I just finished watching the 2009 documentary Tapped, which delves into the bottled water industry to uncover some surprising facets.
1) Commoditization — The film points out that the masses have been manipulated — through propaganda — into thinking that bottled water is safe and clean while tap water is not. This is not always the case and often, tap water may be even cleaner than bottled water. A classic folly is exposed: giant corporations (think Pepsi and Coca Cola) are pumping out groundwater, bottling it, and selling it to local people who should have it as a free right.
2) Environmental catastrophe — Heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? It is a miles long mass of man-made debris, largely plastic particles, floating out in the ocean gyres — where it degrades into small particles that then enter the food chain. Similar patches exist in the Atlantic Ocean and elsewhere. While plastic is recyclable, the film points out that only a small percentage gets recycled and reused — the rest end up in landfills and in the ocean, where it never goes away but ends up harming life forms, infinitely.
3) Health consequences — Which brings us to the next point. Plastic has been proven to leach detrimental chemicals like PCB and BPA which are known to cause cancer and a host of other problems. Bottled water is exposing humans to these chemicals in two ways: via leaching from plastic containers (especially when reused or warmed), and when it degrades to minuscule amounts and then enters the food chain.
Note this excerpt from a New York Times article:
“But once it does split into pieces, the fragments look like confetti in the water. Millions, billions, trillions and more of these particles are floating in the world’s trash-filled gyres … PCBs, DDT and other toxic chemicals cannot dissolve in water, but the plastic absorbs them like a sponge. Fish that feed on plankton ingest the tiny plastic particles. Scientists from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation say that fish tissues contain some of the same chemicals as the plastic. The scientists speculate that toxic chemicals are leaching into fish tissue from the plastic they eat … The researchers say that when a predator — a larger fish or a person — eats the fish that eats the plastic, that predator may be transferring toxins to its own tissues, and in greater concentrations since toxins from multiple food sources can accumulate in the body.”
The plastic byproducts end up in us.
Other issues are explored: how the bottling plants affect local communities, and the potential for future water scarcity and corresponding exploitative practices by those who control the water supplies. I suggest you watch it if you haven’t already (view it instantly on Netflix).
I recently purchased a glass water bottle by Lifefactory. I paid around $22 at Whole Foods but there are similar ones for $10 at Target. There are many other glass bottle options on the market. I have to say, the taste of water from a glass container is much better than from plastic. I swear I can taste the difference.
While they still may not be perfectly footprint-free, they are pretty close. The bottles are not petroleum based and are infinitely recyclable; the wide-mouthed screw cap is BPA-free polypropylene. They come in a variety of pretty colors and are easy to clean. Do it for the taste, for your health and for the earth … and lets all recycle all plastic products whenever possible (and avoid when possible as well).