Bottled water

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Bottled water is usually spring water or mineral water and even distilled water, sold in a sealed, portable bottles. The bottled drinking water promises purer, healthier product and appears a safer option to those who do not trust tap water. It is found everywhere, in homes, offices, stores, airplanes, and restaurants. In 2006, over eight billion gallons of bottled water was consumed across the globe. By 2007, the consumption in the US alone amounted to 8.8 billion gallons or 29 gallons per person. Bottled water was the second most consumed beverage in the US after carbonated soft drinks.


Why should I be aware of it?

Over the past two decades, people have increasingly been shifting to bottled water because they consider it safe, find it refreshing, calorie-free, convenient to carry around, tastier than some tap water and healthier than soft drinks. But more and more people are questioning whether the water, and the package it comes in, is safe, or at least safer than tap water.

The UK version of Coca-Cola's Dasani brand bottled water was found to have originated from the London public supply. Following a four-year study the National Resources Defense Council in which researchers tested more than 1,000 samples of 103 brands of bottled water, found that an estimated 25 percent or more of bottled water to be just tap water in a bottle. Some of these were further treated some were not.

An independent beverage research company Canadean found at least two out of every five bottles of water sold around the world are, like Dasani, "purified" waters, rather than "source" waters which originate from a spring.

The plastic used in both single-use and reusable bottles can be more of a contamination threat than the water. A safe plastic made of #1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) is supposed to be used only once. However, it is often reused and chemicals such as DEHA, a known carcinogen, and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), a potential hormone disrupter.

How does this affect me?

Adverse impact on health

  • Bottled water is stored for longer periods and at higher temperatures than water distributed in piped distribution systems. As a result, some micro-organisms, which are normally of little or no public health significance, may grow to higher levels in bottled waters. These organisms appear to have little or no growth in tap water and in water bottled in glass containers as against stagnant water and water bottled in plastic containers.
  • Chances are ordinary tap water has been added to used mineral water bottles and sold as the original article.
  • The excessive use of bottled water (which often does not have added Flouride unlike tap water) may mean users won't get enough fluoride to build strong teeth and prevent decay. [1]

Health problems from plastic containers

A recent study shows for the first time that a common chemical - bisphenol A, or BPA used in plastic drink containers and baby bottles is linked to health problems, especially heart disease and diabetes. BPA is used to make polycarbonate plastic, a material found in numerous product ranges - from baby and water bottles, to plastic eating utensils. It is also used in coatings for most food and beverage cans. People risk consuming BPA when it leaches out of plastic into liquid such as water, food or baby formula inside a container. British researchers, who published their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association, used government health data, analyzing blood and urine samples from 1,455 US adults aged 18 to 74 to come to their conclusions. They found that 25% of people with the highest levels of bisphenol A in their bodies were more than twice as likely to have heart disease and, or diabetes compared to the 25% of with the lowest levels.

Bodies like the American Chemistry Council have responded by saying that the results are not conclusive and further research would be required to make the findings "statistically" significant. A US FDA panel of experts are preparing to hear testimony on health effects of BPA, as it reviews a recent draft report calling BPA safe.

Health benefits

In European countries, many consumers believe that natural mineral waters have medicinal properties or offer other health benefits. Such waters are typically of high mineral content and, in some cases, significantly above the concentrations normally accepted in drinking-water. Such waters have a long tradition of use and are often accepted on the basis that they are considered foods rather than drinking-water per se. Although certain mineral waters may be useful in providing essential micro-nutrients, such as calcium, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is unaware of any convincing evidence to support the beneficial effects of consuming such mineral waters.

It should be noted that neither the CAC nor WHO offer certification of any bottled or mineral water.

