7 Ugly Truths of Bottled Water


This July, how are you quenching your thirst? At Global Green USA, we want to ensure that you hydrate in the healthiest way possible for your body, for the community, and for the planet.

Many people understand that single-use, plastic water bottles harm the environment in some vague way. However, most do not realize the true cost of bottled water-- a price that includes a toll on human health, ecological systems, and economic security. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of seven ugly truths behind the face of elegant marketing:


1. Corporations pump water from local communities, even in times of drought.

Nestlé Brand, Pure Life (Wilson Hui, flickr)

Bottled Water industries often extract local, public water free of charge, then reap a profit from customers around the nation. Problems with this process only increase in the face of climate change and worsening drought. Right now, Nestlé continues to bottle water for its Arrowhead label in the California Desert, amidst  the state’s worst drought in history (see the Desert Sun’s report on the controversy). Award-winning documentary Tapped offers other examples. For instance, the residents of Fryeburg, Maine went a day-and-a-half without water while Nestlé (acting under label Poland Springs) continued to pump their dwindling water supply. This exploitation of resources has occurred around the nation in such places as the Arkansas River Valley, Colorado, Florida, California, and Michigan, to name a few.


2. Bottled water actually wastes water.

In a study on the resource requirements for bottled water, researchers found that every liter of water sold requires three liters of water to produce. That means you’re tripling your drinking water footprint every time you choose bottled versus tap water.


3. Bottled water is virtually unregulated.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water with fewer requirements than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the agency that regulates municipal tap water. The FDA only suggests an annual testing of bottled water and does not require the results to be posted to the public. The FDA does not test for E. Coli, while the EPA does. In addition, only one worker in the FDA oversees all of the bottled water industries in the U.S. Finally, plastic water bottles that are bottled and sold within the same state are exempt from any FDA standards. Unfortunately, this means that 60-70% of all single-use, plastic water bottles in the U.S. are not even regulated by the FDA.

Municipal drinking water (tap water) falls subject to stringent regulations. Tap water is regulated at least 400 times per month in government-certified labs. The results of the tests are made available to the public online. To find the results of your municipal tap water, click here!


4. Bottled water is no cleaner, safer, or healthier than tap water.

About half of the time, bottled water is merely tap water re-sold in plastic bottles. In 2009, 47.8% of all bottled water was derived from the tap.

Unfortunately, bottled water’s regulatory gaps result in the sale of water that may be contaminated. As documented in Tapped, 38 contaminants were found in ten different brands of bottled water during an independent test. They found traces of arsenic, bacterial contaminants, leaching from plastic bottles, and toluene, a constituent of gasoline and paint thinners. Another study tested water that was left in the trunk of a car for a week; they found styrene and thalates, chemicals that cause cancer and birth defects.


Drake D'Ambra

5. That plastic bottle is made from oil and natural gas.

The stages of a single-use plastic water bottle’s “life” require massive amounts of energy and fossil fuel. Here’s a rough overview:

  • Creating the PET plastic bottle (requires petroleum or natural gas)
  • Filling the bottles with water at the factory (requires water and petroleum/natural gas)
  • Transporting the water by truck, train, ship, or air freight (requires petroleum)
  • Cooling bottles in grocery stores and at home (requires petroleum or coal)
  • Recycling and/or throwing away the bottles (requires petroleum and/or coal)

In 2006, a research study concluded that the US used roughly 17 million barrels of oil (or 714 million gallons) to make the PET for single-use, plastic water bottles. As a result, 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide were emitted. Unfortunately, our consumption and emission rates are even higher now, since the global consumption of bottled water increases about 10% per year.


6. 70-80% of single-use plastic water bottles aren’t recycled.

Bottled water industries enjoy advertising that their bottles are “highly recyclable.” Unfortunately, however, most Americans do not recycle these bottles - only about 20-30% do, mostly thanks to state cash refunds. As a result, these bottles contribute to landfills or worse, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. PET Plastic never biodegrades - it only breaks into smaller components that end up in the food chain, which can end up in our bodies.


7. The manufacturing of bottled water harms disadvantaged, low-income communities.

Tapped also reveals that residential communities located near PET factories suffer from unusually high levels of chronic illness and birth defects. Members of Corpus Christi, Texas live close to the nation’s largest PET manufacturing facility; the birth defects in this town are also 84% higher than the state average.

The PET in plastic bottles fall within the Benzene chemical family, a carcinogenic (cancer-causing) agent. During the manufacturing process of PET, carcinogens leak into the local air, groundwater, and soil. This pollution causes nearby property values to decrease so only low-income families inhabit the area. Tragically, these economically disadvantaged communities struggle to pay their health care costs at the same time that they are outnumbered by powerful factories.


Go re-usable!

Re-Usable Water Bottle, photo cred: xlrider, flickr

So, now you know: single-use, plastic bottles not only harm the environment, but they also deteriorate public health and negatively impact low-income communities. Luckily, your individual habits can make a difference. Using a reusable water bottle might seem like a small decision, but it truly does make an impact--especially when you lead others by example. Help your family, friends, and others understand the realities of single-use water bottles by spreading the word, carrying your own re-usable, and avoiding bottled water purchases at grocery stores and gas stations.

To learn more about the importance of drinking tap water, watch Tapped on Netflix or for free online here!