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In a society that has become increasingly environmentally conscious, there are many concerns that center on bottled water. Water is one of life’s most precious resources so it is important to understand and know the things that can help conserve it. But there’s also been recent concerns over the quality of tap water and how it impacts our health. So which should you choose? The ultimate answer depends on your local situation. On the whole, tap water, when properly regulated, can be better for both your health and the environment. What can be done to save the Earth’s dwindling drinkable water supply? Read on to find out.
Controversy over Tap Water
In recent years there has been a rising concern about cities providing contaminated water to its residents. Whether it’s because of cost-cutting measures or other reasons, it is more clear than ever that more attention needs to be spent in ensuring that local governments are doing their civic duty and not physically harming citizens or the city’s infrastructure in the long-term simply to save money in the short-term.
Flint, Michigan and Sebring, Ohio have both been recent examples of there being a distrust between elected officials and the public over the issue of water. In April 2014, Flint switched from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department who sources their water from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River, the corrosive water of which caused lead from the pipes to seep into the water. As a result, thousands of children have been exposed to lead, causing an outbreak of lead poisoning and other health issues, which prompted the U.S. Government to declare the a federal state of emergency. Several corporations stepped in providing free bottled water as an alternative in the interim, but that doesn’t solve the problem nor create any long term solution to either the potable water crisis or the manufacturing of bottled water.
The bottom line? Bottled water is a known environmental and potential health disaster. Tap water, on the other hand, when regulated correctly and filtered properly, appears to be the better option with less of an environmental impact. And hopefully because of this unfortunate situation other states and cities will follow suit to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Ultimately, the onus for your family’s health is on you – we urge you to research and find out more about your local water supply. Conduct research locally, call your city and find out the details behind your local water situation. And lastly, consider installing a water filter or whole home filtration system.
Filter Your Water at Home
|MAVEA Elemaris 9-Cup Water Filtration Pitcher|
Despite the overall advantage we see in properly regulated tap water over bottled water, it’s still possible for trace pharmaceuticals and other chemicals to make their way into your water supply (due to, for example, drug content not absorbed by the body (or consumers outright flushing drugs) making its way into wastewater, which upon being treated is not completely filtered). Fortunately, many of these trace elements can be filtered out with an inexpensive home water filter. Home filtration systems vary in cost, installation difficulty, and what they can filter. From a pitcher with a water filter on it to a full blown reverse osmosis system, there are many options. Read our review of the best water filters to learn more.
The Negative Impacts of Bottled Water
There are multiple ways in which the bottled water industry affects the world’s water supply, our health and the environment. Combine that with unregulated manufacturing practices and the high cost, bottled water is much less potable than it seems.
Depletes the World’s Water Supply
One major concern when it comes to bottled water companies is that they are controlling one of the world’s most in demand resources. Since 75% of the Earth is water, people tend to not worry about wasting water. Little do they know that only 1% of that water is drinkable. As the world’s water supply becomes more drained by our use, there is a possibility that water bottling companies will begin to monopolize the world’s remaining supply of water.
Wastes Water to Make Water
During the manufacturing process of bottles used for bottled water, water is used. To make one bottle of water, it actually takes six times the amount of water contained in the bottle. This means that for every 1 liter of bottled water that is produced, 3 liters of water are used. With around 30 billion liters of water being purchased by Americans in a single year according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, that makes for 90 billion liters of water being used in the manufacturing process.
Although sales of bottled water seem to be dropping because people are becoming more educated about bottled water vs. tap water, they are still at a consistent growth rate of 10% a year. Because the sales rates are so high, the prices of bottled water are going to continue to rise as well. Soon you will pay as much for a pint of water as you do for a gallon of gas.
Uses Crude Oil
It takes 17 million barrels of crude oil to make 29 billion plastic bottles. Even worse, 80% of those bottles will never be recycled. Transportation of bottled water also uses oil and contributes to environmental pollution. According to the Pacific Institute the total energy used through our use of bottled water can be the equivalent of filling that bottle one-quarter full of oil.
Consumes a Great Deal of Energy
During the manufacturing process used to create bottled water, it is estimated that 3.4 mega joules of energy are used to create just a single one liter plastic bottle with its cap and packaging. This means that more than 100 billion mega joules of energy are being used to provide North America alone with bottled water. 100 billion mega joules of energy translate to over 17 million barrels of oil.
Emits Carbon Dioxide Emissions
The PET plastic used to create plastic water bottles emits carbon dioxide during the manufacturing process. For every one ton of PET plastic produced, three tons of carbon dioxide is released in to the environment. That calculates to an approximate 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide being released in to the environment.
