it with long hair and a big beard. When a lot of guys started doing that, the trend pushed back toward a more traditionally masculine look. It's ultimately about accepting ourselves, I think. Be yourself, and express who that is with your look. And if you embrace the fact that you're a man, a mammal, and therefore a hairy beast, then grow out your mane and be proud of it.
Do you formulate your own oils and balms or work with a team?
A.P.- It's all me. My gal is my partner in crime, and she helps with making our products and shipping them, but the recipes all come from my twisted little brain.
Does beard etiquette exist and if so, can you detail what that involves?
A.P.- There's a quote that I see pop up a lot online: "When two beards cross paths, the larger beard has the right of way." It's funny, but it does reflect a kind of truth. A study I read (yes, I read studies about beards - I swear I'm not boring) said that with a nice beard, you're more likely to receive compliments from men than women. And it's true. I do receive compliments from women, but more often it's other bearded men who pass me in the grocery store and nod and say "nice beard, man." And I do the same. Beards are one of the only things guys always seem comfortable complimenting each other on. I don't know if that's an etiquette so to speak, but bearded men certainly have a sort of kinship.
We see you have retailers as far away as Brazil. How did that aspect of the business evolve?
A.P.- Honestly, our retailers have approached us. We started getting inquiries as our social followings grew, and we typed up a set of wholesale rules and began sending that out to anyone who was interested. We keep saying that we are going to get to work approaching some retailers, but we stay so busy with our own retail that we don't really do it. We just make the wholesale deals when interseted retailers ask about it.
What is in the works at Beard Monster?
A.P.- Right now I'm unrolling 5 new fragrances (one of which was anounced last week - the Witch's Brew, a coffee scent). I've also created a couple of new products that I will roll out in time. We are about to overhaul our beard kits as well, with some new tools that will make them way more complete. We're sponsoring a competitor in the Southeastern Beard and Moustache Championship in May, and we'll be going up there to cheer him on as well.
What purpose do the custom t-shirts serve?
A.P.- Beard product companies have a lot to do with expression and identity. The company you prefer speaks to who you are, and so there's a lot of brand loyalty. People want to wear the shirt of the company they buy from. We used to get a lot of requests for shirts, stickers, hats, that sort of thing. So we figured if our customers were asking for them, we better provide!
A few months back we ran across the Go Fund Me page for Fair Share Garden Urban Growers established by Joel Tippens. We were really interested in the concept of urban and community gardens but Joel’s organization moves beyond digging in the dirt simply for the love of tilled earth. Joel’s advocacy is to bring awareness to community food security issues in low income neighborhoods since the 90’s. We asked Joel to share with us some of the deeper concerns with the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables in poorer areas and the greater burdens the impoverished experience with the industrialized food systems in the U.S. Here’s what he had to say:
Can you share some facts about your background in community involvement and why and how you established Fair Share Garden?
Joel Tippens- I guess my journey with food began back in the 90's living in inner city Miami and getting to know several of our neighbors who were homeless. Every week I would cook up big pots of homemade chili and serve it up to about 75 to 100 folks who came to know me as 'the chili man.' But the first work with vegetable gardens began a few years later in Daytona Beach where we established our first community garden with a handful of folks.
We were asked the next year to help a local church start a community garden on a vacant lot that they owned, start a schoolyard garden with 4th graders at an elementary school, and another food garden project at a charter high school for teenage moms. Many college students worked with us to gain community service hours. In 2011 we moved Fair Share to Chattanooga to begin developing projects in low-income neighborhoods.
Can you explain what is meant by the concept of “food justice?”
J.T.- I think the simple definition of food justice has to do with folks having a choice in the food they want to serve in their household and a voice when the choices are limited. Many residents of low-income communities in our cities lose that choice and have no voice once the grocery store pulls out. These communities are identified as 'food deserts', which is a poor description because there is usually plenty of food-stuff for folks to eat, and that's the problem.
The choice of food in the community is limited to fast food joints, and non-perishable at the party store, gas station, or Dollar General. Veggies and fruit are usually absent. No one wants to be preached at about what they should be eating, but when your choice of food is limited this in this way it becomes a social justice issue.
