Did you know that 85 million bottles of water are consumed in the United States every day, and almost thirty billion bottles a year?¹
America’s obsession with bottled water is fairly easy to understand; it is frequently associated with convenience, purity and good taste. Nevertheless, there are often two sides of the same coin and as one would expect, bottled water is no exception. While it is true that convenience is an important factor when choosing bottled water over tap, it creates more problems than it solves. According to the article “The Problem with Bottled Water,” despite being a country with some of the best public drinking water in the world, the United States produces almost 29 billion of disposable water bottles per year, making it the number one consumer in the world.² And what happens to these bottles? It is especially disappointing to learn that although water bottles are being marketed and sold as fully recyclable, approximately 85% end up in landfills, oceans, and/or incinerated.² What this means is that not even 2 out of 10 bottles actually get to the recycling process, which ends up being extremely hazardous to the environment. Not only this but it has been found that one plastic bottle takes 700 hundred years to decompose.³ In other words, people are using something for a few minutes that once they throw away, it is going to last practically forever. Thus, we must find alternatives, such as turning to tap water, in order to reduce bottled water consumption.
Bottled water is not only harmful for the environment because of the waste it creates but also because of the resources needed for its fabrication. Mass consumption of these bottles means using absurd amounts of energy and oil to produce plastic that sooner or later is going to be thrown away. In fact, Mangor and Taft who wrote the article “All Bottled Up”, state that approximately 2.7 million tons of plastic per year are turned into disposable bottles and that about two thousand times more energy is needed to produce bottled water when compared to the energy used to produce the same amount of water that comes from our tap.4 The irony is that in the case of bottled water, the plastic-making process of one bottle requires three times more water than it does to fill it, explains One Green Planet, an organization dedicated to environmental issues.5 In other words, to produce one 12-ounce plastic bottle, 36 ounces of water are needed. Not only is bottled water dependent on oil and energy to produce the plastic but also on high quantities of water to purify it. And let’s not forget about transportation. According to an article by Norm Schriever for the Huffington Post, it takes about forty thousand 18-wheelers to deliver our bottled water every week.6 It is of common knowledge that trucks require large quantities of oil, so you can certainly imagine the amount of fuel needed just to cover our indulgences. As a matter of fact, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the combustion of fossil fuels used to transport people and goods, is the second largest source, just below electricity, of CO2 emissions in the country.7 This means that when we buy a bottle of water we are not only contributing to the use of oil in terms of fabrication, but also to the emission of carbon dioxide, which is known to be very destructive to the atmosphere and has increased rapidly in the last few decades.
The convenience factor of using bottled water cannot be denied, but what about purity and taste? While many people prefer bottled water because they think it is purer and has a better taste, Lauren Tarshis from Scholastic Scope points out that in reality, many of the top-selling brands sell tap water that has been run through a filter.8 Not only this but because most cities are required to test tap water with regularity to make sure it does not contain germs or chemicals, it is likely that the water flowing from our tap has been more rigorously examined than what we drink from a bottle.8 This also happens because the FDA treats bottled water as a packaged food and governments treat tap water as a matter of public safety and salubrity, which is something important that needs to be considered. Actually, a study made by the Natural Resources Defense Council found some samples of 103 bottled water brands that violated strict state water-quality standards for chemicals or bacterial contamination.2 To put things in perspective, it is a well-known fact that New York City has the safest and cleanest tap water in the whole country—some may even argue that it is the best tasting as well—yet people consistently seem to believe that water contained in a plastic bottle is necessarily of a better quality. In other words, people tend to assume that bottled water is better just because it is packaged, which is an extremely common misconception. Not only is it wrong to assume that bottled water is better just because it is packaged but recent research has shown that phthalates, chemicals used to increase flexibility of plastic bottles, are actually disruptive to the endocrine system and that they can leach into the water. It now seems as if buying bottled water is really a risk, instead of something that is supposed to make our lives better.
