The real cost of bottled water on personal health and our environment.
Have you heard of the 8th continent? It’s located in the Pacific Ocean between California and Japan—occupying an area up to twice the size of the continental United States and comprised entirely of plastic. That’s right, many of our everyday plastic discards have been pulled by ocean currents to clump together in this region, where their volume outnumbers plankton and other sea life. Called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch or Pacific Trash Vortex, the area is not visible from space because most of these small particles of plastic are submerged just below the water’s surface, where they are consumed by marine life and enter the food chain. In fact, each year at least 1 million seabird and 100,000 marine mammal and sea turtle deaths are due to plastic entanglement or ingestion.
Clearly, our plastic use is out of control, and one of the greatest culprits in this debacle is the disposable plastic water bottle. In the name of health, Americans plow through 8.6 billion gallons of bottled water a year (1,500 water bottles per second). Only 25 percent of these plastic bottles are recycled. The rest head for a landfill (or ocean) where they will take more than 450 years to break down completely. In the U.S. alone, more than 38 billion plastic water bottles end up in landfills each year.
Bottled water costs from 240 to 10,000 times as much as tap water. This cost doesn’t reflect improved water quality—only 10 percent of the cost of a bottle of water is actually attributed to the water. The remaining 90 percent of cost is devoted to packaging, marketing, and transportation. In fact, manufacturing and transportation costs for plastic water bottles require 47 million gallons of oil per year. What’s more, 30-40 percent of the water used in manufacturing and filling these water bottles is wasted.
The Natural Resources Defense Council conducted a four-year study of the bottled water industry, testing more than 1,000 bottles of water from 103 different companies and comparing the FDA’s bottled water standards to the EPA’s standards for tap water. They determined that up to 40 percent of bottled water is tap water. They also found bottled water companies using misleading marketing tactics, such as labels depicting photos of pristine mountain glaciers when in reality the water was sourced from a well in an industrial parking lot.
FDA regulation of the bottled water industry includes some disturbing regulatory gaps. For instance, around 60-70 percent of bottled water sold in the U.S. isn’t required to meet FDA guidelines due to a clause that exempts water packaged and sold within the same state. Twenty percent of states enforce no additional regulation. Carbonated and seltzer waters are also exempt from meeting FDA standards. Tap water regulation is often much more stringent. For instance, tap water can have no confirmed E. coli bacteria; bottled water doesn’t have such a restriction.
Toxic chemicals—like Bisphenol A (BPA), a high-production-volume chemical commonly used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastic—have been shown to disrupt the hormonal system, potentially leading to reproductive defects as well as brain damage, cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes. According to a study by researchers from Harvard University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drinking water and other beverages from plastic bottles made with (BPA) increases urinary levels of the toxic chemical by nearly 70 percent.
But many Americans seem to be waking up to the hazards of disposable plastic water bottles. For the first time since they were introduced, consumers discarded fewer PET bottles and jars than the previous year. And reusable water bottles now line shelves everywhere from grocery stores to upscale boutiques. By simply taking the time to fill a reusable bottle before heading out the door, you can make a major environmental impact.
If you’re concerned about the quality of your tap water, consider adding a whole-house filtration system or a stand-alone option such as the Berkey water filter. Berkey offers eight different water filter systems (ranging from travel size to a model that holds up to six gallons). These filters are powerful enough to remove hazards such as pathogenic bacteria, parasites, herbicides, and fluoride while maintaining healthful mineral content.
For water-on-the-go, invest in a few quality reusable water bottles. If you want a one-stop-shop for reusable bottles, check out www.reuseit.com, which offers nearly two dozen different types of water bottles, including BPA and phthalate-free plastic, glass, and stainless steel.
The company’s founder, Vincent Cobb, offers advice on sorting through the myriad of reusable options that have flooded the marketplace, “Our advice to consumers who are now faced with a growing array of options is to follow the golden rule of conscious consumption. Like with anything, don’t buy the first product you see. Be a little skeptical. Do some research to make sure the product is something you will actually use, will last a long time and actually does what it claims. Since many reusables are tied to food and beverage, it’s really important to find a brand you know and trust to help ensure the product is safe and won’t expose you to a host of potentially harmful chemicals.”
With a beautiful marriage of artisan-design and eco-friendliness, BottlesUp offers recycled glass water bottles, which are designed by architectural glass artist Laurel Herter and crafted using ancient techniques. After working as a graphic artist for an environmental consulting company, Herter became concerned with the health and environmental hazards of the single use plastic water bottle, “I am hard pressed to distinguish which is worse- the effect of BPAs on one's personal health or the mountains of plastic waste choking our oceans and landfills.”
She was determined to “design a beautiful alternative to the single-use plastic water bottle...while not compromising on the wonderful sparkle and purity of glass.” Her resulting 22 oz. reusable water bottle achieves a rustically beautiful design, enhanced with pops of color via silicone grippers, and packaged and shipped without the use of plastic.
While scientists research methods of eradicating this 8th continent (from collection and recycling to plastic eating fungi), we can each embrace reusable water bottles, doing our part to prevent this plastic disaster from growing any larger.