The impacts on the health of the residents is significant with rising rates of heart disease, childhood diabetes and obesity. But our current food system does not function to feed people for wellness, but functions to make profits for the shareholders of the corporations that control it.
The system won't be changed anytime soon but we need to give more people a voice in how things can be changed for the better, for everyone. Particularly low-income communities of color. Someone once said that charity provides left-overs from the table, but justice provides a place at the table.
What is sustainable urban agriculture?
J.T.- Basically, urban agriculture can be defined as growing the farm within the city right where the people live. 'Sustainable' can mean many things, depending on who is using the term. All I know is that if you are depleting natural resources or damaging the environment then the method is certainly not sustainable.
Industrialized extractive agriculture is ruining what was once the best farmland on this continent and I don't know how we can wrestle the land out of the hands of those controlling that system. But one thing we can do is redeem unused land and make it productive. Sustainable urban agriculture can interrupt the waste stream and turn food scraps into compost, harvest rainwater for irrigation, and repurpose many free and found materials for building infrastructure.
The challenge will always be to what scale can the methods be used successfully, but many successful projects are time-tested and can be replicated in cities around the country.
What has Fair Share Urban Growers been doing lately to spread awareness of your campaign?
J.T.- The fist year we were very good at keeping a low-profile and except for a few key partners, very few people knew who we were at all. This was an intentional strategy based on a philosophy of simply getting to work and doing something rather than spending the time talking about what we were going to do.
We don't do any promotion for the sake of promotion. People learn of our work when we invite them to a meal and a movie event to raise awareness about urban agriculture. People learn of our work when we invite them to our plant sale which is held at the youth farm in the heart of the food desert.
Currently we are running our 'Truck Farm Tour' which is an old '75 Ford pickup planted with herbs, strawberries, and veggies. We roll the truck out to promote local restaurants that support local farmers and encourage people to start a backyard garden by demonstrating how much can be grown in a small space- even the bed of a pickup truck. Our truck farm is one of a fleet of truck farms inspired by an awesome little film created by Ian Cheney called 'Truck Farm'.
What skills or life lessons does operating the farmstand teach young people?
J.T.- The youth farmers operate the farmstand as part of the job-readiness training that the program offers. They work through developing a business plan for a small farm, a marketing strategy to reach the community, and learn a bit about pricing and profits.
Some of the youth lack excitement about the actual growing and production required, but get a big kick out of watching people pay for what they have harvested. I think it helps them recognize the value in the service they are providing the community and contributes to a greater sense of self-worth.
On your webpage you encourage students to their community service hours in at Fair Share. Do you have many students that continue?
J.T.- We have dozens of students volunteering with us on service projects and usually as a group. This year we will be offering positions for long-term internships for college students to serve as mentors in the youth farm program.
What do students need to do to participate in the Urban Cultivators Class?
J.T.- This was the second year of the Urban Cultivators Class and it is a collaborative partnership with another nonprofit educational farm- Crabtree Farms. This is a 12-week comprehensive training open to anyone and a fee is charged at registration.
You have a community garden growing atop what used to be an asphalt parking lot. Can you tell us more about that project?
J.T.- This project began at the invitation of the Ridgedale Neighborhood Association. While looking for a suitable vacant lot for starting a community garden, I was challenged by the idea that the lot didn't necessarily have to be 'suitable', and that transforming a parking lot would make a powerful demonstration.
We spread a thick layer of wood chips over the area and installed raised beds of topsoil, compost bins made from discarded wooden pallets, made container gardens from tires, and built a small pavilion for harvesting rainwater.
This year the gardeners have formed a 'cooperative' and will be raising produce to sell at the Grow Hope Farmstand. Most of the gardeners are recent immigrants to Chattanooga from Africa.
What do you think is the biggest threat to farmers in the U.S.?
J.T.- I think the system is rigged. A handful of corporations control our industrialized food system from production to distribution to market and small family farms face tough odds. What's even more disturbing is the loss of Black owned farms because of systemic racist policies and lending practices during the last century.
It has taken a generation to create this mess and will probably take a generation to begin changing it. We desperately need a new crop of young people, particularly people of color, who will put their hand to the plow and turn things around.
