Food and drinking water on the go! Especially city people are used to everything on demand in an instant, no planning, time delay, burden of cleaning or caring for waste. Drinking Bottled water seems young, modern and casual as smoking used to be… The 2009 movie ‘Tapped’, is a documentary about bottled water’s effect on people, on our health, on the environment.
Years ago, we bought 2 liter bottles of water, left them overnight in the freezer to take the next day on our summer hike. Bottled water really tastes bad when warmed up. Some time later I read, that freezing or heat fractures the plastic, that plastic contents can leach into the water. Curiously water companies recommend not to refill bottles, as they may leach plastic into the water… Watching the documentary made us aware of so many more aspects that are wrong with bottled water than ‘just’ leaching plastics:
Where does bottled water come from?
The bottled water market is dominated by a small number of well known multi national companies that have a history of not being concerned about our health. They move into neighborhoods with pristine water sources, tap it and sell it without anything in return for the locals who share the source. Ground water pumping is done without requiring a permit. Whoever has the biggest pump takes whatever they can get and sells it for a multiple of the cost. Even during draughts, when residents are asked to sharply reduce their water consumption, bottling companies have kept pumping out the limited resource while contributing even more to the draught effects.
What is inside?
Despite multi million Dollar marketing budgets trying to convince us that bottled water is superior, natural, fresh and clean, maybe glacier water untouched by mankind, the truth is, that most bottled water is in fact tap water. Recently water companies had to agree to print this fact in the backs of the product labels.
While community waters are highly regulated and frequently tested, there are no testing standards required for bottled waters. Testing by consumer organizations often found qualities much worse than ordinary tap water. Additionally, hormone disrupting and cancer causing toxins were found in bottled water, possibly leached out of the plastic bottles. This fact is especially important as many young mothers and expectant mothers drink it or give it to their small children. Another target group are minorities. I often see bottled water in the shopping carts of people who don’t look like they easily can afford the extra expense of bottled water.
Bottled Water is highly dependent on fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are needed to produce bottles in refineries and manufacturing plants that are spewing toxic chemicals into the environment. Surrounding communities are known to have elevated cancer rates. While we discuss our dependency on fossil fuels for transportation, the additional use of plastics for bottling our water adds to the depletion of global supplies. On top, shipping of bottled water across the country, where tap water is readily available as a source, costs even more money, uses even more fossil fuels and adds to global warming. And while I just read that the Coca Cola company currently pays for developing plastics from plant sources, it will still create plant derived plastic garbage that communities will have to deal with.
What happens to garbage?
Popular science suggests that it takes a plastic water bottle 450 to 1000 years to completely biodegrade. So called recycling is merely a downcycling of plastic that cannot be used for food purposes anymore. I thought our existing NY return system is insufficient and badly functioning, the 5¢ per bottle is proven to not be enough of an incentive to hold on to the bottle until it can be properly redeemed at the hard to find machines. Also, existing machines are fuzzy, reject too many bottles with badly readable or missing bar codes to not supported brands… feeding such a machine is frustrating and btw so uncool. The movie lets us know however, that NY among just a small number of states, is quite privileged to have this kind of return system in place. Most states either collect bottles as garbage which will end up in incinerators and landfill, or they collect them in household recycling. Only 50% of households in the US have access to such recycling pickup.
Besides, many of the bottles don’t even make it home. Marketed as an ‘on the go’ product, most consumers only hold on to it for an average of 20 minutes. Bottles end up in public garbage bins at best, otherwise line parks and streams that local governments have to deal with. One big factor for overflooding of the Saw Mill river in Westchester, f.e. are blockages of debris, among them bottles. Bottles that make it into the open water contribute to the often described plastic flotilla in the ocean, already bigger than the state of Texas. More on the plastic flotilla here…
I can highly recommend watching the documentary, which is considering the negative effects of water bottling, on so many different levels. Hopefully it will give us second thoughts when finding ourselves thirsty in front of a bottled water vendor. The full movie ‘Tapped’ DVD is available at Westchester libraries as well as currently online at Hulu. http://www.hulu.com/watch/192680/tapped
I suggest that New York officials raise the redemption fee on plastic and glass bottles and cans (regardless of content) to at least 50¢. It will increase the price of water bottles, sure, but also the incentive to redeem them at the machines.
A great step for companies; f.e. in Jorge’s Job, you will find no more water bottles or even water coolers, but a superior filter system (reverse osmosis?) installed in the kitchen sink, which supplies quality drinking water on demand.
I am glad that there are so many light and attractive stainless steel bottles with sippy tops available today. Currently all stainless steel bottles available are produced in China, the best tested Insulated Bottles are CamelBak, Klean Kanteen and Nathan Stainless*.
*If you buy the Nathan Stainless, which has long plastic pipes, so that you can sip without turning the bottle, be prepared to regularly wash the exchangeable pipes with a narrow bottle brush, as they can trap bad tasting mold easily .