Bottled Water Is 3,500 Times Worse for the Environment Than Tap Water
Do you trust your tap water?
What's the story?
- Bottled water has an environmental impact “up to 3,500 times greater than tap water,” according to a recent study.
- Research from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) also found that the impact of bottled water on ecosystems is 1,400 times higher than tap water.
- The first-of-its-kind study, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, concluded:
“Bottled water consumption has sharply increased in the last years worldwide … However, bottled water consumption involves much higher environmental impacts compared to public drinking water supply.”
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- The research focused on Barcelona, Spain, where 60 percent of the city’s 1.35 million residents consume bottled water at least some of the time--despite improvements in the quality of tap water in recent years.
- Bottled water is becoming increasingly popular in Barcelona due to its taste, odor, and marketing efforts. There have also been public concerns about the quality of tap water.
How was the research conducted?
Life Cycle Assessment
- ISGlobal scientists used a “life cycle assessment” (LSA), which estimates the environmental impact of an item over its lifespan: extraction of raw materials, manufacturing, transportation, distribution, use, disposal.
- In the U.S. 1.5 million barrels of oil are used each year just for the manufacturing of plastic bottles. This total does not include the oil that is used during the distribution stage.
- If every Barcelonian switched to bottled water, the impact on the environment would be 1,400 times worse and have a "3,500 times higher cost to the environment for resources" in comparison to a scenario where everyone switched to using tap water, according to the LSA.
- Additionally, the ecosystem would suffer from losing 1.43 animal species every year and extracting enough raw materials to produce enough bottles would cost more than $83.9 million dollars.
Health Impact Assessment
- Using the Health Impact Assessment (HIA), ISGlobal researchers also concluded that tap water and bottled water affect human health in the same way, and the reduction in environmental impacts more than offset the small risk of bladder cancer associated with drinking tap water.
- Chemical compounds like trihalomethanes found in tap water make it seem dangerous, but scientists have found the actual risk is small. The lead author of the study, ISGlobal researcher Cristina Villanueva, wrote:
"While it is true that tap water may contain trihalomethanes (THM) derived from the disinfection process and that THMs are associated with bladder cancer, our study shows that due to the high quality of the tap water in Barcelona, the risk for health is small, especially when we take into account the overall impacts of bottled water.”
- Researchers believe that installing a filtration system could also solve the issue, though there is not enough data to fully understand how filtered water affects the environment.
“People trust bottled water because advertisers have done a good job of convincing people it’s a good option, so we need the effort on the other side,” Villanueva said.
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