Generates New Health Concerns
Study results from the National Resources Defense Council released in 1999 showed that one fifth of the bottled waters they tested contained substances known to ne neurotoxic and cancer causing. These substances included xylene, styrene and toluene. A second study by the National Resources Defense Council found that of 103 different bottled water brands studied one-third had trace amounts of E. coli and arsenic. One Suffolk County study went on to test 88 different bottled water brands only to find that Perrier water contained benzene while a number of other brands contained kerosene, Freon, trichloroethylene, toluene and xylene.
In addition to scientific research, it’s also a fact that bottled water is not kept cold during transport. Once the heat is absorbed by the plastic, it begins to break down and release chemicals into the water within. There is now evidence that this chemical reaction cause breast cancer in women who drink bottled water that has been exposed to heat for prolonged periods of time. Even if you tap water is exposed to heat, it is not contained in a plastic bottle, so the breakdown is not an issue.
Other Chemicals in Bottles
The chemicals that are contained in the plastic of the bottle itself are also a significant concern. In a study done on ten popular brands of water, enough contaminants were found in the bottled water to average eight contaminants per brand (from Radioactive Isotopes to arsenic).
One of the chemicals frequently used in the manufacturing of plastic water bottles is an organic compound called Bisphenol A (or BPF). BPA from plastic water bottles commonly leaches in to the water contained in the bottles. BPA can lead to obesity, retarded brain development in fetuses and infants, reduced memory, disruption of dopamine production, increased risk for heart disease and brain tumors and more. It is also possible that BPA exposure can be linked to a variety of other health effects that have not yet been studied.
Creates More Packaging Waste
As if it wasn’t already bad enough that bottled water drinkers are contributing to their own poor health, there is also the consideration of the state of our countries landfills. While some bottled water drinkers do devote themselves to recycling, many do not and as a result landfills are becoming increasingly packed with non-biodegradable plastic products. Just as these products leech chemicals in to the water that they contain, they also leach chemicals in to the landfills where they are dumped further contributing to pollution of our planet. As these chemicals leach in to the earth below the landfills they degrade the soil and cause untold damage to the viability of the land.
The Industry of Bottled Water
Not a Regulated Industry
Bottled water, being a consumed and manufactured product, is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA has no such requirements to file and publish any reports on water quality. Bottled water companies must meet FDA requirements, but have no requirements concerning the filing of annual reports.
False Marketing Tactics
Despite tricky marketing tactics used by beverage dispensing companies, bottled water isn’t as safe or appeal as beverage dispensing companies would have us believe. You may notice that some bottled waters advertise that the water is filtered water. Essentially, this only means that the water has been ran through a filter. This is the same process that you can use at home with your tap water. In fact, if you are paying for water service, it already is filtered. Hence, when you buy filtered water you are buying what you already have.
Bottled water that is advertised as spring water is essentially any water that comes from a spring and, in fact, may not be filtered after it is pulled from the spring. Most people do not realize that if they have a well at home, they are already drinking spring water from and underground spring that their pump is tapped into. It is not filtered beyond the natural process that occurs for a spring. When you think of spring water, you may be thinking of mountains with water flowing down the side, when in reality, you might be drinking water that was pulled directly from the ground, just like you can get at any person’s house that has a well.
Benefits of Drinking Tap Water
Surprisingly for many people, tap water is often times much safer than bottled water! There are exceptions of course, so we encourage you to thoroughly investigate your local water source.
Tap Water is Regulated
Tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA requires that localities file and publish a water quality report every year. What this means is that if you live in a place in the United States that offers water and sewage services, those services must meet EPA standards and test the water every year to make sure those standards are met. This does not apply to bottled water, where in some cases there’s no guarantees as to what you’re getting.
Locally Sourced and Tested
When it comes to well water, you know that your water goes from an underground spring or water table of some kind, to your pump, and into your home. In a city water system, the water comes from a spring, may go through a water tower, and goes through a water treatment plant before coming into your home. As a public resource, the tap water supply requires documentation that is regulated and provided to the general public on request. If you are concerned about the quality of your water, you can have it tested or visit your town hall for a copy of the yearly test results.
Often It’s The same thing as Bottled Water
About a quarter of all bottled water contains nothing but tap water. Examples of this include Aquafina which is manufactured using city water supplies. Coke and Pepsi both rely on local tap water supplies when producing their bottled water as well. This means purchasers are paying for a product that they could get by turning on their kitchen tap. It also means that consumers are paying to create pollution and drain natural resources in the process.
