1,000 people in the United States open a bottle of water. We tend to think of bottled water as healthier and better-tasting than tap water — especially given its popularity — but that's not always true. Drinking tap water is often safer and better for the environment than purchasing bottled water from the store.
Is drinking bottled water bad for you? What is the association between drinking from plastic bottles and cancer? In the guide below, we'll discuss some of the dangers of drinking bottled water and offer some healthier, eco-friendly solutions.
1. Bottled Water Is an Unknown Water Source
When you buy bottled water, the source of the water may be unclear. Consumers often perceive bottled water as the cleanest form of potable water without knowing anything about its origins.
In the United States, bottled water typically comes in two varieties: water from natural sources and water from municipal sources. Natural spring water, as its name suggests, comes from springs across the country. Naturally sourced water may also be well water, artesian well water — which comes from a pressurized aquifer — or mineral water, which must contain at least 250 parts per million of dissolved minerals from the underground water source.
If the label on a bottle of water mentions spring water, the water usually does come from a natural spring or underground source. But sometimes the marketing on naturally sourced water is misleading. Water called "Arctic Spring Water" may be from Florida, or water labeled "Glacier Mountain Natural Spring Water" may be from an underground source in New Jersey.
Bottled water labeled as purified water is often merely municipal tap water that has undergone filtration. About 40% to 45% of bottled water is reprocessed municipal water. Bottled water that has undergone treatment processes such as reverse osmosis, distillation, or other treatment methods may be marketed as purified water — but it's still your area tap water, just rendered slightly cleaner with filters.
2. The Plastic in Bottled Water Presents Chemical Dangers
Plastic water bottles contain chemicals, and those chemicals can leach into the water. This plastic leachate can have detrimental health effects on consumers. At certain levels of exposure, some of the chemicals in plastic, especially the chemical known as bisphenol A (BPA), have even been implicated as carcinogens.
BPA is a weak synthetic estrogen often used to make polycarbonate plastics. It can block or mimic the action of the hormone estrogen and other sex hormones, and it disrupts the natural balance of hormones in the body. It can also disrupt the thyroid hormone system. Because estrogen can cause the development of certain types of breast cancer, BPA can do the same. That's why you see many reusable plastic water bottles marketing themselves proudly as BPA-free. However, many single-use plastic water bottles contain BPA.
BPA has also been implicated in negative effects on fetal development. Pregnant women who ingest high levels of BPA may have an increased risk of miscarriage, and children are more likely to have a lower birth weight, develop obesity, or have disrupted neurodevelopment or behavioral issues.
Phthalates, the chemical plasticizers added to plastics to increase their flexibility, are also suspect. Like BPA, phthalates can disrupt the endocrine system, and they have a particular effect on male fertility. Research has also found potential links between these chemicals and diabetes, obesity, and metabolic disruption, as well as adverse neurodevelopment, cognitive development, and motor development in children. Language delays in young children are also a concern.
Much of the research on BPA and its health effects has involved animal subjects, and more direct research on BPA and human health is necessary. But because of the potentially disastrous health effects associated with BPA ingestion, many people prefer to avoid commercially bottled water by drinking tap water instead.
3. Bottled Water Undergoes Unknown Water Treatments
Whereas tap water is strictly regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), bottled water is regulated under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a completely separate federal agency. Furthermore, FDA regulations do not apply to bottled water unless it crosses state lines — only then does it come under federal jurisdiction. So bottled water manufactured and sold within the same state — which is 60% to 70% of our bottled water — receives very little oversight. Consumers cannot be sure that the bottled water they purchase has received the treatment necessary to ensure its safety.
In addition, hundreds of bottled water recalls have taken place over the years. Recalls have occurred because of contaminants ranging from mold, coliform bacteria, yeast, and algae to kerosene, bits of glass, and even cricket particles in the mid-1990s. Recently they have found microplastics and arsenic in bottled water.
