Convenience and portability are key factors in product selection, and water is no exception. Bottled water consumption finally surpassed that of soft drinks to become the largest beverage category by volume in 2016, and the numbers are still on the rise.
Labels bearing pristine glaciers or mountain streams evoke images of purity, contrasting sharply with health concerns related to public drinking fountains and ongoing water contamination problems. Is bottled water really better? Here are five things you might not know about it.
It’s Incredibly Expensive
On average, bottled water costs three hundred times more than tap water. As high as that estimate may sound, the figure may actually reach up to two thousand times the cost of tap water after taking into account that most of the business takes the form of single-bottle sales (which are priced much higher).
Much of the cost comes from manufacturing the bottle itself, which requires 17 million barrels of oil annually – but the costs don’t end with production. Cities nationwide spend $70 million to dispose of plastic bottles each year.
It Has a Considerable Impact on the Environment
In addition to the amount of oil used in water bottle production, water bottles face other challenges such as recycling. In 2015, the overall rate of plastic bottle recycling in the U.S. was 31.1% – down slightly from the previous year after 25 consecutive years of growth.
Plastic bottles not recycled usually end up in landfills, where they can take up to 450 years to decompose. It’s also estimated that it takes around 2 liters of water to produce one liter of bottled water, meaning that each liter of bottled water sold actually represents 3 total liters consumed. Since many water bottle production plants use municipal water in their production lines, this can potentially lead to shortages in times of emergency.
Plastic Bottles Are a Health Concern
Most companies producing bottled water use polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or polycarbonate in the manufacturing process. The hardening substance used in polycarbonate plastic, Bisphenol A (BPA), has been linked to an increased risk of cancer.
According to a related study, plastic containers or linings are responsible for the majority of human contact with the carcinogen. While more research is needed, a six month study found that chemicals such as antimony, a white metallic element that in small doses can cause nausea and dizziness, can leach into the water from the plastic and increase in concentration over time.
It’s Not as Pure as We’re Told
While browsing through the rows of bottles present on the shelves of almost every convenience store or market, it’s easy to assume that the quality of the water inside is higher than what you’d find flowing from the average tap. In reality, bottled water faces less stringent regulation than tap water in most major cities.
Although both bottled and tap water are tested for bacteria and other contaminants, city tap water requires testing over 100 times a month while bottled water plants need only test once a week. Regulations aside, tap water has actually performed better than its bottled counterparts in taste tests.
Other Options Exist
A less expensive and more environmentally friendly alternative to bottled water for those who don’t want to drink directly from the tap is a water filter. Available filters can connect to an existing water supply, a refillable pitcher, or even individual reusable bottles for portability.
As for reusable water bottles, be sure to pick a BPA-free plastic or stainless steel bottle and clean it out regularly. In preparation for emergency situations, the CDC recommends at least a three-day supply of a minimum of 1 gallon of drinking water per person or pet, per day.
Rather than storing this amount in individual water bottles, it’s possible to fill a rigid or collapsible plastic container rated for drinking water and store it along with a bottle of unscented liquid bleach to disinfect it if necessary. Properly cleaned and prepared, some containers can safely store water for years.
For many of us, it can be difficult to fathom that 1 in 10 people – or about 663 million people worldwide – don’t have access to clean drinking water. Access to safe water can save lives, and there are organizations working toward providing that access to families worldwide.
For more information on the ongoing water crisis and to read about existing initiatives and ways you can help, be sure to check out Water.org.