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Disposable Water Bottles

You've probably heard by now about the impact that disposable plastic bottles have on the environment. The soft drink industry, under fire for the ill health effects of sodas, has shifted emphasis for their production and marketing to bottled water (e.g., Coca Cola makes Dasani and Pepsi makes Aquafina – both are simply filtered tap water from municipal sources). In 2006, American consumers bought 1 billion single-use water bottles every week! Consider the following:
  • 88% of plastic water bottles are not recycled, ending up in landfills where they take around 1000 years to decompose
  • 17 million barrels of oil were used to manufacture bottled water containers sold in the US in 2006
  • The amount of energy required for production, transport, and disposal for each bottle is equivalent to filling that bottle 25% of the way with petroleum
  • 3 to 5 times as much water is used to make the containers as is in the bottles
  • Many plastic water bottles contain BPA (Bisphenol-A) and/or phthalates, widely thought to be toxic to humans (the slow leaching of chemicals from plastic bottles is one reason bottled water has an expiration date)
And, there is no reason to believe that water coming from a bottle is in any way superior to water coming straight from a spigot. In the U.S., the regulations that govern tap water quality, monitoring, and regulation are more stringent than those for bottled water (the US EPA regulates tap water, the FDA regulates bottled water). Water filtration units (i.e., filtration water pitchers, faucet-mounted filters, under-sink filters, refrigerator dispenser and icemaker filters, and whole house filtration) can address concerns over water quality and taste.

In addition to the environmental and health issues, there is also the moral issue of marketing and selling what is widely regarded as a public good. In 2006, the National Coalition of American Nuns issued a statement discouraging the purchase of bottled water, fearing that the commoditization of water around the world will eventually result in it not remaining a basic human right. Many sources of spring water are being pumped dry in order to transport the water across the country (for example, Nestlé’s Poland Spring unit pumps 168 million gallons per year from its namesake). 

What are the alternatives? Clearly, other beverages in disposable containers pose the same issues. At home or in restaurants, opt for tap water instead of bottled water. When “on the go”, use a reusable bottle filled with tap water. If you do buy bottled water, at least try to get a domestic brand that hasn’t traveled too far.

See Wikipedia or the book “Bottlemania” for more information. Next time you have a drink of water, take a moment to toast the environment!

DwellSmart offers reusable water bottles in several versions, including: stainless steel, BPA-free plastic for adults, and BPA-free plastic for kids.

For more information, see "
The Story of Bottled Water". The same people who bring you "The Story of Stuff" now bring you this great overview of the full product life cycle for bottled water and its impact on the environment.