4. Tap Water Is More Regulated Than Bottled Water
Under the EPA's regulations, particularly the Safe Drinking Water Act that regulates every public water system in the country, municipal water companies must ensure their water contains minimal contaminants and is safe for consumption. They test their tap water several times a day — up to 100 times or more per month.
How does tap water treatment in the United States work? It typically involves at least four steps:
- Coagulation and flocculation: Municipal water companies add chemicals to the water that bind to contaminant particles. Then the chemicals and contaminants form large chunks of materials known as floc.
- Sedimentation: During sedimentation, the floc slowly settles to the bottom of the treatment tank.
- Filtration: At this stage, the water passes through filters that contain materials like sand, gravel, or charcoal. These filters effectively reduce concentrations of harmful chemicals, dirt, bacteria, parasites, and other microorganisms.
- Disinfection: At this final stage, the water receives treatment with disinfectants, usually chlorine or chloramine, that kill any remaining microorganisms.
Even though tap water is clean and safe, consumers can make it even fresher and healthier. Using cost-effective home water filters to reduce contaminant levels can give tap water the refreshing taste we've come to associate with bottled water — and with much more reliable assurances about its safety. The disinfectants chlorine and chloramine, for instance, can give your water an unpleasant taste and affect your respiratory system and skin, but filtration can help reduce these chemicals in your water once they've done their job.
Using Multipure's carbon block filtration systems, you can also filter harmful contaminants like BPA. Say that plastic from a landfill has leached plastic chemicals into the groundwater and the chemicals have entered the municipal water system. If the municipal filters, which often target older and better-known chemicals don't filter them out, Multipure's state-of-the-art filtration systems can reduce these harmful contaminant levels.
5. The Harmful Effects of Plastic Water Bottles on the Environment Are Significant
Remember that statistic about how every second, 1,000 people in the United States open a bottle of water? Every second, people throw away 1,000 plastic water bottles, too.
Discarded plastic water bottles have a devastating effect on the environment. Because plastic does not biodegrade well, the plastic bottles we throw away tend to stay in the environment year after year, decade after decade, through several human generations. Plastic bottles can take 450 years to decompose, so a plastic bottle you throw away tomorrow could still be taking up space in the ground or floating in the ocean centuries from now.
When plastic does break down, it releases harmful chemicals into the environment. Plastic leachate like BPA and phthalates can seep into the soil and contaminate the groundwater we rely on for drinking, bathing, and washing food and cookware.
Plastic doesn't always make it to a landfill, either. Some of it makes its way into the ocean, where it pollutes vital aquatic habitats. At least 5.25 trillion plastic pieces have made it into the world's oceans. When marine animals mistake plastic for food and eat it, they may become sick and die. Scientists have documented plastic ingestion in at least 331 animal species around the world. For example, Laysan albatrosses that live on the Midway Atoll in the North Pacific feed their chicks an estimated 5 tons of plastic every year.
By 2050, 99% of all seabird species will have ingested plastic — and 95% of the members of those species will have ingested plastic. Some estimates also suggest that by 2050, the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish.
Plastic water bottles make up a substantial portion of this waste. Drinking tap water instead helps cut down on plastic pollution and keep marine ecosystems and wildlife healthy.
6. Making Plastic Water Bottles Wastes Our Fresh Water
The problems with manufacturing disposable plastic bottles don't stop with carbon emissions and pollution. Making plastic water bottles consumes vast amounts of water as well.
Large volumes of water are necessary for cooling heated plastic products. Plastic bottle manufacturing often uses an extrusion process that feeds plastic through a long, heated chamber. The heat of the chamber and its rotating screws melt the plastic, which then flows through a small die that creates the shape of the finished product. After the die extrudes the plastic, the plastic often goes into a water bath for cooling.
In many cases, it takes more water to make a plastic bottle than the bottle will hold once it's ready for use — typically about 1.39 liters of water for every liter of capacity.
7. Plastic Water Bottle Production Has a Hefty Carbon Footprint
Making plastic water bottles has an astoundingly negative effect on carbon levels in the atmosphere. Manufacturing just one pound of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a plastic commonly found in disposable plastic water bottles, can generate up to three pounds of carbon dioxide.
