While waiting in line at the airport this morning to buy coffee, I noticed that many people were buying plastic bottles of water—at $3-4 per pop (my coffee was $2.50). And this wasn’t fizzy water, but regular still water, like Dasani, that has been filtered and may have had a bit of minerals added. Other people were walking around with bottles of water in their hand, which always reminds me of infants carrying their bottles of formula or a bunch of Linuses with their blankies.
Why do people pay, and pay big, for water that is no better, and no better for you, than water you can get from the tap? Bottled water is energy-inefficient, uses fossil fuels to make, and costs more than gasoline! And it swells landfills with petroleum byproducts.
And the airport corridor was lined with water fountains, where you could swill very good Chicago tap water for free—as much as you want! I remember some years ago when Consumer Reports had people do blind tastings of bottled still water, and included New York City tap water (which comes from the Catskills, I believe) as a control. Guess which one won for flavor? Most people, I suspect, drink bottled waters for the taste, not the health effects.
Now I can understand buying water if there are no fountains available (that’s rare in the U.S.), or if the local tap water is foul-tasting (as it was in Davis, California), or you’re overseas where the water may be injurious (in India, though, I simply add iodine tablets to tap water). But otherwise it makes no sense to me. If you need a supply to keep yourself hydrated, there are plenty of aluminum (or plastic) water bottles around that can be refilled. And, in French restaurants, I always request “une carafe d’eau, s’il vous plaît” (free) to accompany my food and wine. There is no need to be embarrassed for requesting tap water.
Bottled water seems to me, in general, a waste of money and resources, and it’s ecologically unsound.
Here are some of the costs (from How Stuff Works):
In a single year, manufacturers around the world use about 2.7 million tons of plastic to bottle water. Most of those bottles are a type of plastic called polyethylene terepthalate, or PET, which is produced from crude oil. To produce bottles to meet yearly bottled-water demand in the United States alone requires 1.5 million barrels of oil. That much oil could power about 100,000 cars for a year, according to the Earth Policy Institute.
And almost 90 percent of bottled-water bottles end up in the trash or on the ground, not in recycling bins. They can take up to 1,000 years to degrade, and when they do, they can leak harmful chemicals into the ground, contaminating ground water — ironically inducing a new cycle of pollution that means bottled water may actually be a necessity in the United States some day. Some companies, like the Colorado-based BIOTA bottled-water company, are making a concerted effort to reduce their effect on the environment. BIOTA uses a corn-based, biodegradable plastic bottle that can take fewer than three months to degrade in a compost pile.
As for recycling those bottles, don’t count on it:
. . . As a result, a lot of recycling companies in the United States won’t do it. Most recycling of plastic bottles ends up happening overseas, particularly in China. Those billions of bottles have to be shipped there, meaning even more energy is consumed to get the bottles to the point of recycling. And once they are broken down for re-use, manufacturers are typically not able to build a bottle out of recycled plastic alone. A “recycled” plastic bottle has far more virgin plastic in it than recycled plastic.
There are more costs as well, which you can learn about at the link.
Tap water: the Official Website Water™.