Bottled water not best

Story by Sara Nemec

These days it seems like everyone has a place on the ‘green’ bandwagon. Homes are being heated and cooled with solar and hydrothermal technology, citizens are planting community gardens and composting in their backyards, and recycling paper has become commonplace. However, to the average person, ‘going green’ may seem like a daunting and perhaps expensive lifestyle change. I’m here to tell you it’s not. In fact, simple changes can go a long way. One very easy way to help the environment is to not buy bottled water.

In 2004, people drank 154 billion liters of bottled water, according to the Earth Policy Institute. The world’s leading consumer, the United States, drank 26 billion liters. At as much as $2.50 per liter, bottled water costs more than gasoline. This is crazy, because the last time I checked, water is free from a tap, while fuel isn’t. However, that’s just a financial tip. Here’s where Mother Earth comes into the picture.

The average water bottle is made from plastic, which most people think is fine since it can be recycled. Sadly, it isn’t that simple. According to the Earth Policy Institute, 86 percent of these bottles become garbage or litter in the U.S. Recycling facilities often can’t keep up with the influx of these bottles and throw them out with the trash.

Others export them to foreign countries. Up to 40 percent of water bottles in the US are exported where they could be recycled, but generally just end up in a landfill.

Once in a landfill, it will take a piece of plastic, like a water bottle, up to 1,000 years to degrade. Unlike some materials, plastic can never truly biodegrade. Instead, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. Just think of the legacy of plastic the average person leaves behind. If this isn’t enough reason for you, think of what plastic is made from: fossil fuels. In 2006, Americans consumed 17 million barrels of oil by way of bottled water, according to the Earth Policy Institute. That’s enough fuel to run more than one million cars for a year.

Finally, there’s one big bottled water myth to debunk: bottled water is not healthier than tap water. In March of 1999, a Natural Resources Defense Council report reported that as much as 40 percent of all bottled water comes from a city water system. That means that the bottled water people pay ridiculous amounts for basically adds up to be just tap water. The report also focused on the fact that 60 to 70 percent of all bottled water sold in the U.S. is exempt from Food and Drug Administration’s bottled water standards. This is because the federal standards do not apply to water bottled and sold within the same state. According to the Earth Policy Institute, tap water is generally the healthier alternative since there are more regulations governing it than bottled water.

According to, bottled water is defined as a food under federal regulations, which is why it is regulated by the FDA and not the Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates tap water. According to the Web site, “the EPA mandates that local water treatment plants provide city residents with a detailed account of tap water’s source and the results of any testing, including contaminant level violations. Bottled water companies are under no such directives.”

The Web site also said that municipal water systems must test for harmful microbiological content in water several times a day, while bottled water companies are required to test for these microbes only once a week. Public water systems are required to test for chemical water contaminants four times as often as bottled water companies.

The moral of the story is to use reusable containers for your drinks. Not only can you sport a fun, colored, reusable bottle all decked out in your favorite band stickers, but you can save yourself a ton of money by not wasting a penny on bottled water. Plus, you’ll be doing yourself, your health and the earth a favor at the same time. While you’re at it, you could spout some of these facts to your friends and spread the word about how uncool and harmful bottled water really is to the environment and how harmful it can potentially be to humans.

Nemec is a senior print journalism and German double major and a news editor for The Spectator.