Every day in the United States 80 million bottles of water are consumed.
30 million of these bottles will end up in a landfill. 10 million of these bottles will be recycled and the remaining 40 million will either be incinerated (thereby releasing toxic chemicals into the atmosphere), or end up as roadside trash.
I often wonder why we spend so much money to consume something you get for fractions of a penny per gallon at home, and create one of the largest and most damaging waste streams of plastic on the planet while doing so? Is it because the bottled water companies are great at advertising? Is it the convenience of grabbing a bottle out of the fridge? Or is it because we believe our drinking water isn’t safe?
The bottled water industry draws the consumer in by printing things like “crisp, clean pure water”, and uses names like “Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring” evoking thoughts of snow covered mountains and clear mountain streams. The truth is that most of the bottled water on the market is taken from the same source as the municipal water supply. Take a close look at the label on a bottle of Aquafina, the number one brand in retail sales in the U.S. and you will see that it clearly reads “originates from public water sources”. They bottle tap water and sell it to you in a container made from petroleum, because they have us thinking that their water is better than our tap water. It’s the same water.
Consider this. In 2009, the Environmental Working Group found that our fine City of Charleston had the 4th best drinking water in the entire nation. In 2010 the Charleston water supply was tested 20,600 times to ensure it’s quality and to make sure it adhered to strict US EPA, and DHEC regulations (you can find all this information on charlestonwater.com).
The bottled water industry on the other hand is pretty much unregulated. As of 2009 the FDA had one person who oversaw the bottled water industry. There are no federal regulations requiring bottled water companies to submit their testing reports to the FDA, and they only have to abide by Federal drinking water quality standards if the water they are bottling is being shipped across state lines. The Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring water bottled from an aquifer in Salem S.C. is shipped all across the state and has to adhere to no Federal drinking water quality regulations. Would you rather drink water that is tested 56 times per day, or water that is marked up 1900% and stored in plastic?
Consider the economic impact on you the consumer. If you purchase a 24 oz. bottle of water at a gas station it costs about $1.50. If you purchase 5 of these which equals a little less than a gallon, you paid $7.50 for a gallon of water. We’re complaining about gas possibly costing $4 per gallon and yet we’re ok with paying $7.50 a gallon for something that we can get at home for fractions of a penny.
What you are really paying for is the plastic bottle, because the water company pretty much gets the water for free. Plastic water bottles used in the bottled water industry are made from polyethylene terephthalate or PET, which is created by processing crude oil. Every year 714 million gallons of oil are used to make plastic bottles, enough oil to fuel 100,000 cars for a year. At a time of rising gas prices we are processing millions of gallons of oil everyday to create a product designed to be used for an hour (or less) and then throwing it away. Is it just me or does that sound like one of the most insane things in the world (besides paying $7.50 for a gallon of water)?
Independent studies have found numerous chemicals in bottled water that leach out of the plastic. These include benzene and toluene (both found in gasoline and paint thinner), styrene (causes cancer and birth defects) and three different types of phthalates (causes birth defects). None of these chemicals are found in tap water.
Unfortunately we cannot stop plastics from being used. They are all around us, every second of the day, everywhere we look, but we can reduce our use of them by purchasing a metal water bottle and filling it up from your tap. Let’s show the bottled water industry that we are smarter than they think we are, and at the same time, without even trying you will be doing a great thing for the environment by not delivering 70 million bottles a day into the environment.
Chair, Surfrider Foundation, Charleston Chapter.