What do you think is the single most useful way for people to make a difference when it concerns availability of local food?
J.T.- We should all ask ourselves why the food movement is so white. So long as the only support for local farms and farmers markets comes from the stereotypical white foodie, the food movement will remain a popular trend. But trends don't bring lasting change. What we need is a revolution that addresses the deeper issues of racial and economic justice.
What is your hope for Fair Share Garden’s future?
J.T.- I think our mission statement is a good summary... "We envision a community of empowered, self-determined people breaking down barriers of race, class, and culture to defeat poverty and hunger in Chattanooga."
Were the donated t-shirts helpful in anyway?
J.T.- t-shirts have been a tremendous asset! We have volunteers wearing them and have sold them at our fundraising events! Mine is already beautifully stained and filthy as a work shirt, as it should be!
To donate to the Grown Hope Youth Farm vist: http://www.gofundme.com/growhope
Permanent Addiction Ink is a very interesting DesignAShirt customer and we recently caught up with some of the team members to have a discussion about their art and work. The tattoo studio was recently established in Osseo, Minnesota by award winning tattoo artist Matthew Sevig and his wife Helen Sevig. We want to preface the Q&A with a little background on tattooing as an art form and how people’s perception and attitudes towards it have changed throughout time.
The oldest known tattoo was found on the mummy of a 5,200 old inhabitant of Europe’s Alpine Region. Historically, tattoos could embody spiritual meanings such as protection against danger or even to gain supernatural powers. But tattooing has also been known to be a boundary between classes. During a period between the 18th and early 20th century, European royalty were fond of acquiring tattoos as it was an extremely expensive indulgence. In some societies though, tattooing was used to label slaves and criminals.
Tattooing in the United States began its rise to popularity starting with U.S. Navy. It’s estimated that in the late 19th century, up to 80% of enlisted Navy men were tattooed. The popularization of tattoos in common society started to pick up substantial steam in the late 80’s as graduates of fine art studies began to explore different channels in which to express their aesthetics. Tattooing was recognized in the U.S. as a distinguished art form once New York galleries and institutes began holding exhibits of tattoo work.
Certainly none can argue that when it comes to tattoos, people feel passionately about them because they are so personal. Here’s what the team of Permanent Addiction Ink has to say on the subjects of art, tattooing and interacting with clients that choose to participate in this ancient and exciting form of self-decoration.
Q: Matthew Sevig has acquired quite a bit of recognition for his work. Is there a particular award or distinction of which he is most proud?
- Although all awards have brought such appreciation and pride to his work that he is able to tattoo practically any style out there, "People's Choice Award 2014" at the Minnesota Tattoo You Convention is an honorable one to have received. It feels humbling to be able to win a crowd over with a tattoo out of thousands of great artwork out there.
Q: What inspired you to open your own studio?
- We wanted to show the public a different perspective of how the tattoo lifestyle can be -- clean, fun, and classy. We wanted a comfortable environment for our clients to be in and get the ultimate experience of what it's like to walk out with something that will stay with them forever -- Not just the tattoo but also the experience.
Q: Do you ever counsel customers on their desired design or the placement?
- Although we can't pick what clients want on their body, we offer free consultations to walk clients through the way of making a permanent decision.
Q: What is the most challenging aspect of tattooing?
- The most challenging part of this career is getting clients to understand that artwork and tattooing takes time. A LOT of time. Many think and even expect it to be easy to whip things out in a matter of minutes when really it takes hours and up to days for a nice piece to be put together. Patience is key when it comes to art.
Q: Would you share some of the background inspiration that led to the choice of tattoo artist as a career?
- Art has always been a part of Matthew Sevig's life. From auto-body painting, dental assistant, custom furniture building, airbrushing, oil painting, to sewing, every career choice Matthew has made had to do with using his hands. Tattooing, however, brings him a sense of happiness and pride to be able to see clients walk out with a smile every time, along with his artwork on them. His art will be carried on until the day they die. Creating walking canvases is something that has brought him the most inspiration to further on his career.
Q: Do you prefer custom to wall art?
- We rarely offer "wall art" or "flash" tattoos here at Permanent Addiction Ink. Just like every person, we believe every tattoo should be unique and one of a kind.