Some of that carbon dioxide production occurs in transportation. Shipping plastic resins for manufacturing the bottles, as well as shipping the bottles afterward, generates carbon emissions in the form of the burned fuel.
Most of the carbon dioxide production is made during manufacturing. Plastic manufacturing works by heating petroleum and natural gas to break down their large hydrocarbon molecules into smaller ones. Burning fossil fuels in this way uses up precious nonrenewable resources and accounts for a tremendous amount of the carbon emissions associated with the production of plastic bottles.
8. Bottled Water Is Expensive
Safety and environmental concerns aside, buying bottled water is also much more expensive than drinking water from the tap. You likely pay a monthly water bill for your home, and drinking water adds a modest amount to that bill. If you purchase bottled water, you're probably paying more than a dollar for a single bottle, or several dollars for a case, and all that money quickly adds up. Bottled water adds a substantial sum to your weekly grocery bill — and once that bottled water is gone, you'll need to keep buying more.
Adding a water filtration system to your home can be extremely cost-effective. You'll pay a one-time installation fee and then change the filters once a year. Spread out over time, these costs are minimal and can give you more healthful water at a reasonable price.
9. Plastic Water Bottles Offer Limited Reuse
Reusing disposable plastic water bottles is not recommended. Since the bottles are intended for disposal, their plastic is thin and flexible, so they are likely to crack and break over time. You may end up injuring yourself or ingesting small plastic pieces if your bottle breaks after repeated use. The plastic may also begin to harbor bacteria.
There's also the issue of chemical leakage to consider. As you reuse a plastic water bottle, it may leak more chemicals into the water you drink. For health and safety reasons, it's better to use a cup, mug, or steel or BPA-free plastic water bottle.
10. Plastic Water Bottles Present Bacterial Health Risks
Bacterial contamination is a particular concern when reusing disposable plastic water bottles. Plastic water bottles are notoriously difficult to clean — their small crevices make it hard to get brushes, rags, or sponges into them.
Because they are challenging to clean, plastic bottles can easily become breeding grounds for bacteria. The moist environment allows microorganisms to flourish. And if you drink from your water bottle while you're eating food, food residues can adhere to the bottle and promote further bacterial growth. Bacteria can impart an unpleasant taste or smell to your water, and it may cause gastrointestinal illness.
Our Bottled Water Alternatives
Fortunately, drinking tap water is safe, healthy, and cost-effective. To make your tap water even healthier and cleaner, you can invest in one of Multipure's home drinking water systems:
- Aqualuxe: Multipure's Aqualuxe is our most advanced, high-performing drinking water system. This water purification system features the state-of-the-art PureBlock carbon block filter designed to remove microorganisms like viruses and bacteria and reduce a range of other contaminants.
- Aquaperform: The Multipure Aquaperform uses our proprietary carbon block technology to filter a variety of pollutants. It is NSF-certified for both contaminants that affect the taste and smell of your water and contaminants that pose health concerns. It sits discreetly under your cabinet or on your countertop to provide refreshing, healthy water.
- Aquaversa: Multipure's Aquaversa is versatile — you can install it under your sink or as an extension of your kitchen faucet. It features our superior carbon block filtration technology to minimize a range of aesthetic contaminants and contaminants of health concern.
- Aquamini: The Multipure Aquamini sits on your countertop and uses the same tested carbon block technology to reduce the concentrations of an array of water contaminants. Reliable and compact, it is a perfect choice for travelers, college students, or anyone who wants to see the benefits of improved water cleanliness while maximizing kitchen space.
Contact Multipure to Learn About Our Alternatives to Bottled Water
Now that you know some of the harmful effects of plastic water bottles, contact Multipure to learn about healthier options. Our drinking water systems' carbon block filtration technology reduces a variety of harmful contaminants, including asbestos, BPA, cysts, chlorine, lead, mercury, pharmaceutical waste, pesticide residues, radon, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). You'll gain peace of mind and excellent water with your filter.
Contact us today to learn more.