The farm where I have spent most of my life has one of the best wells in the neighborhood. My grandfather dug the well more than 80 years ago and we have only maintained it. It is deep and cold and supplies us with a plentiful supply of soft, good tasting water.
Unlike our well, much of the ground water on the Northern Plains is of borderline palatability. As a result we have spent millions of dollars to develop city and rural water systems. Thanks to our rural water systems, farm families who one had to haul water for drinking because their own wells were too brackish to make decent coffee, now can simply turn on the tap. While water from our taps, regardless of the source, is not free, compared to the cost of other things we depend on, it is a bargain.
Not all water consumed in this country is a bargain. It is estimated that bottled water can cost consumers thousands of times more than tap water. Americans are estimated to have drunk nearly nine billion gallons of bottled water last year. We buy more bottled water than milk or beer. Worldwide water in bottles is a nearly $90 billion business.
So what is it about bottled water that make it more enticing than milk and beer?
The water itself is not so different than what comes out of your tap. In fact, as much as 25 percent of bottled water in the U.S. is just that–water from the tap. Pepsi’s Aquafina and Coke’s Dasani are both filtered and purified water from municipal water sources. Testing requirements for bottled water from all sources is no where near as stringent as for tap water.
Bottled water is, in most cases, a purely manufactured market. The demand for water in a convenient, small disposable container is totally one created by the beverage industry. It is a marketing masterpiece. Bottled water has resulted in the disappearance of public water fountains in many places and has replaced the water cooler in staff lounges.
While drinking water is a good thing for people’s health, the cost of bottled water goes beyond the cost of purchasing it.
It is estimated that making the millions of plastic bottles consumes approximately 17 million barrels of oil annually. According to the Pacific Institute, that’s enough oil to run a million cars for a year. Additional energy is used to manufacture the bottles, purify and bottle the water and to truck it around the country. The disposal of the used bottles adds even more energy to the equation. Even though the plastic in the bottles is recyclable, only ten percent of all water bottles are recycled. The rest end up in landfills where they will stay for perhaps a thousand years.
Water companies are attempting to deal with the environmental affects of their product by making the bottles thinner and using plant based plastics. Thinner bottles use less oil and plant based plastics supposedly biodegrade more quickly. That is assuming they are not buried deep in a pile of garbage out of the sun and the air.
The plastic in the bottles is also not good for you. Even the water bottlers do not recommend that you reuse their bottles. A 2009 study by Harvard University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that drinking water from plastic bottles made with the toxic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) to harden the plastic increases levels of the chemical in our bodies by 70 percent. Other studies have showed that the chemical may disrupt the hormonal system, potentially leading to reproductive defects as well as brain damage, cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes. The manufacture of these plastics also release toxins into the atmosphere and burning them is even worse.
While the negative health effects of drinking out of plastic bottles may be exaggerated, it is a totally unnecessary risk. We do not need bottled water except possibly when traveling in a country with inadequate public water systems. There may be individuals who have extreme chemical sensitivity who might require pure distilled water. Most bottled water would not meet their needs either.
Save yourself some money. Save some oil. Save some garbage. Buy a reusable stainless steel bottle, a BPA-free plastic water bottle, reuse a glass bottle or a thermos and turn on the tap. If you don’t like the taste of the tap water, run it through a filter.