The Truth About Bottled Water vs. Tap Water
America’s demand for bottled water has ebbed and flowed over the 50 years it has been around. A movement to remove plastic waste from our environment might make us think twice about grabbing that bottled water at the corner market, but a scare at the local water plant makes us run out and buy as many plastic liters as we can fit in our hot little hands. So really, why do we still waste the 17 million barrels of oil a year it takes to make those plastic bottles?
Will I become the Toxic Avenger: The reality of contaminants in drinking water
With all of the regulations in place today, it seems obvious that our drinking water is safe.
Or does it? We read stories about contaminated groundwater, septic overflow after heavy rain, and heavy metals affecting our kids.
The truth is that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforces regulatory standards on all public drinking water systems (your tap water) based on the Safe Drinking Water Act and its subsequent amendments. The EPA has set maximum contaminant levels and/or treatment technique requirements for more than 90 contaminants, including microorganisms, disinfectants (and by-products), inorganic and organic chemicals, as well as radionuclides.
The truth is that they do pretty well, and your tap water is fine, but there can be issues depending on where you live. That’s why you can double-check the water quality in your municipality here.
One step further for bottled water?
Although the bottled water industry emerged as a way to make money from plastic water bottles during the downturn in soda sales, not as an altruistic method for the protection of safe drinking water. It is still true that bottled water companies not only comply with EPA regulations of contaminants, but they must also answer to the Food and Drug Administration. This means that bottled water must disclose any additives to the water (such as Fluoride or sodium) where a public water system may not.
Although the EPA has established a few maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) that FDA has not, these few contaminants are not regulated by FDA because they are unlikely to be present in bottled water. Even beyond that, the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) also regulates its industry in order to ensure customer safety and confidence.
Bad water, good news
So, what happens when a routine inspection turns up a problem?
If a public water system is found to be out of compliance with the limits of contaminants, the facility (or facilities) treating the water are put on notice and given time to correct the problem, and correct they must. However, fixing the issue takes, well, as much time as it takes, and although the public must be notified, the water continues to flow despite the problem.
If a water bottling facility is found to be out of compliance, they are shut down immediately, and a recall is issued.
Consequences are doled out in both circumstances. Reaction time is quicker and can be tracked better in a bottling facility.
Water Delivery Methods
Your tap water gets treated for contaminants but is only delivered as safely as the pipes through which it travels. Are old, rusty pipes an issue in your area? Perhaps. Do you need to think about ground contaminants leaking in as the water flows? Maybe. Of course, you can always use a home filtration system to maintain certain standards, and many places offer hydration stations where you can fill up your reusable bottle.
Bottled water, on the other hand, is routinely inspected at the bottling source to make sure the company is following sanitary guidelines and safe conditions while bottling. Though sitting in plastic for months on end, when you go to the store, there it is. While it likely took an unjustifiably long journey to get there, it didn’t travel through rusty pipes or PVC to get to you. Keep in mind the amount of energy and fossil fuels it takes to create the packaging and transport the final product.
Doesn’t bottled water lead to more plastic waste?
Why? Most plastic bottles are not recycled. Even with our best intentions, if a plastic bottle finds its way to a recycling center, approximately 70-85% of that bottle ends up in a landfill or a waterway after the recycling effort. Many plastics cannot be recycled in the same batch, and contamination renders much-recycled plastic unusable. While 40 states lack official beverage container recycling programs, you can still learn more about the recycling efforts in your area from Martha Stewart.
Single-use plastic bottles can and should be avoided.
A better choice than plastic
There are many options to choose from, between glass bottles, cartons, and aluminum. The best bet for the environment now is to make sure you can reuse the bottle and that it can be recycled appropriately when you are done with it. Glass bottles can chip, and paper cartons don’t hold up over time, so you are left with aluminum as the ideal material. PATH provides locally and responsibly sourced reverse osmosis water in aluminum, wide-mouth bottles that are easy to reuse at any filling station.
So, when it comes down to tap, it’s all about preference. You can filter your tap water according to the standards you wish to maintain. Then when you’re out and about, you can look for PATH to make the best decision for your health and your environment. Pick the bottled water that does the least damage and refill it with the water you like best.
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