Bottled water manufacturers lead us to believe their product is pure, clean water direct from nature. Just look at the water bottle ads of pristine pools of spring water surrounded by majestic, snowcapped mountain tops. Well, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Bottled water is not necessarily safer than your tap water.” The truth is most bottled water is sourced from a local municipal water supply, and even worse, the bottled water industry is poorly regulated. In a report conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), they found as much as 40% of all bottled water comes from a city water system, just like tap water. The report also discloses 60 to 70% of all bottled water is exempt from FDA’s bottled water standards because it is bottled and sold within the same state. Unless the water is transported across state lines, there are no federal regulations that govern its quality. According to the NRDC, “bottled water companies have used this loophole to avoid complying with basic health standards, such as those that apply to municipally treated tap water.” Other findings from the four-year study by the NRDC found that of 103 brands surveyed, one- third contained high levels of contamination and that the contents of one bottle labeled “Spring Water” actually came from an industrial parking lot next to a hazardous waste site.
Even though concerns over the quality, safety and environmental hazards of bottled water are becoming publicly acknowledged, the demands for bottled water continue to grow. As if you didn’t need any more, consider the following facts compiled by the Environmental Working Group on compelling reasons to just say no to bottled water:
• Between 2004 and 2009, US consumption of bottled water increased by 24 percent. Bottled water sales have more than quadrupled in the last 20 years (BMC 2010).
• Every 27 hours Americans consume enough bottled water to circle the entire equator with plastic bottles stacked end to end.
• In just a single week, those bottles would stretch more than halfway to the moon — 155,400 miles.
• The federal government does not mandate that bottled water be any safer than tap water – the chemical pollution standards are nearly identical (EWG 2008). In fact, bottled water is less regulated than tap water.
• Close to half of all bottled water is sourced from municipal tap water (BMC 2010, Food and Water Watch 2010).
• It takes an estimated 2,000 times more energy to produce bottled water than to produce an equivalent amount of tap water (Gleick 2009).
• Bottled water production and transportation for the U.S. market consumes more than 30 million barrels of oil each year and produces as much carbon dioxide as 2 million cars (Gleick 2009).
• Plastic water bottles are the fastest growing form of municipal solid waste in the United States. Each year more than 4 billion pounds of PET plastic bottles end up in landfills or as roadside litter (Corporate Accountability International 2010).
• While plastic bottles can be recycled, the majority are not. Moreover, plastic never actually degrades; it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. In some parts of the ocean, plastic outweighs plankton by a six-to-one ratio (Moore 2001).
• Bottled water has indirect economic costs. Disposing of plastic water bottle waste, for example, costs cities nationwide an estimated $70 million in landfill tipping fees each year (Corporate Accountability International 2010).
Next week we will explore safe and cost-effective alternatives to bottled water.