Q: Do you have any personal opinions on the increasing mainstream acceptance of tattooing and/or being tattooed?
- Of course we do. Our personal opinion and belief on the acceptance of tattoos is part of the reason why we decided to open up a business for it. Our goal is not to try to convince everyone to get a tattoo -- it just isn't for everyone. It's completely understandable if it's not your thing. However, our goal is to convince everyone it's not something to frown upon, and it doesn't change the person who gets the tattoo.
People get tattoos for many reasons, whether it's to cope over a lost one, to relieve a certain pain in their life (illness/cancer, divorce, scar from surgery), to make themselves feel more beautiful, or simply because they love receiving ink. You can have tattoos and still be professional. You can have tattoos and still be a good person. That is what everyone should realize by now.
Q: As an insider, would you identify some of the trends in tattooing and share how you feel about them?
- Our hardest feat is to explain to the average 18 year old in for their first few tattoos is that THIS IS PERMANENT. So many just want a tattoo because they think it's so cool and awesome just to say they got one. 10 years down the road they're sitting in the same chair getting it covered up! Our advice is to get a tattoo because you truly want the tattoo, not because you just want to get one right at the moment and it's a trend that everyone has right now.
Some recent trends of styles right now are watercolor tattoos, stained glass, trash polka, and the "gypsy" style. We love doing all of those styles and we try our best to keep up on the new trends coming out, but when clients simply want a watercolor tattoo and say they don't care of what, that is when we have to remind them that they might be bored of the tattoo as time goes by because one day it won't be in style anymore. However, if it's a watercolor or trash polka, etc. tattoo of something that is meaningful, then that is a different story.
Q: Are these trends ultimately timeless or do you wince when someone requests, say, a tribal?
- Yes we wince when someone asks for tribal because it is a pain in the butt to do and nearly impossible to cover up when the client decides they're over the whole "tribal" scene.
Q: What purpose do your custom tees serve in your business?
- Our clients have always wanted something to represent where they received their ink from and since they are wearing the artwork, why not wear the clothing also?
April 22nd is Earth Day and while searching our recent customer profiles for an Earth friendly candidate for a feature post, we were delighted to find Spring to the Tap’s founder, Austin Schuver. Spring to the Tap started as a homegrown advocacy and has since become an established nonprofit charity which encourages consuming tap water as smart and eco-conscious alternative to bottled. We posed a few questions about Spring to the Tap and were blown away not only by the story, but the young man behind the movement.
Austin Schuver who while still attending high school, exhibits expert level knowledge, maturity, and a passion for social and environmental changes which transcends some of the most ambitious activists out there. This is really more of an essay than a mere blog post so DesignAShirt is publishing this incredible Q & A session in its entirety. We thank Austin for his generous insights and truly hope to help promote the ideals put forth by Spring to the Tap.
Q: What was the motivation behind organizing Spring to the Tap?
Austin Schuver- Spring to the Tap grew out of a school service project. The “Impact Project” is an assignment given to eighth grade students at Annie Wright Middle School to complete before they graduate. Four years ago I was at the end of my eighth grade year tasked with the project for which directions sounded simple enough: make a difference in your community. I felt that the impact of volunteering for a few hours was not substantial enough to make a real difference, so I tried to think of ways I could do my project differently.
After multiple weeks of indecision, I saw the short video called “The Story of Bottled Water” which shows the issues surrounding bottled water from a simple yet multifaceted perspective. This sparked an interest that has led to a social-environmental awareness campaign in my hometown of Enumclaw, Washington that has evolved into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization called Spring to the Tap.
Q: How did bottled water popularity rise to the level of threatening the environment?
A.S.- In short, popularity rose because bottled water is a perfect fit for the social times we find ourselves in today. It is fast, convenient, relatively cheap, easy to carry, and in all of our busy lifestyles, it is easy to throw away and forget about after it has filled its basic need. In these ways and others, bottled water is a symbol for larger, and sometimes more pressing issues than we realize.
There are a lot of different ways to understand these issues. The following is the complicated answer for this question.
