While the contents themselves are not especially harmful, the process of producing bottled water is not doing the environment any favors. Many health-conscious consumers strongly believe bottled water is preferable to ordinary tap water, and the bottled water industry’s profits run in the billions of dollars (USD) annually. Even if the bottling and shipping aspects of bottled water have a negative impact on the environment, the end result is still viewed as a healthier alternative than tap water processed through municipal treatment plants.
One of the main problems with bottled water production is the reliance on fossil fuels. Raw plastic must be heated before it can be injected into bottle-shaped blow molds, and this heat source is often electricity or natural gas, both of which are produced by fossil fuels. The finished bottles must then be shipped out by trucks or trains, which also burn natural fossil fuels. Add to this the use of additional packaging materials such as plastic wrap and cardboard. Merely producing the bottles has a negative impact on the environment.
There is also a question about the viability of a bottled water recycling program. Although the plastic used in most bottling facilities is considered recyclable, the majority of used bottled water containers never see the inside of a recycling center. They are either sent to landfills or are left behind as unclaimed trash. These plastic bottles do not degrade very quickly, and many plastic products generate harmful gases as they disintegrate. As long as recycling efforts remain voluntary, used bottled water containers will continue to generate these gases and take up valuable space in landfills.
Some experts question the need for bottled water in the first place. Several studies have shown that many bottled waters are not produced from the natural or protected sources touted by their manufacturers. Some bottled water is little more than purified tap water derived from the same source as municipal drinking water. So-called “spring water” or “Artesian well water” can also contain natural contaminants as the water percolates through the ground before bottling. Side-by-side taste tests between bottle water and treated municipal tap water have often revealed very few discernible difference in taste or quality.
Because bottled water is considered to be a “food,” regulation and testing falls to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA currently requires bottled water manufacturers to test their product for harmful contaminants once a week. Municipal tap water is under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA’s testing requirements are much more stringent for tap water, requiring water treatment plants to test for contaminants several times a day. In terms of potential harm to people and animals, unchecked bottled water could prove to be much more hazardous than municipal tap water.
Some water treatment experts recommend not refilling bottled water containers with fresh water from the tap. The plastic bottles may leach toxic chemicals into the water as they degrade, which only becomes more problematic as the bottles become older. Fresh drinking water should be kept in glass or more permanent plastic containers, not in disposable plastic bottles.
While bottled water certainly has its appeal as a portable source of rehydration, it does have some negative impact on the environment. Some experts suggest using a home filtration system to improve the taste and quality of standard tap water instead of relying on bottled water for drinking purposes. Filters can remove almost all of the most dangerous contaminants and foreign agents found in water, and the purified tap water can be stored in more permanent containers with far less environmental impact than disposable bottled water bottles formed from plastic.
Bottled water production and sales have been banned in some places, notably Australia. There are ‘bio-degradable’ water bottles on the market but the majority take up to 700 years to degrade. From experience, some South African municipality tap water is so full of chemicals that it becomes a problem to drink. White River municipal water in Mpumalanga is terrible to drink but ‘safe’, meaning that there are no biological pathogens in the water (because of all the added chemicals!). However, these added chemicals are toxic and have a negative effect on the human body. It is very tempting to buy bottled water in these circumstances but, as the article above points out, the water may taste better but it’s not necessarily safer. Rather install a good quality water filtration system and fill up reusable bottles to take with you when you leave the house. In the end you will be saving money, saving your health and saving the environment. Water Rhapsody rainwater harvesting systems can provide ‘free’ water and can be used for irrigation, filling up the pool and bathing. Rain water can also be used for drinking if an appropriate water filtration system is installed at the rainwater tanks or at point of use.
Also see Plastic Bottles & Ocean Pollution