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Global: The Waste of Bottled Water

bottled water

Resource Demands of Bottled Water

by Shannyn Snyder

Privileged consumers are in a romance with the bottled water industry, with aerosol-canned Evian touted as the fountain of youth and square-shaped Fiji water a status symbol among the Hollywood elite. However, with new studies exposing both the chemical and impurity content of many leading brands of bottled water, and the fallen economy leading most U.S. consumers to spend more responsibly, it seems even more timely for bottled-water drinkers to change their habits.

The irony of the single bottle of water, typically representative of a healthy beverage in a convenient container, is that it takes 3 or more liters of water to make 1 bottled liter, and many water bottlers are given carte blanche rights to mine local groundwater supplies at the expense of local populations.

Using the below water cycle illustration, it is important to note that the simplistic view of water cycle requires, at a minimum, that precipitation from the atmosphere must restore groundwater. This groundwater eventually evaporates and the cycle begins again. But what happens to this water cycle when water is consumed and never replenished? A conservationist may plant trees for reforestation, for example, but there is no congruent solution for returning consumed water to the ecosystem.

According to the Canadian Environmental Law Association, removing water for bottling is a form of consumption, and although beverage companies abuse water resources, consumers who purchase the commodity are essentially sharing responsibility for stressing the environment. Mining water faster than it can be replenished is already causing some water scarcity in the U.S., where most of the population is still enchanted by the ability to run an unlimited amount of water from a tap.

Remembering that “water barons” bottle water for profit and not for any other reason may be one way to refocus attention on where the water comes from, and that degradation of springs and other aquifers will more noticeably impact communities in the coming years.

In fact, in her September 2008 to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director, Food & Water Watch testified that consumers are being mislead by water bottlers and that the product lacks environmental and safety regulation. Aside from the fact that bottled water source is often tested only once per year for contaminants versus the required monthly testing of tap under the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act, bottled water manufacturers do not have to report testing results to consumers, and the quality of the water is subjective. Hauter’s concerns also touched upon the environmental impact of mining water, stating:

When the flows and levels of a region’s springs, wetlands, lakes, streams and rivers are materially affected from extraction for bottling, the entire local and even regional environment suffers, and this extends to the activities that depend on the water –agriculture, individuals, businesses, tourism and recreation. No one knows how much water is being mined for bottled water because there is no universal requirement for bottled water companies.

Hauter’s comments reference the limits that are often set for residents who face water shortages due to drought, but beverage corporations are able to draw millions of gallons of water from local ground sources without regard to the impact on the local community. Nestle’s impact in McCloud, California is just one example of how a transnational bottling company can turn a community upside-down.

Over-mining of aquifers without allowing adequate replenishment can adversely affect the ecosystem, but unless the issues become a shared nationwide concern, the depletion felt by “others” will likely never quite hit home. While various water bottlers rake in profits in even a downturned economy, a growing number of Americans will experience water problems in the future, from use shortages to pollution. It’s not just a “third world” problem.

For more information on national water conditions, current groundwater levels and a U.S. streamflow map, please visit the U.S. Geological Survey.

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The Bottled Water Lie

by Jane Anderson

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Bottled Water – Not Such a Clear Choice by Shannyn Snyder

Originally packaged for the same convenience and portability as soda and juice, bottled water has over the past years quickly become not only big business but a controversial one as well.

The early manufactured bottled water was an expensive and exclusive luxury at $2-$3 per bottle, allegedly hailing from springs and glaciers. Now, many brands of bottled water are less than $1 per container, and the popularly packaged beverage has in recent years even outsold milk in the U.S.

However, both U.S. and European consumers alike seem to be unaware of exactly what type of beverage they are buying, although fine print on some bottle labels divulge that the contents are filtered drinking water instead of often assumed spring water. However, it would seem that this is the same as bottling water from the tap at home, and bottled water may not necessarily be the “clearer” choice for a healthy drink.

Questioning the quality of bottled water is not a new endeavor. In 1999, the National Resources Defense Council petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, questioning the purity of bottled water. They reported that regulations for manufacturers were lax and that some of the 1,000 bottles of water representing 103 brands used for their testing over a four-year period contained contaminants including nitrates and arsenic. The Council’s concern that public distrust over tap water has played a big part in driving sales of bottled water upward, but that bottled water’s general claims of safety and purity may not be entirely true.

Although the Council continues to ask the FDA to put stiffer regulations in place for bottled water manufactures, calling for at least the same rigorous testing of water that is required of city water facilities, water testing nearly a decade later yielded similar quality results. In October 2008, The Environmental Working group discovered over 38 different types of contaminants, including fertilizer, during their laboratory testing of best-selling, national brands of water. Even “traces” of some of the contaminants found in the testing are not allowed in municipal water, which is heavily regulated.

According to Dr. James M. Symons in his book, Plain Talk About Drinking Water (p 2), tap water is considered safe to drink when it meets all local, state and federal regulations. Interestingly, the Environmental Working Group found that some of their tested bottled water would not pass their state’s regulations, yet it was sold in grocery stores nationwide.

Switching to from bottled water to tap or filtered water is often an uneasy habit to break, with many consumers claiming that tap water just doesn’t taste as good as the bottled version. However, according to a Duke University “blind study,” queried students were not able to tell the difference between the two in a taste test, which could be because some bottled waters may not be much more than filtered tap water anyway.