The major rise in popularity began in 1977 when the French bottled water brand Perrier launched a United States marketing campaign. Only two years later American sales of Perrier were up over 3,000 percent. The sparkling water brand grew as an alternative to alcoholic beverages and sugary sodas, but more importantly, Perrier’s popularity grew from mass marketing something now prevalent in the bottled water world, “exotic pristine-ity.”
Often, if marketed correctly, the image of a foreign brand (or even a domestic and merely convincingly “exotic” brand) conveys a sense of luxury. Additionally, their product (the water in this case) will often carry the connotation of immaculate purity. The biggest beneficiary of this factor today is the Fiji bottled water brand.
American companies soon saw that Perrier sold well in the United States. These companies also saw that at that time their own profits were nose-diving because consumers were becoming more health conscious (choosing to buy less soda) and they found that perfect product to fill that gap was bottled water.
This is when huge corporations like Pepsi and Coca-Cola entered the bottled water market with their Aquafina and Dasani brands respectively (notice even the names of domestic water brands are trying to imitate the idea of “exotic pristine-ity”). These massive corporations wanted to make a huge splash in the bottled water market, where they saw the potential for enormous profits, so they launched massive marketing and advertising campaigns around their bottled water brands.
Bottled water is a perfect exemplification of our susceptibility to advertising and marketing. If you think about it, water is a completely blank, bland entity in its own right. Although it has a deep meaning to each of us as individuals and to our society and the entire world as a whole, it is not novel to any of us. There is nothing new or exciting about water. It is so ingrained in our lives that we often think nothing of it. On top of that, there is virtually no value added to water by the bottled water companies, so how did these corporations find ways to keep the bottles flowing off of store shelves?
They did it by pouring a lot of resources into advertising and they did it for two reasons.
First, because their product is water, just plain old water. No matter how they want to sell it to you, if we’re talking about bottled water the product is always just water. Second, almost every single person in the United States has access to some of the safest tap water in the world. This means that the companies had to “manufacture demand” in a sense, or convince people that bottled water is better than the tap water that they were already regularly consuming.
The best advertisers in the world who work for corporations like Nestle, Pepsi, andCoca-Cola with millions to spend on mass media campaigns, understand that advertising is a matter of appealing to our emotions. They understood that the most effective advertising sells a projection of sex, fear, wealth, or power in association with their product.
The bottled water companies ran multitudes of ads that played on our basic desires for happiness, love, a sense of coolness and belonging, and eventually our choice of bottled water became, subconsciously, a status symbol that reflected our deepest desires.
This all worked. Today bottled water outsells milk, beer, and soda. There was one other factor that also helped vaunt the image of bottled water. That is that bottled water companies do not face the same standards of quality or transparency as municipal tap water systems.
While our public water systems are required to immediately report any potential violations of stringent testing regulations to the public, state, and federal governments, bottled water companies have lax standards and no requirement to report to the state government, federal government, or consumers, even when violations are found. With these lopsided rules it is easy for the bottled water companies to hide behind a veil of purity and convince the public that tap water is worse than bottled water.
The second part: why does the popularity of bottled water threaten the environment? That is a really interesting question because there are so many different ways that bottled water undermines our sustainability as a human species, in ways we don’t usually consider (which is the biggest reason why we have a problem). The ubiquity and total acceptance of bottled water in our culture has the greatest meaning for our larger efforts to fix some of biggest issues present in our society and environment today.
The biggest reason that bottled water has risen to the level of harming the environment is due to the fact that nine and a half times out of ten it can be avoided. Blind taste test across the country show that we cannot taste a difference between bottled and tap water (and a simple home filter can remedy poor tasting water). Chemical analyses and regulation requirements show that bottled water is not safer than tap water. Over a year bottled water can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars more than tap water. And tap water has a minuscule environmental footprint. (That’s not to say that bottled water doesn’t have a place. It is certainly necessary in some emergency situations for example.)
All these reasons cause us to advocate for everyone to choose tap water as a simple and easy way to benefit the environment, save your wallet, protect your health, and support our local communities.
The main reason that bottled water is harmful to the environment is due to the plastic bottle. That bottle is derived from oil and natural gas, and when these are refined to make plastic products they have to be combined with many other chemical additives. Neither mankind nor mother nature can effectively recycle a product made from refined oil or natural gas plus additives. This means that plastics do not biodegrade.
