When I was growing up, there was one kind of bottled water – Perrier – reserved for very special occasions. Today, bottled water is ubiquitous. You can find shelves of it in convenience stores and supermarkets, filling up vending machines, and sitting in cupboards and pantries in homes across the U.S. There are numerous brands, some of which appear to be spring water even when they’re not (e.g., Poland Springs), some “artesian,” – whatever that means (e.g., Fiji), some making no special claims beyond the seductive ads that urge us to buy them, which is good because they are just purified tap water (e.g., Dasani and Aquafina).

There is a cost to bottled water beyond the dollar price, and in this series on the True Price of everyday products (such as a cheeseburger and a T-shirt), that examines the effects (both positive and negative) of our choices on ourselves, other people, animals, and the environment and considers alternatives that do more good and less harm, it’s worth taking a closer look at bottled water.


The Effects on You

The positive effects of bottled water are fairly obvious. It’s convenient and generally has no taste, which is how we like our water. But there are negative effects, too. Bottled water is costly, and gallon for gallon we pay more for it than for gasoline. There is also evidence that the plastic from the bottles can leach into the water over time, especially if exposed to sun and heat.

The Effects on Other People

There is no question that the bottled water industry has created many jobs, which is a positive for people, but aquifers and wells are being depleted for bottling beverages, often in countries where people depend upon those water sources for their survival. In Fiji, where Fiji water is bottled, there are some Fijians who don’t have access to clean water, shocking in a country where a foreign corporation sits on top of its privately owned and supposedly artesian water.

The Effects on the Environment

Not only does it take an estimated 17 million barrels of oil per year to make the plastic bottles, but also the average energy cost for a bottle of water (including the production of the bottle, transportation, and disposal) is equivalent, according to Peter Gleick, director of the Pacific Institute, to “filling up a quarter of every bottle with oil.” It even takes 3-5 liters of water to produce a single liter of bottled water, and in the case of imported water like Fiji, it takes 6.74 according to TreeHugger. Since it’s estimated that only 20 percent of the bottles are recycled, that means 80% wind up in landfills or are incinerated. Meanwhile, there is now an area double the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean that’s essentially a whirlpool of plastic, and in every square foot of the Pacific between California and Japan there are plastic bits. There are now even beaches of plastic sand.

The Effects on Animals

The environmental impacts have obvious effects on animals, especially sea life, but there are other hidden effects as well. Because of concerns about the effects of the leached plastic on human health (e.g., BPA), various animal tests are routinely conducted to prove (or disprove) health hazards. In common lethal dose tests, animals are forcefed the chemical in question in large enough quantities to find the lethal dose that kills a set percentage (usually fifty percent). These animals receive no pain relief and often suffer agonizing deaths. Regardless of the kind of tests conducted (whether assessing estrogenic effects or lethal doses), the animals will all be killed when the tests are complete.


What are MOGO Alternatives?

Sometimes, finding an alternative to a product that does more good and less harm (MOGO) is challenging. Not so in this case. It is easy to make a MOGO choice when it comes to bottled water. We can install filtration systems on our taps or water purification systems for our wells (far less expensive over time than buying bottled water). We can carry a stainless steel or glass bottle that we can refill. The only times we really need to purchase bottled water are during power outages and natural disasters or when traveling overseas where water is contaminated with bacteria or pollutants. And we can remember just how incredibly fortunate we are to have potable water coursing through the pipes in our homes and delivered to us through our taps.

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Image Source: Stephendepolo/Flickr