Bottled Water and the environment

Here’s what it takes to produce and transport a bottle of imported water -- 26.88 kilograms of water, 0.849 kg of fossil fuel and 562 grams of greenhouse gas emissions! [2] Bottled water has hidden environmental costs that consumers need to be aware of --

  • In 2006, the equivalent of 2 billion half-litre bottles of water were shipped to U.S. ports. In New York City alone, the transportation of bottled water from western Europe released an estimated 3,800 tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere. In California, 18 million gallons of bottled water were shipped in from Fiji in 2006, producing about 2,500 tons of global warming pollution.[3]
  • And while the bottles come from far away, most of them end up close to home -- in a landfill. Most bottled water comes in recyclable PET plastic bottles, but only about 13 percent of the bottles we use get recycled.
  • Plastics travel through our sewage system and land up in the oceans. This poses a huge threat to marine life. To a sea turtle, a floating plastic bag looks like a jellyfish. And plastic pellets, the small hard pieces of plastic from which plastic products are made, look like fish eggs to seabirds. Drifting nets entangle birds, fish and mammals, making it difficult, if not impossible to move or eat. As our consumption of plastic mounts, so too does the danger to marine life.

All about bottled water

While this may be true in some of the developing countries, in developed countries such as the US, municipal water supplies tend to be better regulated than tap water.

In these countries bottled water too goes through rigorous safety and quality control, with multiple layers of regulations and standards. In the US bottled water is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is recognized as a packaged food product and there are stringent standards for safety, quality, production, labeling etc.

Types of bottled water

There are two types of bottled water: spring water and mineral water.

  1. Spring water -- This is collected directly at the source spring. The bottling facilities are in the vicinity of the spring. In a few countries certain hygiene standards have to be maintained and the spring water has to be treated to meet the limits set on pollution.
  2. Mineral water -- After emerging from under the ground, sometimes ground water flows over the rocks resulting in a higher content of various minerals. It is then collected and the dirt is removed. Mineral water is not treated. Different brands of spring and mineral waters have differing amounts of minerals depending on their source.

By late 1990s, most countries introduced labeling requirements for bottled waters whereby the levels of all minerals in natural mineral water have to be listed to help consumers make informed choices about the products they buy.

What can I do?

  • Check the bottle labels-- To determine bottled water is really just tap water, check if the bottle label or the cap says "from a municipal source" or "from a community water system".
  • Avoid reusing the bottles -- If you do use plastic bottles made from #1 or #2 plastic try not to reuse them as they are intended only for single use. If you are using a #1 plastic water bottle, try to consume the contents as soon as possible because leaching of antimony increases with time. You can know the grade of plastic used by checking the labels. Labeling laws of several countries require them to mention this.
  • Know the health risks -- During the survey NRDC found most bottled water relatively free of contaminants. The survey opined that the the "spotty" quality of products of some brands might "pose a health risk, primarily for people with weakened immune systems (such as the frail elderly, some infants, transplant and cancer patients, or people with HIV/AIDS)." About 22 percent of the brands they tested contained, in at least one sample, chemical contaminants at levels above strict state health limits. If consumed over a long period of time, some of these contaminants could cause cancer or other health problems.
  • Problems of plastics-- Recent research conducted by NRDC revealed the presence of chemicals called phthalates, which are known to disrupt testosterone and other hormones, and can leach into bottled water over time. One study found that water that had been stored for 10 weeks in plastic and in glass bottles contained phthalates, suggesting that the chemicals could be coming from the plastic cap or liner. Incidentally, there are regulatory standards limiting phthalates in tap water and there are no legal limits for phthalates in bottled water. The US bottled water industry waged a successful campaign opposing the FDA proposal to set a legal limit for these chemicals.

To improve safety of bottled water

  • Initiatives should be taken by citizens to urge their concerned governments to adopt strict requirements for bottled water safety, labeling, and public disclosure. Citizens should specifically request for --
  • Setting of strict limits for contaminants of concern in bottled water, including arsenic, heterotrophic-plate-count bacteria, E. coli and other parasites and pathogens, and synthetic organic chemicals such as "phthalates".
  • Ensuring the application of rules to all types of bottled water -- including carbonated water and those sold intrastate or interstate
  • Setting regulations that require bottlers to display information on their labels about the levels of contaminants of concern found in the water, the water's exact source, how it has been treated, and whether it meets health criteria set by the concerned environmental protection agency and the disease control agency for killing parasites like cryptosporidium.


  • Metalled water bottles can handle a variety of liquids, including acidic fruit juices, and will not leach chemicals into your beverage. (See below for options)
  • Avoid detergents that contain chlorine when cleaning stainless steel bottles as chlorine can corrode stainless steel.
  • Go for light weight aluminum bottles.


  • The bottled water you purchase is often in PET or PETE bottles (polyethylene terephthalate), which may leach DEHA, a known carcinogen, if used more than once.
  • Like all plastic, these bottles will be with us forever since plastic does not biodegrade; rather, it breaks down into smaller and smaller toxic bits that contaminate our soil and waterways. [4]
  • It’s estimated that 30 billion single-serving bottles of water are gulped down each year in the United States.
  • More than 1 billion plastic water bottles end up in California’s landfills each year, taking 1,000 years to biodegrade and leaking toxic additives such as phthalates into the groundwater.”
  • 1.5 million barrels of petroleum are used to produce plastic water bottles in the United States each year. That’s enough to supply 250,000 homes with electricity for a year or 100,000 cars with gasoline for a year.
  • Only about 14 percent of single-serving plastic water bottles are recycled." Jennifer Gitlitz, research director for Container Recycling Institute (CRI) told Scholastic News Online. "Therefore, about 86 percent of the water bottles sold are wasted: landfilled, incinerated, or littered.”
  • Gallon for gallon, bottled water costs more than gasoline - and at least 25 percent of bottled water is just processed tap water.
  • $11 Billion - Amount Americans spend on bottled water annually.
  • 2.5 Million - Number of plastic water bottles Americans discard hourly.
  • Worldwide bottled water sales total over $35 billion annually and are growing faster than any other type of beverage (Howard, 2003).
  • In a study of 103 brands of bottled water, one third contained some levels of contamination, including traces of arsenic and E. coli (NRDC, 1999).
  • San Francisco spent nearly $500,000 a year on bottled water, paper cups, and dispenser rentals prior to banning the purchase of bottled water (Vega, 2007).

The Green Ghost adds

Poison in drinking water!

Research has discovered that poison is being released into bottled water from the plastic of which they are made. The longer the water is stored, the higher the content of the poison. The toxin is Antimony of the arsenic group and causes tiredness, depression and sickness with higher levels leading to blindness and death. The problem is the reliance on polyethylene terephtholate (PET) to produce the bottles. More...

Additional Information

Better bottle options --

  • Kleen Kanteen stainless steel water bottle
  • Sigg resin coated aluminum sport bottle
  • Stainless Steel Thermos Bottle
  • #5 polypropylene 2+collapsible water bottle
  • Thermos FBB500 Briefcase Bottle
  • Nalgene HDPE Loop-Top Bottle, 16 ounces

Ways to recycle PET Bottles

Turn plastic bottles into great objects of art see

  • Miwa Koizumi: PET project - plastic water bottles
  • ahh-so-centric
  • Pet Bottle Armour
  • Michelle Brand
  • How to make a Pet Bottle Christmas tree
  • How To Make Pet Bottle Sea Creatures, from youtube!
  • Making cloches for your seedlings

If you cut the bottom off your PET bottles and take the lid off, they can be fitted over delicate seedlings. This will add some extra warmth to the growing area and keeps the dreaded snails and slugs at bay at the same time.

Films, youtube videos and other online resources

  • The Water Front Documentary at Youtube
  • The Truth About Bottled Water
  • CNN: Most Bottled Water is Tap


  • Tapped Out: The True Cost of Bottled Water, National Geographic
  • Natural Resources Defence Council
  • Goodbye, Bottled Water?
  • Bottled Water -- Did You Know?
  • WHO: Bottled Drinking Water
  • Analysis of Pesticides Residue in Bottled Water
  • Bottled Water Continues As Number 2 in 2007
  • Bottled Water - Healthy or Hoax?
  • BBC health: Nutrition - Drinks
  • History:Bottled Water
  • Tap Water vs. Bottled Water and the Environment

See Also

Get the latest pod at Traydio

  • Planet Organic and Bottled Water, Francesca Cassini meets with Simon Konecki
  • A Bit About Bottled Water: Francesca Cassini looks at the Changing Times

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