Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Truth About Bottled Water

The Truth About Bottled Water

By David Zinczenko, with Matt Goulding - Posted on Tue, Jul 21, 2009, 1:35 pm PDT Imagine you’ve just been given a choice: You have to drink from one of two containers. One container is a cup from your own kitchen, and it contains a product that has passed strict state, federal and local guidelines for cleanliness and quality. Oh, and it’s free. The second container comes from a manufacturing plant somewhere, and its contents—while seemingly identical to your first choice—have not been subjected to the same strict national and local standards. It costs approximately four times more than gasoline. These products both look and taste nearly identical.

Which do you choose?

If you chose beverage A, congratulations: You just saved yourself a whole lot of money, and, perhaps, even contaminants, too. But if you picked beverage B, then you’ll be spending hundreds of unnecessary dollars on bottled water this year. Sure, bottled water is convenient, trendy, and may well be just as pure as what comes out of your tap. But it’s hardly a smart investment for your pocketbook, your body or our planet. Eat This, Not That! decided to take a closer look at what’s behind the pristine images and elegant-sounding names printed on those bottles.

You may actually be drinking tap water.
Case in point: Dasani, a Coca-Cola product. Despite its exotic-sounding name, Dasani is simply purified tap water that’s had minerals added back in. For example, if your Dasani water was bottled at the Coca-Cola Bottling Company in Philadelphia, you’re drinking Philly tap water. But it’s not the only brand of water that relies on city pipes to provide its product. About 25 percent of all bottled water is taken from municipal water sources, including Pepsi’s Aquafina.

Bottled water isn’t always pure.
Scan the labels of the leading brands and you see variations on the words “pure” and “natural” and “pristine” over and over again. And when a Cornell University marketing class studied consumer perceptions of bottled water, they found that people thought it was cleaner, with less bacteria. But that may not actually be true. For example, in a 4-year review that included the testing of 1,000 bottles of water, the Natural Resources Defense Council—one the country’s most ardent environmental crusaders—found that “about 22 percent of the brands we tested contained, in at least one sample, chemical contaminants at levels above strict state health limits.”

It’s not clear where the plastic container ends and the drink begins.
Turns out, when certain plastics are heated at a high temperature, chemicals from the plastics may leach into container’s contents. So there’s been a flurry of speculation recently as to whether the amounts of these chemicals are actually harmful, and whether this is even a concern when it comes to water bottles—which aren’t likely to be placed in boiling water or even a microwave. While the jury is still out on realistic health ramifications, it seems that, yes, small amounts of chemicals from PET water bottles such as antimony—a semi-metal that’s thought to be toxic in large doses—can accumulate the longer bottled water is stored in a hot environment. Which, of course, is probably a good reason to avoid storing bottled water in your garage for six months—or better yet, to just reach for tap instead.

Our country’s high demand for oil isn’t just due to long commutes.
Most water bottles are composed of a plastic called polyethylene terepthalate (PET). Now, to make PET, you need crude oil. Specifically, 17 million barrels of oil are used in the production of PET water bottles ever year, estimate University of Louisville scientists. No wonder the per ounce cost of bottled water rivals that of gasoline. What’s more, 86 percent of 30 billion PET water bottles sold annually are tossed in the trash, instead of being recycled, according to data from the Container Recycling Institute. That’s a lot of waste—waste that will outlive you, your children, and your children’s children. You see, PET bottles take 400 to 1000 years to degrade. Which begs the question: If our current rate of consumption continues, where will we put all of this discarded plastic?

1 comment:

Steven said...

Bottled water is not our biggest problem when it comes to drinking habits.
All other beverages consume huge amounts of water and energy during their production processes, which makes their ecological impact far more detrimental than that of bottled water.
"Switching from other beverages to bottled water would yield much more environmental profit than switching from bottled water to tap water"
All other beverages use vast amounts of water and energy to produce, while bottled water - does not. It takes water to grow crops, and it takes energy to fertilize, harvest and transport them.
It takes 35 litres of water to produce one cup of tea, and 140 litres of water to produce one cup of coffee. When you add sugar in your coffee or tea, it gets even worse: every teaspoonful of sugar requires 50 cups of water to grow.
A glass of beer takes 75 litres of water to produce, while just one glass of wine asks 120 litres of water. One glass of fruit juice or milk requires 170 to 200 litres of water. A glass of brandy asks 2,400 litres of water.
Tea and coffee

Producing one litre of bottled water simply requires a litre of water, and no energy. Yes, producing and distributing the water bottles does use water and energy, but the same goes for other beverages.
This means that bottled water is a more ecological choice than all other bottled options: beer, wine, milk, fruit juice or soft drinks. Most likely, drinking bottled water is an even better choice than drinking coffee or tea made with tap water - coffee and tea might weigh less than water, but they are transported over much larger distances.
Forcing bottled water drinkers to drink tap water would help the environment – but switching from other beverages (none of them essential to human health) to bottled water would yield much more environmental profit.
"It is unfair to solely blame water even though it also happens to be distributed via pipes"
Environmental groups always have something to say about the huge (and growing) amounts of bottled water that are being sold, and the huge amount of energy that is needed to transport them. These figures might be accurate, but bottled water holds only a small share of the market for bottled drinks.
The energy needed to transport soft drinks and beer is far more impressive. The main problem here is not bottled water. The main problem is that most people don’t drink water, but prefer soft drinks, fruit juice, coffee, beer or energy drinks instead.
This message, however, is not so popular because most of us like to discuss the environmental problems of this planet over a couple of beers, or wines, or coffees.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a plea for everyone to start drinking bottled water instead of tap water. Drinking tap water should be encouraged. But people who prefer to drink bottled water should not be treated as pariahs, because they are making a much more ecological choice than those of us who choose to consume other beverages.