When traveling, preparing for strong weather, or making water a readily available option, many of us reach for bottled water to quench our thirst. The mindset behind it is sound; our bodies need water for every necessary function. And, water is the the ideal choice over sugary drinks like soda and juices. While bottled water seems like a preferred choice over tap water, you might be shocked to learn that when it comes to tap vs. bottled, bottled water is not always a clear winner.
The Environmental Protection Agency regulates tap water, and the Food and Drug Administration regulates bottled water. Although protections for the consumer are in place, there are many factors to consider when purchasing bottled water:
Not all plastic bottles are safe:
Part of what the FDA requires companies to regulate is the level of di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP, a carcinogen found in plastics. Most manufacturers have also moved away from using plastic containing bisphenol-A, or BPA. The danger of BPA is that it mimics the structure and function of estrogen, according to some studies done by the National Institute of Health. The studies found that BPA can “influence bodily processes, such as growth, cell repair, fetal development, energy levels and reproduction [as well as] thyroid hormone receptors, thus altering their function.” How’s this for alarming: women that had suffered miscarriages were found to have 3 times as much BPA in their blood as women with successful pregnancies, according to one study published in the journal Human Reproduction.
Sounds like the easy choice is to grab a bottle that touts being BPA free, right? The alternative chemicals are not much better. In an effort to steer away from BPA, companies have started using bisphenol-S (BPS) or bisphenol-F (BPF). Studies published in Environmental Health Perspectives show that these alternatives disrupt cells similar to BPA.
A benefit to adjustments in the plastics used for bottles, according to Stephen Edward, a board certified clinical and public health microbiologist, is that “[before regulations] ink from the label could go through the plastic, but it doesn’t happen anymore.”
So, while changes were made to protect the consumer, choosing to use containers made of stainless steel or glass will be a sure-fire way to avoid any of the chemicals found in plastics. Filtered water pitchers and/or filtration systems added directly to your tap or refrigerator are another level of safety for your at-home water source.
Don’t assume the water is safe:
According to the Chicago Tribune, “A report by the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) about 15 years ago — the latest large-scale study performed — tested more than 1,000 bottles from 103 brands of water by three independent labs. They found that about one-third of the bottles contained significant contamination with levels of chemical or bacterial contaminants exceeding those allowed under a state or industry standard or guideline in at least one test.” Since then, the FDA agreed to hold companies accountable for the source of their water. You can often find contact information on the bottles if you want more info on the source, the exact purification process, as well as the test results for water quality checks.
The FDA requires that bottled water companies test for E. Coli and use sources that are free from the bacteria. However, due to the bottling process, there is always potential for contamination, either at the source, or due to contact with equipment exposed to bacteria. There have been several instances where companies have recalled bottled water due to concern over contamination.
Many people have a clear preference for a specific brand of bottled water due to taste, which some attribute to the quality of water. In truth, the difference in taste is due to “source location, mineral content and other geological factors,” says Edwards.
Where do all those bottles go?:
Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year. Unfortunately, the U.S.’s recycling rate for plastic bottles is only 23%, which means 38 billion water bottles, more than $1 billion worth of plastic, are wasted each year. Remember that plastic (polyethylene terephthalate- Pet), now used to prevent inks from seeping through, contaminating water? Well, it takes 400 years to naturally decompose. It is highly recyclable though, but since only 23% of water bottles are recycled, the waste buildup is rapid, and continues to grow each day.
Researchers estimate that it takes the equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil just to make the plastic bottles for our bottled water consumption in the U.S.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, by 2050, it is estimated that the oceans will contain more plastic by weight than fish. People should aim to drink the equivalent amount of water from four bottles each day. If you used a reusable bottle, you could save 1,460 plastic bottles per year.
If that isn’t enough incentive to go with a reusable bottle, consider this:
“Over the course of a year, if you drank four bottles per day, at an average cost of $2 per bottle, you would spend almost $3,000 per year just on water. With a reusable bottle, even if you needed to buy a new one within a year, you would only be spending $20 per year at most. This would leave you with an extra $2,980 in the bank.”
In order to keep up with demand, high amounts of energy are also used for the manufacturing of bottles, sourcing and purifying the water, and transporting the finished product to store shelves across the country. Researchers estimate that it takes the equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil just to make the plastic bottles for our bottled water consumption in the U.S.
This is a lot of information to process when it comes to something as basic as water. There’s no question, in cases of dangerous weather or scarcity, bottled water makes sense. But if even one factor that can impact our finances, health, or environment can be avoided, isn’t it worth making the switch to a reusable source?
-Info on water bottles: https://phys.org/news/2009-03-energy-bottle.html#jCp
-What is BPA: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-is-bpa
-NIH BPA and estrogen: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22889897
-NIH Thyroid function: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19502515
-BPA and recurrent miscarriage: https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/deh888
-Healthline BPA: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-is-bpa#section2
-Bottled Water Recall: https://www.cnn.com/2015/06/23/us/niagara-e-coli-bottled-water-recall/index.html