Bottled Water Harms The Environment

by Owner on July 15, 2009

Thinking about reaching for that bottled water on a hot summer day? Think twice, and maybe reach for a water filter jug instead. Make no mistake, using bottled water is harmful to the environment.

What the bottled water industry doesn’t want you to see or think about is the huge toll on the environment caused by creating bottles out of petroleum based plastic, filling them up (which wastes 3 gallons for every gallon filled), transporting them hundreds or thousands of miles, storing them in warehouses, refrigerating them, and distributing them to consumers. That’s all quite apart from the huge number of bottles that simply get thrown away. In short, bottled water is a huge waste of resources.

These facts won’t stop the bottled water industry from fighting back and even greenwashing their water bottles, however.

Recently, my home city of Arlington, Virginia passed a rule that outlawed the use of water bottles at civic functions. In doing so it joined a growing number of cities doing the same thing.

That drew a response from a representative of the bottled water industry in the local paper. Here’s what he basically said, along with some counter arguments:

a) “No municipal water system in the country…meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) strict standards for bottled purified water.”

In fact, municipal water systems must meet the even more stringent EPA standards for water quality. It’s simply disingenuous to claim that drinking water from the tap is less safe or healthy.

b) “Few municipal water systems can match the natural freshness and crisp, clean taste of bottled spring water.”

He failed to mention that a lot of bottled water, including Dasani and Aquafina, is not spring water at all, but tap water passed through some fancy filters and then marketed with bucolic symbols of pristine water springs.

If you’re concerned about things like chlorine in drinking water (which are always at safe levels anyway), it’s easy to use a simple filtered water pitcher at home. It’s what I do, and the water couldn’t taste more fresh or crisp.

c) “Common sense” environmentalism should encourage use of recycling facilities for recycling water bottles made from easily recyclable (#1) PET plastic.

He fails to mention that the best recycled product is the one not made or used in the first place, especially for unnecessary reasons.

This argument also ignores the fact that many people don’t recycle, and upwards of 70% of water bottles end up in landfills or the ocean where they won’t decompose for decades, if ever.

d) There is a cost burden to the government of employing staff to fill, distribute, and collect water pitchers and glasses at civic functions that would be done away with by using “convenient” bottled water.

This argument doesn’t pass the laugh test, but if we’re going to make ridiculous arguments then let’s make the equally ridiculous counter argument that our tattered economy needs every extra job possible, including additional water handlers!

The Board of Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, a grass roots environmental organization for which I volunteer, wasted no time in shooting off a reply.

There is no way to greenwash the making or using of bottled water. The bottles are an unnecessary burden on the environment, which is especially evident when you stack them up against the ease of simply drawing water from the tap–water that meets and exceeds all health and safety guidelines from two federal agencies.

So if you’re concerned about going green, one of the best and easiest things to do is leave bottled water behind. Consider using convenient stainless steel (or safe reusable plastic) bottles to take water with you. You can also use easy and inexpensive water filter jugs you keep in your refrigerator if you want to make your water taste as clean and fresh as possible.

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Mark July 15, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Awesome post. It hits on a really relevant topic too. I think most people tend to overlook how much plastic we really use…it’s in practically everything, and recycling it has so many serious benefits. There’s a post about plastic somewhere on my blog about Green Business,, feel free to check it out.


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