The natural mechanisms mother nature uses, like fungi and bacteria, will not decompose plastic into its component chemical parts. In a way, plastics last forever. Plastics only physically or mechanically degrade, breaking into smaller and smaller pieces slowly over time. The main problems with the environmental safety of plastics are all exacerbated by the short life-span of single use plastics.
The first problem is the fact that there is no good way to dispose of used plastic. Plastics do not recycle in the sense that we are led to believe they do. The best materials for recycling are glass, aluminum, and steel because they can all be melted down to a pure form to remove contaminants and recast into a new product. Plastic, on the other hand, melts at a much lower temperature which does not allow it to shed off contaminants.
In addition, there are thousands of combinations of chemicals that make up plastics, while consumers and disposal processes introduce new contaminants and the sorting and machinery requires that post-consumer plastics meet specific requirements to be recycled.
Even the basic makeup of plastics determines that plastic that does go through a recycling program, melted and combined with other plastics, is weaker than virgin plastic. This makes post-consumer plastics recycling difficult, labor intensive, and costly, usually outweighing the cost of using virgin plastic.
This is why only nine percent of the total plastic waste generated in 2012 was recovered for recycling (this is different than the commonly cited roughly 40% “recycled” rate, which is actually just the percentage collected, not recovered and recycled). We typically assume (I know I used to) that, because of the neat triangle of chasing arrows, all recycling is a closed loop process. Yet by one estimate, using data from the plastics industry, there is about a 2.6% chance that any one plastic PET bottle is successfully recycled into another new PET bottle, let alone continuously recycled in a perfect loop.
This indication of a deeply flawed system is compounded because most of our “recycled” plastic gets shipped overseas (half is shipped to China, filling empty container ships that transported our countless consumer goods from across the Pacific) to countries with virtually no environmental or labor regulations, to be dumped and possibly made into cheap plastic lumber, carpeting, or other cheap down-cycled products which cannot be recycled again.
The first problem is that there is no good way to get rid of plastics, they last forever. This gives way to the second problem, which is that stray plastic harms the environment. Plastic debris causes dire environmental problems in addition to being an eyesore.
Once widely thought of as biologically inert, plastics actually actively leach and absorb different chemicals. In the environment, and sometimes in the containers we use them for, they can leach chemicals like BPA or phthalates. Plastics weaken and the additives that were added during the process to make the plastic soft or rigid or flexible or colored start to leach out.
In addition plastics also attract and absorb other chemicals present in the environment which have similar makeups. This means that plastic particles can harbor concentrations of persistent organic pollutants like PCBs or pesticides thousands of times more acute than present in the surrounding environment.
Because they do not biodegrade, plastics are made smaller by UV degradation, tidal action, and the natural processes of countless marine organisms, slowly becoming mircoplastics.
These plastic bits now outweigh plankton in the ocean gyres, some featuring about 50 times more plastic than plankton, with researchers expecting the number to be over a hundred times some places.
In 2006, UNESCO estimated that 46,000 pieces of plastic float in every square mile of ocean, killing more than a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals each year. This chemically active debris is especially potent because it can be found in various shapes and sizes and colors in the environment. Plastics are readily consumed, for example, bottle caps are a favorite of albatross, and microplastics are ingested by many species, from barnacles and corals to trout and even whales.
Organisms that ingest plastic risk filling their stomach with sharp nonnutritive trash which can occupy needed space in their stomachs and leach toxins later stored in their fat. These pollutants (coming from what the plastic collects) builds up in the bodies of top level predators, including ourselves, through a process called biomagnification.
(For more insight into plastics’ impact on society and a lot of interesting background information I would encourage you to read Plastic Ocean by Captain Charles Moore. It explains a lot of this content in detail.)
We are not trained as consumers to consider a product at every stage of its life cycle. For bottled water, like other products, we must consider the energy and resources used in oil extraction, and pellet production for bottle manufacturing and molding, then the water extraction, in addition to the filling, labeling, and sealing of bottles, and after all of that the collection and disposal for processing and landfilling, or recycling, or incineration. And between the major stages the cost of transportation adds to the total energy and resource consumption of bottled water.
