You’re on the road and you stop at a gas station for a drink. You waver between a diet soda or bottled water, and finally reach for the bottled water. Good decision for your health! But what about the health of the planet? While there’s no denying that bottled water is healthier than its soda counterparts, there’s another option you may not think of: filling up a reusable bottle that you brought with you, with tap water.
“But I always recycle,” you protest. “Plus, tap water is unsanitary — and bringing a bottle everywhere is too much effort.”
We applaud your recycling efforts and understand the allure of convenience. But, just for kicks, let’s take a closer look at a bottle of water…
We’ve all seen the images of landfills choked with debris and plastic; animals with their necks caught in soda bottle rings; water shrinking from the shores of lakes and rivers; desperate families waiting in line for jugs of clean water; earth cracked from drought.
Yet most of us still don’t get it. It doesn’t hit us, it doesn’t feel real. The piles of garbage, the dying animals, and the unclean water are somewhere else. Right?
Worldwide, 780 million people don’t have access to clean drinking water, and 2.5 billion don’t have access to adequate sanitation. The need for clean drinking water is only going to increase. More water is being removed in 21 of the 37 largest aquifers in the world than is being replaced. And this is worldwide: from India and China to France and, yes, the U.S. The world is running out of water.
What makes bottled water so outrageous is the absolute waste of precious (yes, precious!) resources. We’re using more drinkable water trying to package drinkable water than the drinkable water we’re drinking out of the package! That’s almost as ridiculous as that sentence! For pete’s sake, roughly 50% of all bottled water is made up from tap water.
You may think a bottle of water doesn’t make much of an impact. According to the IBWA (International Bottled Water Association), it takes 1.32 liters of water to make a liter of bottled water — including the water you drink. That doesn’t seem bad, right? In fact, a study by Quantis in 2010 claimed that the environmental footprint of bottled water was lower than any other packaged beverage.
Think of it this way: every time a person buys a bottle of water, they’re essentially pouring out one-third of another bottle of water. A “smaller footprint” doesn’t negate the inherent wastefulness. We’re lugging mega packs of bottled water from grocery store shelves to our pantries and snatching up bottles from gas station shelves when our very homes provide that same service for a negligible cost. We turn up our noses at the taste or purity of regulated, potable water that’s readily available from our faucets while hundreds of millions of people around the world are desperate for it.
Then there’s the impact from the plastic its housed in. Water bottles are made from a strong, lightweight plastic called PET (polyethylene terephthalate), but only 1/3 of them are actually recycled. So millions of bottles up in landfills or as litter.
Even more sobering is that recycled PET plastic is typically reused in textiles (clothing and fabrics). When these textiles are washed, microplastics seep into waterways and affect our wildlife. By 2050, 99% of seabirds will be ingesting plastic.
So even if you are doing your due diligence recycling water bottles, those microplastics are seeping into water sources, affecting marine life, and harming the planet.
Complaints: Tap water is gross. It tastes metallic. It smells funny. Bottled water is way more sanitary.
Alright, so some people have weird, smelly water. Usually, that weird water is well water, which is regulated by homeowners only, not the government. In taste tests, most people couldn’t tell the difference between municipal water and bottled water. In fact, they often preferred tap water.
That may be because about 50% of bottled water comes from tap water. Oh, wait, did we already say that? We don’t care. It bears repeating.
Municipal (Tap) Water
- Regulated by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)
- Has to be tested over 100 times per month to check for over 90 different contaminants, including E.coli, Salmonella, and Cryptosporidium species.
- Contains small amounts of chlorine to disinfect the water
- Contains fluoride to aid in the prevention of tooth decay.
- About 86% of Americans get their tap water from a community water system that is regulated by the EPA. The remaining 14% use well water, maintained by homeowners.
- Our public water system was named one of the ten greatest inventions of the 20th century. It has reduced waterborne illnesses, improved health, and has given hundreds of millions of people easy access to safe, drinkable water.
- Regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).
- Has to be tested once a week, only while in the bottling plant.
- Bottled water has been recalled over 100 times due to contaminants like mold, fecal matter, kerosene, benzene, glass particles, and crickets.
- Some bottled water is enhanced with minerals to taste.
- Bottles aren’t required to list list the source, the pollutants, or its purification methods on the bottle.
- 60% to 70% of bottled water is not regulated by the FDA. There’s a loophole that allows water that is packaged and sold within the same state to go fairly unregulated. It’s up to the states to set standards, and not all states do.
Use a reusable water bottle and try to always have one readily available when you’re on the go. If you’re a forgetful person, stash one in your car and leave one on your desk at work. Easy peasy.
A typical American drinks roughly 34 gallons of bottled water per year. When you do the math, Americans are spending $13 billion annually. That’s billions of dollars being spent on a free product that is available in our own homes.
This solution is better for your wallet and better for the environment. Spend 7 bucks on a reusable bottle and save the world a few drops at a time.
C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.