Water: Why Pay for Worse Stuff

Marketers of bottled water sure have done their job! Beyond cultivating an attraction to particular names and labels across the plethora of flashy, pleasingly designed bottles meant to reflect our lifestyle and ideals, water bottlers seem to have us convinced that drinking bottled water is cleaner and safer than drinking tap water.

However, tests performed on the leading brands of bottled water suggest otherwise! Studies performed throughout North America by independent and governmental groups have turned up a variety of contaminants, including carcinogenic chemicals. In fact, a two-year study done by the Washington-based Environmental Working Group, a scientific organization that advocates stricter regulations, has yielded some very interesting results. Tests performed on 10 brands of bottled water have revealed the presence of an average of 8 contaminants per brand, such as coliform bacteria, caffeine, acetaminophen (pain reliever), fertilizer, solvents, arsenic, plastic-making chemicals and the radioactive element strontium.

According to researchers, some contaminants may have come from pollutants also found in tap water or they may have leached from the plastic used in bottling. Moreover, the process of manufacturing water through bottling plants that do not undergo inspections even remotely matching those of municipal sites increases the chances that contaminants are not only present, but at higher levels.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) assures us that Manufacturers and importers of bottled water are required to ensure that their products continually meet the Canadian health and safety standards. The CFIA states that in Canada, the “quality standards for bottled and municipal waters are similar. Both bottled and municipal waters that meet or exceed their required health and safety standards, are considered to be safe.”

But if you also keep in mind that it is legal to manufacture and sell tap water under a brand name if the water is labeled simply as “water” (i.e. does not contain the word “mineral” or “spring”) or as "distilled" or "demineralized" (in which case it has undergone some filtration to reduce or remove certain minerals and chemicals such as chlorine), then the whole idea of buying our water in a bottle – both at a hefty price on a budget and the environment – becomes questionable indeed.

Indeed, hefty price on the environment. Not only is bottled water evidently not better for us, it is also worse on the environment. Beyond the serious pollution created as an aftereffect of manufacturing plastic bottles, there’s the question of the space they take up in our landfills and the garbage they create in our public spaces; there appears to be an obvious contradiction between the clear, clean and healthy focused adverts telling us to drink bottled water and the general attitude of a majority of bottled water drinkers who don’t even bother to recycle the empty bottles, let alone toss them in garbage cans. And since there is no 5 cent refund offered for these bottles, they have become a real problem in many places. So much so that many cities such as Toronto, Calgary, and San Francisco have banned the sale of bottled water in municipal areas. According to the Polaris Institute 17 municipalities from 5 Canadian provinces have already taken action to ban bottled water, while another 45 municipalities are planning restrictions.

So if you must have one of those trendy bottles to carry around with you, doesn’t it make sense to buy just one and refill it with tap water? Just make sure you clean and rinse it thoroughly between each use. You can also greatly reduce the taste of chlorine – a common complaint with tap water – by refrigerating your water for at least 8 hours.

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© 2008, Pascal-Denis Lussier

Photo credits: "do you remember tap water" by malla mi, all rights reserved..

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