Municipal water systems often utilize the power of gravity, as a result producing tap water uses up to 2,000 times less energy than producing bottled water. The plastic bottled water bottles consumed by Americans in 2006 alone took approximately 17 million barrels of oil; enough oil to fuel one million cars for an entire year.
The mass extraction of water from our local, and often times public, sources of fresh water has the ability to severely compromise community water systems. These and other industrial operations negatively affect localities.
Oil extraction operations, refineries, other plastic related industries, not to mention landfills, or incineration plants, have a harmful effect on the air, water, and general quality of life in communities around the world. In bottled water related industries this is not limited to the sometimes aggressive and dubious extraction of water. It is a side of the consumer industry we are often shielded from unless we happen to live near one of these operations.
Research also suggests that processing bottled water uses three times as much water as is sold inside the bottle itself. But the largest issues surrounding water has to do with social aspects of privatizing water.
Q: What is meant by privatization of water?
A.S.- There are two main forms of water privatization. Both forms can have dire effects on local communities.
The first is mass extraction from a water source. There are still states, provinces, and other areas around the world that lack sound groundwater regulations. This means that in many cases large corporations can pump out as much water as they want, for almost nothing. In other situations, mega-corporations like Nestle rush into small towns offering jobs, wealth, and general prosperity in exchange for the right to the community’s water. Before or after a deal is reached their large legal departments can afford to fight any opposition, often overwhelming local communities.
The other form of privatization is of entire municipal systems. A city looking to cut costs can privatize its water service to a privately owned company. In one case, after the city of Indianapolis contracted Veolia to handle their water department, customer complaints doubled, water quality sank, and multiple residents sued about overcharging, all of which led to an investigation by the State of Indiana and Veolia lost the contract.
Also of note is that in many countries public water systems and infrastructure are underdeveloped, and millions of people do not have access to clean water. The scarcity of fresh water on the planet will only continue to worsen, and a future where only the elite members of society can afford access to this basic human right is conceivable, partly because it is already happening.
In areas of Mexico for example, public water is unreliable. The wealthy can afford to circumvent public systems and purchase bottled or privatized water. These private water dealings directly undermine the public system. And as long as those with money can buy their way out of public services, the systems that provide clean water to everyone will suffer, and the inequality of society is heightened. Unfortunately, this is not too unlike what is happening in parts of the United States today, where water may become blue gold that only the wealthy can afford.
Q: What are some of the dangers introduced when drinking bottled water versus tap water?
A.S.- Potential dangers involve bottled water, and plastics’ tendency in general, to leach chemicals widely known to disrupt the endocrine system. Two of the more concerning chemicals, phthalates and BPA, have be found in the bodies of around 90% of Americans, and are classified as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).
BPA leaches from polycarbonate plastic used in blue five gallon reusable plastic containers, some plastic reusable water bottles, and aluminum can liners (many products that advertise as “BPA free” instead use the chemical BPS which some studies have shown to be worse than BPA). And phthalates can leach from many plastics and other materials including PET used in bottled water. EDCs have been linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, breast and prostate cancer, thyroid dysfunction, developmental and reproductive problems, and more.
Many studies support a “growing body of evidence” that suggests that these chemicals can leach out of many kinds of plastics (especially if the material is stressed, or exposed to sunlight or heat). However, right now there is no true scientific consensus about the effect that exposure from bottled water would have on our hormones.
But scientists do know that endocrine disrupting chemicals can act after long periods of time (making the cause hard to pinpoint) as hormone triggers that can cause long-term health effects even with low dose exposure. They have the potential to affect children the most because their biological systems are still developing and they can accumulate more exposure over their lifetime (which is why BPA is banned in sippy cups).
Q: What do you think is the biggest reason people choose bottled water over a reusable sports bottle or tumbler?
A.S.- There are two big reasons. One is perceived convenience. A lot of people would rather pay to get a case of bottled water while they are at the store and grab one to go when they leave home, or just buy a bottle when they are out and about, rather than have to remember to bring or refill their own bottle. To me, this behavior is ludicrously backwards. What is more convenient than having fresh water literally piped to your home, or available for free in restaurants, street corners, or rest stops, all across the country? (Granted, water fountains and other alternatives are not as common as they used to be.)
