Bottled water not as harmless as it seems


With all the talk about global warming and the environment in the news today, I can’t say… With all the talk about global warming and the environment in the news today, I can’t say I’ve been particularly persuaded to overtly change my lifestyle. It’s just simply not one of the first things that pop into my head when making a decision.

Allow me to clarify here: I do think the care of the earth is an important issue. I’m not saying global warming isn’t a real concern, but I see it as another hot-button issue overblown by the media to create a level of hysteria in the public in order to raise ratings and sell particular items.

Reference point: CNN’s recent marketing for their special “Planet in Peril.” Even the title is chosen specifically to evoke a sense of panic – false panic.

I refuse to give in to the media-created hysteria. I have, however, made one significant environmentally related change in my life because of a report I heard on National Public Radio. I have stopped buying bottled water. Completely. No more Aquafina for me.

Here’s why. According to Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson on the July 23, 2007 edition of Talk of the Nation, Americans bought an estimated $11 billion worth of bottled water last year.

In the fiscal budget of the country, this is penny change. The budget in 2006 for the Allegheny County Health Department, which handles municipal water, was $41,870,000, as reported on their website. Consider this for every county in the state and then every state in the nation, and there’s no comparison.

What alarmed me about the bottled-water figure, though, is what’s behind it.

The plastic bottles sold in stores, holding the same nutrient that comes from a faucet, are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a non-renewable source. I’m not a scientist, but one of the few things I remember from my environmental education in grade school is that anything that starts with “poly” is synthetic. Synthetic materials must be manufactured from something. One of the main ingredients in manufacturing PET is petroleum.

That’s right. Americans bought $11 billion worth of manufactured petroleum-based bottles to drink something they can get for free, or at least something they pay for anyway.

Has anyone else noticed the price of gas lately?

When one buys a bottle of water, he is not paying for the water. Water is free. Instead, he is paying for what goes into putting the water into the bottle, including the manufacturing and transportation costs, both of which involve the use of petroleum.

So basically, when one buys a bottle of water, he is paying for the use of petroleum to transport a free entity contained in a petroleum-based product. In other words, he’s paying for the use of gas to transport something that, in its manufacturing process, also uses gas. This means that we are using two times the amount of gas to pay for and obtain the same thing that has always been available for free. Added to that, the NPR bit held another piece of information that surprised me. Most of the water in bottles is simply filtered tap water. It’s no different than the water you pour into your glass from a Brita pitcher.

In fact, tap water in municipalities is monitored much more closely in terms of purity and cleanliness than bottled water. Municipal public works are required to test water quality three times a day against Environmental Protection Agency standards, and all of these test results are available to the public.

For instance, to check the quality of Allegheny County’s water, all one has to do is go to the Allegheny County Health Department website and click on “Public Drinking Water.” To the right of the screen are Water Quality Reports for the different areas of the county. One can also access information about water pollution controls taken by the department.

It is a little harder, on the other hand, to find the same information about bottled water. For one thing, the quality of bottled water is not monitored by the EPA, but by the Food and Drug Administration because it is considered a food product. The FDA provides no specific requirements for bottled water sources or the bottling process.

At this point, I’m thinking about bottling up some of my own Brita-filtered water and selling it on the street. While bottling companies struggle to sell their carbonated beverages in the midst of the nation’s health craze, bottled water volume sales have increased in the past few years and continue to do so.

In fact, as reported in an August 2003 article by Brian Howard, the U.S. News and World Report revealed that the water for Aquafina and Dasani actually comes from municipal water sources. Aquafina and Dasani also just so happen to be the two top-selling brands of bottled water.

All cheekiness aside, my point is this: Bottled water is expensive, falsely marketed and quite frankly, illogical. It makes no sense to me why our culture has created such a demand for a product that has always been available by other means for much cheaper.

E-mail Colleen at [email protected].