If you looked at the label of a food product and it included no ingredient list, and no information about where the ingredients were sourced or how they were processed, would you want to consume that product? Most of us who have even a little bit of concern about what we put in our bodies would most likely answer this question with a resounding “no!” Yet, if you consume bottled water that is exactly what you are doing: consuming a product that gives little to no clear information about its quality or safety.
Every 27 hours Americans consume enough bottled water to circle the earth’s equator in its entirety, with plastic bottles stacked end to end. In just one week, those bottles would stretch more than halfway to the moon! How did we wind up in this predicament? Bottled water companies have more or less succeeded in convincing Americans that bottled water is far superior to tap water. However, they fail to disclose essential facts about their products, such as the geographical location of the water’s source, and test results that would confirm this water’s so-called “purity”. A 2011 study by the Environmental Working Group shares some other facts that the bottled water industry would rather its consumers not know:
- The Federal government does not mandate that bottled water be any safer than tap water–the chemical pollution standards are nearly identical. In fact, bottled water is less regulated than tap water.
- Close to half of all bottled water is sourced from municipal tap water (Yup, the same stuff that comes out of your faucet).
- It takes an estimated 2,000 times more energy to produce bottled water than to produce an equivalent amount of tap water.
- Production and transportation of bottled water in the US consumes more than 30 million barrels of oil each year and produces as much carbon dioxide as two million cars.
- Plastic water bottles are the fastest growing form of municipal solid waste in the United States, contributing nearly four billion pounds to landfills, annually!
And if all that wasn’t enough to make you re-think bottled water, we haven’t even gotten into that whole “BPA” thing yet. What BPA thing, you ask? Bisphenol A (BPA) is an estrogen-like chemical commonly used to make clear plastics. It has been shown that it can leach into the liquid it contains (like water). Increasing amounts of scientific evidence show a correlation between high amounts of BPA in the body and infertility, weight gain, behavioral changes, early onset of puberty, cancer, and diabetes. If you absolutely have to purchase a food product that is packaged in plastic, check the bottom. If you see a “7″ or the letters “PC” (for polycarbonate) put it down. Plastic with recycling labels #1, #2, and #4 are better choices because they do not contain BPA.
Tap water has its own share of issues that are of concern. Most water supplies are susceptible to contamination by a number of harmful chemicals, either as a result of runoff from pesticides used on farms and other industrial waste, or they are deliberately treated with chloride or fluorides. Fluoridated water should definitely be avoided. Fluoride is an enzyme inhibitor that contributes to bone loss, bone deformities, cancer and a host of other illnesses. It offers very little protection against tooth decay. Because bottled water has a 50/50 shot of being from a municipal source, there’s a high probability that it could be fluoridated too.
So what are we to do? Well, the most ecologically and economically sane option is to buy a water filter. There are a variety of good choices for water filters, which vary from the kind you actually install to run through your kitchen sink, or entire home water system, to portable filters that can be placed in a BPA-free water bottle, for easy transport. Consumer Reports recommends installing an under-the-counter filter for greatest economic efficiency, as the filters don’t need to be replaced as often. The less often you need to replace a filter, the less often you need to dispose of an old one, reducing waste.
A ceramic, charcoal or compressed carbon filter is effective for removing toxic heavy metals, while leaving beneficial minerals such as calcium and selenium intact. These filters do not remove chloride or nitrates as effectively though. Some of these carbon filtration systems run the water through a second filter to remove most of the fluoride. Reverse Osmosis filters will completely remove the fluoride and nitrates, but they also denature the water, removing beneficial minerals. Fine clay or mineral ions can be added to this water to supplement–www.radientlifecatologue.com has an assortment of high quality water filtration systems. They also feature BPA-free water bottles whose maker’s donate a portion of their profits to aid in the effort to solve problems related to water shortage crisis, and oceanic pollution. Portable water bottles that contain a built-in filter are another alternative to bottled water. They are also useful for times when you are traveling, or backpacking. Some good BPA-free brands include Katadyn, CamelBak and Bobble. The consumer reports link at the bottom of this article contains an excellent comparison of water filters based of effectiveness, durability and price. Some of their favorites included:
- Clear2 0 carafe filter ($30 + $40-$100 per year for replacement filters)
- Pur Vertical FM 3700 faucet-mounted filter ($25 + $30-100 per year for replacement filters)
- The Aquasauna AQ-4000 Counter top filter ($100 + $50-100 per year for replacement filters)
- The Culligan preferred series 350 Undersink filter ($145 +$50-$100 per year for replacement filters)
Bottled water products should be placed in the same category as hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup and aspartame. In short, they should rarely, if ever, be consumed. The money you spend on a water filter will save you countless dollars in the long run, while giving you access to healthier drinking water. Simultaneously, it spares the earth from pounds upon pounds of solid waste. Funny how choices that are good for our bodies are often good for the earth too.
1. Fallon, Sally. Nourishing Traditions. New Trends Publishing. Washington DC, 1999.
2. Environmental working group report on bottled water: http://static.ewg.org/reports/2010/bottledwater2010/pdf/2011-bottledwater-scorecard-report.pdf
4. Great water filters for sale: http://www.radiantlifecatalog.com/product/KOR-WATER-BOTTLE/Point-of-Use-Devices-POU
6. Consumer reports water filter reviews: http://pressroom.consumerreports.org/pressroom/2010/04/cr-finds-10-recommended-water-filters-that-can-replace-bottled-water-.html