In the United States we drink nearly 9 billion gallons of bottled water each year and it costs us almost 12 billion dollars annually, according to the International Bottled Water Association. But there are other hidden costs, to the environment and to our health.
The Environmental Protection Agency sets standards for tap water from public water systems, but bottled water is not held to these standards. Companies that produce bottled water are not required to disclose information about contaminants or inform customers where the water comes from, whether or not it is purified, and how purification is done.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested 10 popular bottled water brands and found chemical contaminants in every single sample, some exceeding legal limits. Researchers detected 38 chemical pollutants in total, with an average of 8 in each brand. They included:
- Poisonous heavy metals like arseinc
- Radioactive elements (isotopes)
- Waste pollutants like caffeine and pharmaceutical drugs
- Fertilizer residues like nitrates and ammonia
- Industrial chemicals like solvents, propellants and plasticizers
- Chemicals linked to cancer and reproductive problems like trihalomethanes and bromodichloromethane
Bottled water costs about 1,900 times more than tap water, yet studies show that the two are chemically indistinguishable. And in some cases, bottled water is actually tap water in a bottle. According to EWG, Walmart water was found to be bottled Las Vegas tap water.
The transport of bottled water across the country and around the world burns massive amounts of fossil fuels, releasing carbon dioxide and other pollution into the environment. According to the United States Conference of Mayors, “the plastic bottles produced for water require 1.5 million barrels of oil per year, enough to generate electricity for 250,000 homes or fuel 100,000 cars for a year.”
And plastic water bottles are one of the fastest growing sources of garbage. In 2006, 36 million bottles of water were sold but only one-fifth of them were recycled. Those that weren’t ended up in landfills and waterways, further polluting the environment.
Drink filtered tap water instead of bottled water. And if you have to take water with you, use a glass or stainless steel re-usable bottle.
Environmental Working Group. Bottled Water Quality Investigation: 10 Major Brands, 38 Pollutants. October 2008. Available at http://www.ewg.org/reports/BottledWater/Bottled-Water-Quality-Investigation.
US Mayors. 2007. The United States Conference of Mayors: Adopted Resolutions June 2007. Available at www.usmayors.org/75thAnnualMeeting/resolutions_full.pdf.
United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2011. Ground Water and Drinking Water. Available at http://safewater.supportportal.com/ics/support/splash.asp?deptID=23015.