Finding out whether not your home tap water is safe should be a simple process, according to Dr. Symons, who says that most municipal water facilities produce a public water quality report and that Federal law requires that consumers be notified of violations (p 10). Water treatment facilities use a combination of filtration, chlorine, Ozone and UV light to remove germs and pathogens (p 22-24), and consumers can always take water treatment a step further by adding their own filtration steps at home for additional peace of mind.

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Global Concerns over Bottled Water

By Shannyn Snyder

Dozens of recent reports on the safety of bottled water have left many consumers wondering exactly what is in this convenient beverage that can sell for as much as $7.00 for a single-use bottle. These concerns, which were mainly receiving U.S. attention, are now being investigated

In India, Dr. V.H. Potty advises that unregulated impurities inside of the bottled water may not be the only reason for worry, explaining that the dangers of chemicals such as metal may be leached from the plastic container over a period of time or in particular temperatures. Martin Wagner and Jörg Oehlmann from Goethe University in Germany echoed similar concerns, stating that the some of the leached substances may also act similar to hormones like estrogen, which can cause cancer.

Meanwhile, bottle water packaging plants in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam continue to be shut down in an effort by those municipalities to better control packaging practices there. Recent bottled water from plants across these areas have been found to contain high concentrations of acid, failing also to meet other quality standards, including safe hygiene practices at the bottling plants. Two plants were found to contain the Pseudomonas aeruginosa, an aggressive bacterium often resistant to antibiotics.

Concerns over the safety of bottled water is nothing new but increasingly alarming to a major part of the world who relies on bottled water as their only potable resource. Over the past decade, various health organizations have voiced complaints about the lack of regulatory standards for bottled water but little has changed. Although water bottlers often claim to be compliant with FDA and other regulatory agency guidelines, there is a clear lack of both nationally and globally-enforced standards. In addition, the bottler’s responses contrast with repeated testing of popular brands of bottled water, in which impurities from nitrate to coliform are found in bottles of water currently found on store shelves.

Canadian municipalities and universities are somewhat leading a trend of water bottle bans on campuses, and in government offices and airports to reduce landfill waste and bio-fuel use; and environmentalists are hopeful that the scaling back of water bottle usage may prompt some plants to close.

Although some populations around the globe may need to continue to receive their life-saving water in bottled form, water bottlers who make up a $60 billion profit industry have a responsibility to produce a commodity safe for worldwide consumers - yet very few are held to any standards. One campaign that hopes to stop corporate manipulation of water by promoting consumer confidence in public waters is Think Outside the Bottle, who along with other organizations hope to increase global access to tap water through efforts such as reclaimed water and filtration practices.

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The Bottled Water Footprint George Mason University

By Katherine Sentlinger

The use of bottled water throughout the world has grown significantly in the past few decades. In the United States, it is estimated that the consumption of bottled water has increased by 70% since 2001. This bottled water is most often no better in cleanliness or in taste than the water that comes from the tap. The bottled water industry has effects on both the environment and economies worldwide. This is also true on college campuses, such as George Mason University, where we can see and bring awareness about these impacts.

One of the major impacts that bottled water has is its cost. It is estimated that bottled water is 500 times more expensive than tap water. In 2006 alone, the United States spent over $11 Billion on bottled water. At George Mason University, the student population is a little over 32,000 students. In the time span of one week, if each of these students purchased a 20 oz bottle of water, it would be equivalent to 640,000oz or 5,000 gallons of bottled water per week. If each of these bottles is $2.00 the student population is spending $64,000 a week. College students are often trying to save money anywhere they can. The amount of money that students needlessly pay for bottled water could be put to better uses.

This example of the GMU student population also demonstrates the impact that bottled water use has on the environment. In the example, the amount of bottles is also equivalent 32,000 plastic bottles a week that are typically thrown away. Not only is this extremely wasteful, it also has effects on the carbon footprint or “the total amount of greenhouse gases produced to directly and indirectly support human activities, usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).” The bottled water industry impacts the carbon footprint on several levels. First, the processes used to create the bottles that the water is stored in contribute to the carbon footprint. According to Live Science, “An estimated total of the equivalent of 32 million to 54 million barrels of oil was required to generate the energy to produce the amount of bottled water consumed in the United States in 2007”. The burning of this fuel in the production of the bottles emits CO2 into the atmosphere.

Secondly, the bottles must then be transported to wherever they are being sold.

The methods of transport need to burn fuel to get to their destinations and, therefore, also contribute to the carbon footprint. And finally, because only a limited number of water bottles can be recycled, most bottles end up in landfills (an estimated 60 million per day) or are incinerated. According to The Water Project,“bottles used to package water take over 1,000 years to bio-degrade and if incinerated, they produce toxic fumes”. If the students purchase these bottled waters they are contributing to the processes (the creating, transporting and destroying the bottles) that all contribute to the carbon footprint.

There are many ways in which GMU can change its bottled water footprint. One way is to switch from using bottled water to tap water. Students can refill their plastic water bottles multiple times or purchase a reusable water bottle that can be filled with tap water. Changing this habit will in the long run save students thousands of dollars that can be put to other uses. Students can also be sure to recycle the bottles. This will reduce the likelihood of the bottles ending up in landfills. The university can also help by making drinking fountains and water bottle filling stations available to students around the campus. By changing a few simple habits, students can both save money and reduce the carbon footprint produced by their university.

Thompson, Andrea. "The Energy Footprint of Bottled Water." Live Science. N.p., 18 Mar. 2009.

Web. 1 Dec. 2010. .

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