Bottled water has negative impacts on our society, our health, our environment, and our wallets.
According to various accounts, 25 to 40 percent of bottled water in the U.S. comes from public water sources, a.k.a. tap water.1 For the companies that produce this water, it is an incredibly lucrative venture; they usually pay the standard municipal rate for tap water, which is less than one cent per gallon, and then resell it for anywhere between 240 to 10,000 times that price.2 In 2008, the top three bottled water brands in the U.S. by volume were Nestlé Waters North America’s PureLife, Pepsi’s Aquafina, and Coca-Cola’s Dasani3 – all three of which come from municipal sources.4
As bottled water grows in popularity, we are witnessing a shift away from consumption of tap water. Today, one in five Americans only drink water from bottles. A generation of children is growing up believing that the only healthy water comes from bottles, and that tap water is impure. 5,6 This means that we are becoming more and more dependent upon huge, profit-motivated multinational corporations to provide one of our most important and fastest dwindling resources: clean drinking water.
These companies have done a fantastic job convincing us that their water is pure and delicious, thanks to advertising that appeals to a cultural fascination with youth, beauty, and purity.7 (Many people are amazed to discover that Aquafina was launched in 1994 and Dasani, 1999 – they are now so ubiquitous, it’s hard to imagine life without them.) But how pure and safe is the water that they’re selling?
Tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which lacks the enforcement authority that the EPA wields. By law, the FDA must set the same standards for drinking water that the EPA sets, or issue an explanation as to why they are not doing so; but the FDA does not require testing nearly as often as the EPA does for tap water, does not inspect plants as often, and, perhaps most shockingly, does not require companies to warn consumers of violations, even when they do find them.8,9
Finally, there are the staggering environmental impacts of bottled water. First, when millions of gallons of water are removed from local watersheds, the hydrological cycle is disrupted, affecting water available for human usage as well as damaging local ecosystems.10,11Then, there’s the plastic: Annually, 17 million barrels of oil are consumed in the production of the bottles alone – enough oil to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year. This figure does not include the oil burned in transportation or refrigeration of the water. In fact, the amount of oil used in the lifetime of a plastic water bottle is the equivalent of filling that bottle one-quarter of the way with oil.12 Finally, bottled water takes an enormous toll on our landfills. Less than 15% of single-use plastic water bottles are recycled nationwide; we send 30 million to our landfills every day.13 This is not just another drop in the bucket (pardon the pun).
The facts are clear: bottled water has negative impacts on our society, our health, our environment, and our wallets.
The need for action is urgent. We are the ones who can make the change.
1 National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Bottled Water: Pure Drink or Pure Hype?” 1999. http://www.nrdc.org/water/drinking/bw/exesum.asp
2 Royte, Elizabeth. Bottlemania: How Water Went On Sale and Why We Bought It. New York: Bloomesbury USA, 2008.
3 Beverage Marketing Corp. News Release, 20 April 2009. http://www.beveragemarketing.com/?section=pressreleases
4 Source: Company websites.
5 Bullers, Anne Christiansen. “Bottled Water: Better Than the Tap?” FDA Consumer Magazine. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, July-August 2002.
6 Ferrier, Catherine. “Bottled Water: Understanding a Social Phenomenon.” Commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund. April, 2001.
7 Ibid., pp. 17-18
8 Government Accountability Office (GAO). “Bottled Water: FDA Safety and Consumer Protections Are Often Less Stringent Than Comparable EPA Protections for Tap Water.” Report to Congressional Requesters, 6/09
9 Environmental Working Group (EWG). “Is Your Bottled Water Worth It?” 18-month investigative study conducted 2008-2009. http://www.ewg.org/health/report/bottledwater-scorecard/bottle-vs-tap
10 Glennon, Robert. Water Follies: Groundwater Pumping and the Fate of America’s Freshwaters. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2002, p. 7
11 Royte, p. 56-59
12 Ibid., p. 139.
13 Howard, Bryan Clark. “Message in a Bottle: Despite the Hype, Bottled Water is Neither Cleaner Nor Greener Than Tap Water.” E – The Environmental Magazine, September/October 2003. http://www.emagazine.com/view/?1125