Bottled water is in most cases a useless product which people in many countries have laughed about until recently. Why pay for something you can get almost for free? Aggressive marketing campaigns have created a trend of drinking bottled water. Most of the smaller-sized (up to 1.5 litres) are made of PET plastics, which can be problematic from the health as well as the environmental point of view. Let’s take a look at the down sides (as well as the rare upsides) of plastic water bottles.
The Story of Bottled Water
DOWNSIDES OF BOTTLED WATER
PET plastic (polyethylene terephthalate – the material that bottles are most often made of) leaches antimony which has been placed into the 2B group (meaning it can cause cancer) by the IARC (The International Agency for Research on Cancer) into the water. Research has shown that antimony leaches even stronger when bottles are exposed to high temperatures or/and when water is stored in PET for a longer period of time. Contrary to the claims in different popular media, PET does not leach BPA (bisphenol A).
Plastic bottles have many direct and indirect negative consequences for the environment.
- Energy consumption
Oil Energy consumption due to drinking bottled water occurs in many phases of its production. Oil is used as a base material and energy (usually produced by burning fossil fuels) is used for bottle manufacturing, processing and bottling water as well as transportation. Lots of burnt energy for the same result you get by just turning on the tap. When considering locally sold bottled water, bottle manufacture is the biggest source of energy consumption, but when water is transported to distant locations, transport ‘wins the prize’.
- Carbon footprint
The size of the carbon footprint is actually the result of the energy spent on producing a unit of a product, in our case a plastic bottle. Plastic bottle’s footprint size is large, mainly due to the energy intensity of its manufacturing process and transport as well as the low efficiency of recycling plastics (in the EU only 21.3% of plastics gets recycled and 30% are burned for energy recovery). The results from different analyses vary from 173 to 250g of CO2e per litre of water bottled in a plastic bottle, which is up to 6,000 times more than the footprint of a litre of tap water. More...
An average EU citizen buys 104 litres of bottled water per year. Most of the bottles are made of plastic which theoretically means more than 50 billion 1 litre plastic bottles get sold in Europe per year. Taking into account data about the efficiency of recycling and energy recovery (burning) almost 25 billion plastic bottles get landfilled or even worse, thrown away into the natural environment, annually. More...
The prices of bottled and tap water vary throughout the EU and the rest of the world. But the differences between both categories are enormous everywhere. In Slovenia for instance, bottled water is 274 to 2.695 times more expensive than tap water, in USA bottled water is 2,270 times more expensive. This is a unique case of price premium for the same product – a success that bottled water industry’s marketing departments are probably proud of.
The bottled water industry is also often being accused of commercialisation and the privatisation of a common good, which water is supposed to be. Many individuals and organisations throughout the world demand the prohibition of water’s usage for the means of creating profit. Problems and conflicts have already taken place in some countries where water sources have been depleted or privatised. The documentary film “Tapped” discusses these problems. More...
BOTTLED WATER’S UPSIDES
Bottled water is the only source of water in some areas, stricken by natural disasters or other types of crisis (wars, non-existent tap water...)
PLACES WITH POOR QUALITY TAP WATER:
There are of course areas where tap water doesn’t satisfy sanitary criteria. If there are no other (health and environment friendlier) solutions to this problem, bottled water might be the only choice. In their report, Freshwater in Europe, the UNEP states that more than 10% of EU residents drink potentially unsafe tap water.
Unfortunately, convenience is one of the main reasons people buy bottled water, although bottled water manufacturers would not admit it. We live in a dynamic society and an average person is extremely mobile on a typical day. Buying bottled water whenever we get thirsty is en easier solution for quenching our thirst because pouring tap water into reusable bottles requires some effort and planning. But awareness of all bottled water’s downsides should encourage us to overcome this ‘laziness’. ‘The return’ of drinking fountains and social movements which encourage drinking tap water could help as well.
We see that bottled water has some upsides as well. This is why our intention is not to oppose it generally but to reduce the unnecessary and excessive buying of bottled water. It should be carrying out its basic function, which is supplying water to areas and in situations when it is the only choice. We do however oppose the mass production and consumption of bottled water as the direct consequence of a manufactured demand, created by aggressive marketing.
- Reusable plastic bottles
Numerous drinking bottles are made of hard plastics. These do not leach antimony and are a better option than PET from an environmental as well as a financial point of view, because they encourage drinking tap water. However, it must still be emphasized that their manufacture is energy intense and recycling rates for plastic materials are relatively low. Recent scientific studies in the USA have shown that numerous types of bottles made of hard plastics leach bisphenol A (BPA), which ‘’has been shown to interfere with the reproductive development in animals, and has been linked to cardiovascular disease and diabetes in humans, among other things’’. Since a lot of manufacturers have stopped using BPA, which of course had to be replaced by some other chemical. BPS is one of the solutions which might not be any better than the BPA.
- Reusable bottles made of aluminium or steel
Although the metal industry is energy intense, we can say that reusable bottles made of metal are environmentally friendly. Aluminium especially has a very high recycling rate because of its price and physical characteristics. Theoretically it is possible to recycle aluminium infinitely. Since metal is sturdy it enables a long life for the bottles and in this way is environmentally and cost effective. Some of the lower quality metal containers are covered with a coating containing BPA (used as a protection from corrosion). Most of the better known producers have stopped using it after the already mentioned affair.
- Glass bottles
A regular glass bottle can be a great substitute for plastic bottles. It is environmentally friendly since it enables regular drinking of tap water and it can theoretically be infinitely recycled. It is an inert material which has only a minimal interaction with water. The biggest problem with using regular glass bottles is that they can break. They are relatively fragile and have no extra protection from knocks, so they are only appropriate for stationary usage and demand some caution when being handled.
- Flaska bottles
The Flaska bottle is our solution for the medical, environmental, cost and social problems caused by bottled water. It is made of glass, which we have already identified as the most appropriate material for drinking water and can be recycled into products of the same quality and/or function. It encourages drinking tap water and can help its owners lower their environmental footprint (less waste, less energy used, less carbon emitted). The Flaska is equipped with a special sleeve which protects it from knocks as well as from the effects of sunlight and temperature on the water. It is made from robust glass so the possibility of breakage is even lower. Thus Flaska bottles are suitable for active people and can be used during sports activities as well. But of course we have to be aware that it is still made of glass and can break in extreme situations. Its colourful protective sleeve also plays the role of a psychological trigger and ‘reminds’ us of drinking water. Flaska bottle’s added value is the fact it is programmed and it structures the water.