More Cost Effective
It simply does not make sense financially or from a health point of view to continue buying bottled water when there is a safer and more affordable alternative available. For those who are more financially driven however, let’s take a look at the savings of using reusable water containers and tap water versus bottled water. Basic calculations find that with current levels of utility rates 748 gallons of water cost $2.10, that’s the equivalent of drinking 4,787 bottles of water for the price of one bottled water. In contrast is a bottle of Dasani water sells for around $1.49, that will cost you $7,132.63 for the same amount of water (4,787 bottles).
Bottle Bills: Passing Laws to make Change
Considering the negative impact that the disposal of water bottles has on the environment, many areas are now introducing what are known as “bottle bills.” Bottle bills are also known as container deposit laws and are focused on recycling efforts. Bottle bills have been proven to work as a sustainable method of collecting both bottles and cans for recycling in order to reduce the amount of waste deposited in landfills annually. The most commonly recognized type of bottle bill is the plan in place in states such as New York where a 5 or 10 cent refund is given for each beverage container deposited in the recycling programs container collection point.
Benefits of the Bottle Bills
There are a number of elements of bottle bills that make them a smart solution for everyone.
Provide Recyclable Materials
Bottle bills support the supply of recyclable materials for a high demand market resulting in the production of far fewer new beverage containers.
Conserve Natural Resources
Since bottle bills depend on the recycling of old beverage containers they reduce the amount of new containers being produced and consequently reduce the amount of natural resources being used in production. Additionally since it takes so much energy to produce new beverage containers, recycling old containers also conserves energy.
Create New Jobs
As bottle bills are introduced they result in new employment opportunities for the community and new business opportunities as well. Improving the job market in local areas is something that is crucial in today’s job market.
Reduce the Cost of Waste Disposal
It makes sense that the more beverage containers are recycled, the less are thrown away and this means a reduction in the amount of waste and consequently the cost of waste disposal. This cost saving is not only beneficial for waste disposal companies, but it is also beneficial for consumers.
While it is not always the case, for the most part the introduction of bottle bills results in the reduction of the amount of litter. With a refund amount printed on these beverage containers there is less likelihood that these containers will find their way in to the trash. In many instances, even when these containers do find their way in to the trash they are fished out by those looking to supplement their income, those looking to create income and those looking to improve the environment.
Increase Responsibility Levels
A unique benefit to bottle bills is the fact that they result in consumers taking more responsibility for the products that they purchase. As more consumers realize the benefits of recycling they are more likely to purchase items that are recyclable and recycle those products again when they are finished using them. In addition to consumers becoming more responsible, product manufacturers are also prompted to take responsibility for the products that they purchase. As increasing numbers of people purchase items that are recyclable versus non-recyclable products, companies will be forced to change their manufacturing process to maintain clients and ensure their bottom line.
Alternatives to Water Bottles
|Lifesky Stainless Steel Sports Water Bottle|
In certain circumstances there is simply no alternative to purchasing bottled water. For example when vacationing or working in a country where water supplies are not potable, it is far safer to risk BPA consumption from bottled water than to risk contamination from raw sewage. With that said, there are few occasions during the average year when we find ourselves in this type of situation which makes reusable water bottle use a much more practical solution.
An easy thing you can do at home is to simply find yourself a portable, dishwasher safe, stainless steel bottle that won’t fill your water with the chemicals you would if you continually reuse a plastic bottle. Then, simply refill it from your tap before you go out.
In everyday life carrying a reusable water bottle can save thousands of dollars, reduce exposure to chemical leaching, reduce pollution, reduce landfill waste, reduce energy use, reduce dependence on natural resources and result in a healthier planet and a healthier population.
Even purchasing numerous reusable containers eventually becomes more cost-effective than replacing disposable water bottles. Certainly not every situation is going to be practical for a “bring your own container” type of situation, but even for general use, relying on reusable containers can significantly reduce cost. It is also worth noting the cost and energy savings of purchasing a reusable water container that can be used for years before needing to be replaced.
Do your part for your planet and your body and rely on reusable water containers. And if you feel comfortable after doing your research, use your local tap water instead of purchasing bottled water!
Tapped The Film
If you’d like to learn more about this issue, we highly recommend watching Tapped a documentary film that examines the role of the bottled water industry. Here’s the trailer.
In a society that is becoming more and more of a disposable society, bottle water has become quite popular. While bottled water can be convenient, the idea that you should drink bottled water because it is healthier than tap water is highly unlikely. But what we don’t realize is that the plastic containers that contain this water are acting like a virus on every living thing on this planet. More resources are being wasted and more health concerns are being raised every day. We cannot survive without water, but that does not mean we have to create new waste and health hazards to increase convenience.
How do you feel about drinking bottled water?