The Wastefulness of Water Bottles

According to the World Wildlife Fund, 1.5 million tons of plastic are used each year to make bottles of water for the US. The energy put into this effort is enough to power 190,000 homes or 500,000 cars. These bottles are then used to carry water that is, in general, no better than the average tap water, but may have a few chemicals added for "taste" that add nothing to the nutritional value. Of the 50 billion bottles used by Americans last year, around 38 billion (more than 75% and over $1 billion worth of plastic) ended up in the waste stream.

The average American consumes 28 gallons of bottled water each year, contributing to the growth of a $10 billion industry. In the last few years, the bottled water industry has grown faster than any other beverage industry, and it is projected that this growth will continue, with 90% growth by 2011.

Aside from convenience, there appears to be little reason to drink bottled water. Despite the common perception that bottled water is cleaner or healthier, there seems to be little evidence to support this idea. While tap water is regulated by the EPA, bottled water is considered a "food product", and is thus regulated by the FDA. However, if the water is bottled and sold within a single state, even FDA regulation is unnecessary. This means that while tap water is disinfected, tested hundreds of times each month for bacteria with public results, filtered to remove pathogens, confirmed to be free of e. coli and fecal coliform, and tested for viruses, bottled water has not necessarily had any of these things done, except for having been tested once a week with private results.

Some bottled water, however, IS tap water, sometimes with additives or additional processes, sometimes without. The nation's two top brands (making up 24% of consumption in the US), Aquafina and Dasani, for example, both begin as tap water.

Meanwhile, the energy expended to create a water bottle far exceeds the benefits of the bottle -- according to water expert Peter Gleick, the oil used in making a water bottle is equivalent to filling a quarter of the bottle with oil. In addition, the water used in the manufacturing process for a bottle amounts to twice as much water as will eventually go into the bottle for drinking. Comparably, the pollutants created as byproducts of this process are 100 times those resultant from the manufacture of a glass bottle. And all this before factoring in transporting the bottles to stores for sale, which can add 500,000 gallons of oil to the expenditure.

There are also environmental dangers due to removal processes used by bottling companies. Rural water supplies are often threatened when too much water is removed from nearby, and wetlands are damaged. The promotion of bottled water takes emphasis away from maintaining municipal water systems and may put additional stress on systems designed to provide water to those who need it. The bottles that end up as litter may also pollute the very sources responsible for filling them.

Unfortunately, the majority of plastic bottles are used outside of the home, which makes them less conducive to recycling (only 38 of each American's 167 annual bottles end up at recycling centers). Reuse is also difficult, as the chemicals in the plastic are more likely to leach out into the water the more you use them. Bacteria may also grow in hard-to-clean bottles over time.

So, rather than pay 1,000 times the cost of tap water for bottled water, why not get a filter for home and a reusable bottle for elsewhere? There are a variety of popular brands of resuable bottles available, including Klean Kanteen's steel containers (, SIGG's aluminum bottles (, New Wave Enviro Products in corn-based or stainless steel formats (, Nalgene bottles in several types of plastic (, and Platypus pouches (, among others. There are pros and cons to each type, of course, and prices vary, but compared to the outlandish price difference between tap water and bottled water, spending a few extra dollars on a reusable bottle is negligible.

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Volume 4, Issue 6, Posted 10:05 PM, 03.11.2008