Environmental Impact Of Bottled Water

You’re watching your favorite TV show when a commercial for bottled water fills the screen. Crystal-clear water gurgles over rocks and a calm voice assures you that the water is “pure” and “refreshing”.

The Myth

The commercial promises you the most delicious, natural, and revitalizing water tapped from pristine springs of unspecified location. Your appetite has been whet. The next time you are in the grocery store you purchase this magic in a bottle, unwittingly falling prey to brilliant advertising. There’s a price, an environmental impact of bottled water.

The Truth

The sleek advertisements conceal the truth about bottled water: Bottled water increases your carbon footprint and can be less safe than municipal water, or tap water.  Bottled water is not even tastier than tap water, according to blind taste tests.

Absurdly, bottled water can be as much as 10,000 times more expensive than tap water.

Bottled Water

Environmental Impact of Bottled Water – The Facts

Shipping – The carbon footprint of the bottled water industry is enormous: 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide are produced when water is bottled and more are produced when it is shipped.

Containers – Additionally, the bottled water industry is hugely wasteful of our resources.  17 million barrels of oil are required to produce the bottles.  3 liters of water are required to produce just 1 liter of bottled water.

Recycling –  Most of these water bottles end up in landfills.  The Container Recycling Institute calculates that only 20% of plastic water bottles are recycled.

Safely Regulated – In the United States, which is the world leader in bottled water consumption, municipal water is regulated by the EPA whereas bottled water is regulated by the FDA, which does not apply as rigorous regulations as the EPA.  Municipal water systems test for microbial contamination multiple times a day, while bottled water companies need only test for microbial contamination once a week. Municipal water systems also check for chemical contamination 4 times as often as private companies do.  Nonetheless, tap water is sometimes problematic, although it is safer than bottled water.

Water filters –  Can be attached to your faucet or stored in your fridge and provide safe and cheap water.

Privatization of water is changing water access from a basic right into an expensive luxury.  Private corporations are laying stake to the nation’s water sources and then bottling and exporting it for big profits. As a result, in some areas, the cost of municipal water spikes since less water is in the public domain.   Water is public and should not be owned by anyone, so the privatization of “blue gold” is unjust. Imagine if someone tried to charge you for every hour of sun you got when you went to the beach. It sounds ludicrous, but that’s what is happening with water.

The Taste Test – While people often believe that bottled water tastes better, in fact tests have shown that people do not actually prefer bottled water. News programs including ABC News have performed blind taste tests with bottled water and tap water and the results are usually similar—people cannot identify which water is tap and which is bottled. Perhaps that is not surprising considering that about 25% of bottled water is just packaged tap water!

The Price – Bottled water is hugely more expensive than alternatives.

According to the National Resources Defense Council, it costs $1,000 to drink 8 cups of bottled water daily for five years, while it only costs $1.65 to drink the same amount of tap water. Check out the second part of this story for the price breakdown.

The Power – So when the environmental impact of bottled water is high and you can reduce your carbon footprint simply by using tap water – why not? When you are away from home and need to have water on hand.  Look for a water fountain or just carry a reusable water bottle. There is no need to compromise the environment, your health, and your wallet for water in a pre-package one time use bottle.

Sustainable Living writer John GarnettSo next time a bottled-water commercial transports you to an idyllic scene where the water flows free, remember that the advertising is a gimmick designed to persuade you that bottled water is superior.

But it’s not. It’s inferior.


About the author

John R. Garnet

John's work in the energy market fostered his interest in the environment. He recently completed his graduate work at George Mason University, But more interestingly, John has a passion for food and cooking and to provides some light-hearted tips to make people's lives greener while enjoy the good life with everyday practical tips from brewing tea, growing basil, or drinking raw milk.