Everyday millions of people purchase bottled water. Most of them have little idea or regard for the vast consequences of the production of that water, the bottle its in, and the incredibly harmful environmental impacts the whole process generates. According to an enlightening article on TreeHugger.com over 50 billion plastic water bottles are bought each year, with 80% of them ending up in a landfill, despite extensive recycling efforts. In the United States alone, a truly mind-blowing 1,500 plastic water bottles are consumed every second. Yet this is only one of many answers to the question of why bottled water is bad: when it comes to bottled water and the environment, things are looking grimmer and grimmer.
Why is Bottled Water Bad?
The figures above are enough to make it abundantly clear why we need to do something immediately before we quite literally drown our planet in a sea of plastic waste. But there are reasons other than plastic waste which make the bottled water industry one of the most damning inventions of the modern lifestyle. If you want to do your part for the environment, swear off bottled water today. Check out our Best Water Bottles of 2015 article for some suggestions on a great reusable bottle to help you kick the bottled water habit.
But why should you swear off bottled water? Lets take a look at some of the more shocking facets of bottled water and figure out why bottled water is bad for the environment.
1. Bottled Water Production Consumes Huge Amounts of Energy and Petroleum Products
In an article published on Livescience.com in 2009 we find some very interesting statistics regarding just what a huge energy sink bottled water truly is.
Energy hungry at every phase of its production, the gluttonous consumption of petroleum products starts at the earliest stages of making bottled water. The most common plastic bottles are made from a petroleum-derived chemical called polyethylene terephthalate, more commonly known as PET. Producing PET consumes energy in the production process, while simultaneously the petroleum converted into plastic is in many ways wasted energy, as instead of being used to power homes or cars, it is instead converted into a plastic bottle which will more than likely find itself in a landfill. In 2007, the amount of petroleum products used to produce PET amounted to nearly 50 billion barrels of oil.
Yet this is only the beginning of bottled waters energy demands. After the bottles are created, more energy is expended to label and fill the bottles with water – although this is only a small fraction of the huge amount necessary to produce the bottles. Finally, the water must be transported to its point of sale, either by boat, plane, or truck, consuming varied amounts of petroleum products depending on the distance and mode of shipping – not to mention further polluting the atmosphere with green house gases.
2. It Takes Way More Water Than it Provides
When Sustainability Engineer Pablo Päster decided to calculate how much water it takes to bring bottled water to consumers the results were pretty incredible. Tracking the production of Fiji bottled water from its bottle manufacturing plant in China all the way to its final store front, Pablo noted that it takes a remarkable 6.74 times more water to manufacture and transport Fiji bottled water than is actually in the bottle!
Pablo’s mathematics generated some pretty substantial controversy when they were first published back in 2007. In the intervening years, the attention these calculations brought to the production of bottled water has been an important factor in raising public awareness and forcing bottled water companies to look more closely at the efficiency of their operations. Yet while they may have taken some measures towards conservation, bottled water still extracts a massive toll on resources for relatively little reward.
3. Bottled Water is Neither Cleaner nor Healthier than Tap Water
Although this statement might vary depending on where you are, generally speaking there is no reason to assume bottled water is any inherently cleaner or healthier than tap water. Yet despite that, bottled water companies are desperate to convince you otherwise, embarking on huge campaigns to convince customers bottled water is the most “pure,” “clean,” or “healthy” way to hydrate.
In a comprehensive review published by the Natural Resource Defense Council, the #1 finding noted by the authors truly says it all:
“Most bottled water apparently is of good quality, but some contains contamination; it should not automatically be assumed to be purer or safer than most tap water. “
Is Bottled Water Bad For You?
Just as we shouldn’t assume that bottled water isn’t necessary any better for you, we should also be cautious in claiming outright that bottled water is bad for you. The situation is a complicated one, but generally speaking, bottled water is safe to drink. Plastic water bottles may leech potentially toxic chemicals into the water which are probably bad for you, but assuming the bottle has been properly stored and is not exceptionally old, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
4. PET Bottles May Leech Toxic Chemicals Into Your Water
Researchers from Germany conducted a study which demonstrated that PET water bottles slowly contaminate the water contained within them with a compound known as antimony. In the study, the researchers demonstrated how the bottles gradually leak antimony into the water, observing that a bottle which initially measured at 375 ppt antimony had nearly doubled to 626 ppt three months later.
At the moment, few scientific studies into the toxicity of antimony or its effects on human health are available. Yet with vast amounts of bottled water being consumed, this potentially harmful byproduct should be a candidate for careful scrutiny for anyone concerned about what goes into their body.
Are Plastic Water Bottles Bad For You?
The questionable health safety record of plastic water bottles is enough to make many steer clear of bottled water altogether. Overall, you’re probably better off avoiding bottled water for both health and environmental reasons.
5. Plastic Bottles Break Down With Harmful Ecological Impact
Although we often hear figures touted about how plastics can take 500 to 1,000 years to break down (a problem in itself,) research into plastic degradation in marine environments has suggested otherwise. In an article from Wired Magazine, the author highlights how research has suggested that plastic can break down into tiny microscopic compounds within the ocean, exposing marine life to toxic chemicals such as BPA and styrene trimer.
While the exact impact of such compounds in the marine ecosystem remains largely unknown, we can be quite certain this pollution is having some harmful impacts on marine life. The truth is, we still know very little about how plastic water bottles affect the environment. Yet it has already become clear that they are not doing the environment any favors. The tiny particles which result from plastic decomposition have the potential to impact life at all levels of the food chain, while large plastic waste can do real harm to larger aquatic species.
A Fire Hazard, Too?!?
As we examined in our piece “Disposable Plastic Water Bottles: A Hidden Fire Hazard?” it turns out in addition to their environmental damage as a form of pollution, disposable plastic bottles can also be the direct source of a fire in the right conditions!
Sunlight refracting through the bottle and the water inside it can be concentrated into a narrow and powerfully hot beam of light. Much like a magnifying glass, this can potentially lead to small fires which, left unattended, can transform into a huge blaze.
Do Your Part!
Ultimately, this is something of a moral issue. Is it bad to drink bottled water? While it probably won’t have any serious negative health consequences, it does put you at risk of exposure to potentially toxic plastics. But more than that, it is disastrous for the environment.
With so much of our trash ending up in the oceans, and such a vast amount of wasted energy used simply to produce bottled water, it is time for every individual to take personal responsibility upon themselves to put a stop to the bottled water industry. Pick up your own reusable water bottle, whether it is a cheap yet reliable Nalgene or a luxurious Hydro Flask and do your part to curb pollution. The environment, your wallet, and even your health will thank you!
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The consequences of bottled water are huge. Take a look at these 5 ways the bottled water industry is wreaking havoc for our environment the world over.
Jacob Hatch is the author and founder of Hydration Anywhere. He has been actively writing about drinking water since 2013. These days Jacob spends most of his time investigating water related news, studying environmental issues, reading health studies, and reviewing products like water bottles and water filters.