If you compare buying bottled water to refilling a reusable bottle it only takes five to ten fill-ups for the cost of a reusable bottle to pay off. In fact, you could fill up a reusable bottle for nine years and eight months with tap water before the cost would equal the average price of bottled water. Sometimes it can be hard to remember, but all we have to do is bring a reusable bottle when we leave home, or just keep one in our car or on our bike, and there are places to refill almost wherever we go.
Q: Do you think that some of the reason for the growth in the consumption of bottled water is fear of contamination from public fountains, if so, how this fear can be combatted?
A.S.- The second reason I would say that people choose bottled water over a reusable bottle is fear of the safety of tap water or fountains. About 47% of people choose bottled water because they are concerned about the safety of tap water, and the industry profits from this increasingly poor perception of municipal water. What they don’t know is that about the same percentage, about 40-45% of bottled water is packaged tap water.
All of the factors I mention above, including advertising, do influence our perception of tap water and drinking fountains, and often we don’t even realize it. As a result, public drinking fountains and tap water is being taken for granted and as our values shift public fountains are disappearing and falling into disrepair.
The action of purchasing bottled water as a response to a degraded perception of tap water exemplifies the concept of “inverted quarantine.” This is where an individual would act to protect him or herself from a perceived environmental threat, in this case buying bottled water as to not have to drink the “harmful” tap water.
This phenomenon weakens civic engagement and contributes to a decline in public water infrastructure. If the public regularly chooses private goods over public ones, then the support and market for public systems declines. This causes public services to be cut or to decline in quality, of course only adding to the mistrust of the public services, and further accelerating the demand for private services, or bottled water. This creates and continues a downward spiral of the quality of public water systems, and as this theory would argue, a total decline of public services and government trust altogether.
So even though choosing bottled water may seem fairly innocuous, on a larger scale it can create major societal issues which have greater implications for basic equality.
Back to the question: any time you get a large number of people using the same public space or equipment, especially in places like schools, there is going to be concern and a risk for exposure to unhealthy surfaces.
Old fountains have gotten a bad rap for being seemingly constantly teeming with mucus and germs, but with modern drinking fountains that risk is virtually eliminated. In properly designed fountains the water never touches the spigot and comes out at an angle that prevents cross contamination.
New fountains and refilling stations feature downward flowing water for refilling bottles which also help with cleanliness. Letting the water run for a few seconds in any fountain will allow the water’s chlorination to remove harmful bacteria from surfaces that it may touch.
If someone still has worries about the safety of drinking tap water advise them to install a home water filter, or purchase a reusable bottle with a filter, as both are still less expensive, safer, and better for the environment than bottled water.
Q: In business settings and meetings, oftentimes clients and customers are offered water, usually bottled. What do you feel is a more sustainable solution?
A.S.- I’ve been in meetings where the hosts have offered bottled water and meetings where they have offered tap water. I would say that serving tap water gives a better overall impression. Walking in the meeting room and being offered cold water with ice in glass pitchers and personal glasses is very appealing.
This adds a touch of thoughtfulness, professionalism, a certain elegance, and it plain looks and tastes better than drinking out of a flimsy plastic bottle lazily placed around the table featuring another company’s logo.
Q: What is Spring to the Tap planning for the future?
A.S.- Spring to the Tap’s current project is partnering with a local bronze sculptor who will be designing and creating a custom drinking water fountain to be installed in downtown Enumclaw in the summer of 2016.
We also have other plans which center around our purpose to raise awareness, create alternatives, and sustain action in advocacy of tap water. This includes providing more educational opportunities, retrofitting and repairing existing fountains, and finding other exciting ways to get people to Spring to the Tap!
Q: What purpose will your custom tees serve for Spring to the Tap?
A.S.- Our first order of custom t-shirts from DesignAShirt.com will be worn by team members especially for local events to raise awareness of the issues surrounding bottled water and tap water.
Later, we plan on launching an online campaign selling shirts to support the mission of the nonprofit as well as fundraise and build a base of awareness in our community and beyond. The phrase we’re using on the t-shirts represents the simplicity of our message: think global, drink Local.