Bottled water manufacturers’ marketing campaigns capitalize on isolated instances of contaminated public drinking water supplies by encouraging the perception that their products are purer and safer than tap water.
But the reality is that tap water is actually held to more stringent quality standards than bottled water, and some brands of bottled water are just tap water in disguise. What’s more, our increasing consumption of bottled water — more than 22 gallons per U.S. citizen in 2004 according to the Earth Policy Institute — fuels an unsustainable industry that takes a heavy toll on the environment.
Fossil fuel consumption. Approximately 1.5 million gallons of oil — enough to run 100,000 cars for a whole year — are used to make plastic water bottles, while transporting these bottles burns thousands more gallons of oil. In addition, the burning of the oil and other fossil fuels (which also are used to generate the energy that powers the manufacturing process) emits global warming pollution into the atmosphere.
Water consumption. The growth in bottled water production has increased water extraction in areas near bottling plants, in some cases leading to water shortages that affect nearby consumers and farmers. In addition to the millions of gallons of water used in the plastic-making process, 2 gallons of water are wasted in the same purification processes for every gallon that goes into the bottles.
Waste. Only about 10 percent of plastic water bottles are recycled, leaving the rest in landfills where it takes thousands of years for the materials to decompose.
The Simple (and Cheaper) Solution
The next time you feel thirsty, forgo the bottle and turn on the tap. You’ll lower your environmental impact and save money — bottled water can cost up to 10,000 times more per gallon than tap water! And because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for tap water are slightly more stringent than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s standards for bottled water, you’ll be drinking water that’s just as safe as, or safer than, bottled.
If, however, you don’t like the taste of your tap water or are unsure of its quality, you can buy a filter pitcher or install an inexpensive faucet filter to remove trace chemicals and bacteria. If you will be away from home, fill a reusable bottle from your tap and refill it along the way; travel bottles that have built-in filters also are available. (Bottles made of stainless steel or plastics with the numbers 2, 4 or 5 are best; check the bottom of the bottle. — MOTHER). Finally, limit your bottled water purchases for those times when you’re traveling in countries where water quality is questionable.
Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit organization that recently launched the “Take Back the Tap” campaign to get consumers to ditch bottled water, points out that the federal share of funding for water systems has declined from 78 percent in 1973 to 3 percent today. Victoria Kaplan, senior organizer with the organization, urges consumers to “support public policies that promote safe, affordable, public tap water for future generations.” Visit Food & Water Watch and make the pledge to take back the tap, promising to choose tap water over bottled whenever possible and to support policies that promote clean public tap water for everybody.
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Reprinted with permission from the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists.