Bottled water: harmful to the environment

July 1, 2007 | By | 14 Replies More

According to this article from, it makes much more sense to filter your own water and reuse your bottle. What is the downside to buying bottles of water?

Around the world, factories are using more than 18 million barrels of oil and up to 130 billion gallons of fresh water a year to create something that, by and large, most people don’t need. But the product is so amazingly popular that sales are going up 10 percent a year, just like clockwork.

The big success story? Bottled water. And the resources mentioned above are just to make the plastic containers.

Another 41 billion gallons of water is then used to fill them – water that is often just tap water, and other times has less frequent monitoring for safety or purity than if it had come out of a tap.

“Bottled water has become an incredibly big business, up to $100 billion per year,” said Todd Jarvis, an assistant professor in the Water Resources Graduate Program at Oregon State University, and a research hydrogeologist with the OSU Institute for Water and Watersheds. “There are enormous amounts of money to be made here. Some of the profits make our business majors blush, and everyone wants in. It’s just astonishing.”


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Category: Environment, Food

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (14)

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  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    The recent increase in dental cavities is now being attributed (in part) to kids drinking pricey, filtered, bottled water instead of free, fluoridated, tap.

    Mayo Clinic Article (one link of many out there)

  2. Erika Price says:

    Filtered tap water safer than bottled water? Even unfiltered tap water has higher standards of safety and cleanliness than bottled water!

    The difference lies in the regulation of the two: the EPA upholds standards on tap water, and has somewhere around 100 people in charge of its safety and purity. But the FDA regulates bottled water, a job it doles out to less than one person (I assume this means the sole bottled-water-regulator has other duties, too). So handing out some extra cash for the supposedly crystal clear purity of bottled water makes no sense. In fact, some bottled water companies just prepackage tap water and sell it to you.

    I highly reccomend this piece from Penn and Teller's Bullshit! series. The show definitely takes an openly, proudly biased look at its many topics, but it doesn't attempt to paint-over its message with a facade of "objectivism", so I find it worth a look and a thought. Especially this particular episode.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Erika: I LOVE the Penn and Teller video on bottled water. Creative and effective.

  4. Erika Price says:

    Someone has kindly uploaded nearly all of Penn and Teller's five-season series of Bullshit! onto youtube. I suggest everyone check a few out- they do strike a variety of targets, from religion to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and though I can't agree wholeheartedly with all of their positions, they make very interesting and controversial cases to say the least.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's a photo and caption that capture a related problem. We love to throw away useful things.

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    Americans drank some 37 billion bottles of water in 2005, despite the inconvenient truth that in most parts of the country, tap water is not only perfectly safe, but also more tightly regulated that its bottled counterpart. At the same time, manufacturing plastic bottles for bottled water creates an astounding amount of pollution — an annual equivalent of 1.5 billion barrels of oil, according to Food & Water Watch. Add to that the carbon emissions from transporting water from as far away as Norway (Voss), Italy (San Pellegrino), or Fiji (Fiji), and the billions of plastic bottles that end up in the waste stream, and drinking bottled water does start to seem a little bit of madness.

    Yet even at supposedly environmentally conscious stores like Whole Foods Market, bottled water is the No. 1 selling item.

  7. Isn't all the water in the States chlorinated and taste really bad? I drink tap water all the time here, but in most other countries I've been tap water tastes awful.

  8. Ben says:

    Guilty as charged. I drank about 1400 bottles of water last year.

  9. xiaogou says:

    I've noticed that a bottle of water 1 liter size is $1.00 per bottle that comes out to slightly more than $4.00 per gallon. Why is it more expensive than gasoline?

    The other thing I noticed is that the plastic bottles over time pass into solution molecules of estrogen analogs which the medicos suspect may lead to illnesses such as breast cancer.

    Finally, I noticed the market now selling skinny water, oxygen water, deep sea water and various other forms of what I have seen from reading the labels are rather bogus snake oil like benefits. What is up with this?

    The only benefit I have seen from bottled water is that when I go to other countries and drink their waters I get all sorts of stomach problems. The other alternative to drinking bottled water is tea.

    By the way do not drink only distilled water. Eventually, the lack of minerals in the water will draw out all the electrolytes from your body and cause all sorts of electrolyte problems.

  10. By the way do not drink only distilled water. Eventually, the lack of minerals in the water will draw out all the electrolytes from your body and cause all sorts of electrolyte problems.

    Actually, there seem to be diverging opinions about the drinking of distilled water. I remember at school they told us it was dangerous, but later on I heard different things.

    I remember seeing a biologist watering his plants with distilled water. I was a bit surprised about it and when I asked him he said that there were enough minerals in the soil. Maybe the minerals in the food would be enough to compensate for the lack of minerals in water?

  11. Xiaogou says:

    I am not saying do not drink distilled water. The fact is that drinking distilled water is not dangerous in itself. Many nutritionists, especially those that believe in detoxification, believe that drinking it from time to time may even help eliminate heavy metals from the body as they are usually hard for the body to expel naturally.

    The story about the biologist feeding the plants distilled water comes for two reasons. First, the minerals in tap water may be very high and constant watering from that source may leave too many minerals in the soil of the plant and the plant will die of the salt residues killing the roots. The other reason is that that person may be fertilizing the plant and the distilled water will better dissolve the nutrients and make it available to the plant.

    In the case of humans the lower mineral content in distilled water will not increase the amount of dissolved nutrients from the foods we eat and make them available to the body. It may act in reverse in that the mineral content may still be lower in the intestinal tract. So, the absorption of minerals, especially the important electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, iron and especially calcium, may be reduced thus upsetting the electrolyte balance of the body. I would not say this is the rule, but it is a common advice amongst the nutritionists.

  12. xiaogou says:

    Erich, do you have an article on how drinking beer is bad for the environment?

  13. Erich Vieth says:

    xiaogou – I haven't seen any such an article on beer.

  14. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's much more on the stupidity of bottled water for Alternet:

    One expert estimated that the amount of petroleum — used to make the bottles, transport, refrigerate, collect and bury them — would fill one-third of each bottle.

    These plastic bottles are creating landfill problems worldwide, and are washing up on beautiful beaches around the planet.

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