On top of that, bottled water costs more money, and not only are people paying far more for something they can easily get at their own home but as we already know, many bottled water starts out as tap. In fact, according to a survey made at Purdue University, many bottled water drinkers confessed that the higher cost of bottled water alone leads them to think it is a lot safer to drink than tap water.9 The survey also states that Americans, in average, pay as much as 10,000 times more money for bottled water.9 For a better understanding of these numbers, it is worth to mention that if one would drink the recommended amount of water, i.e., eight glasses a day, the annual cost would be about $0.50 cents out of the tap, but about $1,400 if one decided to buy bottled water instead.6 It is hard to grasp why people would rather spend money on bottled water when it has already been established that tap water in the United States repeatedly exceeds government standards, it is easy to access, and costs almost anything. Thus, education is key if everything seems to point out that the higher price, in addition to marketing strategies and presentation, is really what influences most consumers when faced with the decision of buying bottled water.
We must not turn a blind-eye to the many issues that mass consumption of bottled water causes. The bottom line is that bottled water is harmful for the environment, costs more money, and may not be even purer than the water that comes from our tap. While it may be impossible to eliminate the use of plastic water bottles altogether, then at least we should consider reducing our consumption. In addition to encouraging the use of tap water as our main source for drinking, we must think of bottled water as a luxury and not as a necessity. Furthermore, if convenience is an important factor when choosing bottled water over tap, then we should focus on consuming it in a time and place where convenience is a top priority and not when other options, such as tap water, are available. Although some may say, and often argue, that banning the sale of water bottles in public places such as parks and schools is the only alternative, if sugary drinks are still offered then people most likely would be tempted to buy those instead. That would be especially problematic if we take into account the overweight problem that the United States faces and that it has one of the highest obesity rates in the world. While water fountains are a good option and are still being implemented, people often see them as a last resource to quench their thirst and may not be necessarily ideal if we think about portability and availability. Besides this, there is still a common misconception that they are filled with germs, even though they are completely sanitary and safe to use. Filling stations on the other hand, seem like a better choice if we consider that a person may have a reusable container—it may even be a disposable bottle they just used—that they would like to refill. Filling stations, besides saving people money, would also encourage two of the three environmental R’s: reducing and reusing. These thoughts need to be strongly emphasized if our wish is to transform people’s views about waste, especially in a culture where consumerism dictates that it is much easier to throw something away rather than fixing it or using it until replacement is essential. When all is said and done, we must think twice and evaluate carefully if drinking water from a bottle is really worth the money and the possible risk to our health, not to mention the severe environmental problems its consumption, fabrication, and transportation generates.
¹ “Why Spend Money on Water When it Can Be Free?” Pulitzercenter.org. 2011. Web. 8 May 2016.
² Dolesh, Richard J. “The Problem with Bottled Water.” Parks & Recreation. Issue 5. Vol. 49. 36-38. ProQuest Research Library. May 2014. Web. 22 Apr 2015.
³ “5 Reasons to Choose Tap Over Bottled Water [INFOGRAPHIC].” Tataandhoward.com. 2015. Web. 19 Apr 2016.
4 Mangor, Jodie and Elizabeth Taft. “All Bottled Up.” Odyssey. 22-25. ProQuest Research Library. 2013. Web. 22 Apr 2015.
5 Lights, Zion. “What’s the Problem with Plastic Bottles?” onegreenplanet.org. 8 May 2012. Web. 22 Apr 2015.
6 Schriever, Norm. “Plastic Water Bottles Causing Flood of Harm to Our Environment”.huffingtonpost.com. 29 Jul 2013. Web. 22 Apr 2015.
7 “Carbon Dioxide Emissions.” Epa.gov. 2014. Web. 7 May 2015.
8 Tarshis, Lauren. “Is Bottled Water Really Better?” Scholastic Scope. Issue 9. Vol. 61. 20-21. ProQuest Research Library. 8 Apr 2013. Web. 22 Apr 2015.
9 Saylor, Amber, Linda Stalker Prokopy, and Shannon Amberg. “What’s Wrong With the Tap? Examining Perceptions of Tap Water and Bottled Water at Purdue University.” Environmental Management. Issue 3. Vol. 48. 588-601. ProQuest Research Library. Sep 2011. Web. 22 Apr 2015.