discarded plastic water bottles

Bottled water is a huge industry. In fact, the global bottled water industry was worth an estimated $283.01 billion in 2021, and is only expected to continue growing. While we may bemoan paying extra for water (about 3,000% more expensive per gallon than tap water according to a Harvard sustainability study) that may or may not be better than the water we already get in our homes, most of us at least assume that these plastic bottles are all recycled in an environmentally-friendly way. The truth is, according to a 2006 study by the Earth Policy Institute, 86% of plastic water bottles used in the United States become garbage or litter. 

Creating Plastic Water Bottles 

Using water to produce plastic water bottles may sound counterintuitive, but it actually takes about three times the amount of water in the bottle to produce it. In addition to the water used, it takes crude oil and other non-renewable resources to create the bottles. While it is possible for water bottles to be made from recycled materials, the majority are not. Even those that contain some or all recycled plastic still consume other resources when they’re being made. 

Recycling vs. Landfill 

The environmental impact of plastic water bottles doesn’t end with production. As we mentioned, the vast majority of water bottles end up as trash rather than recycled goods. This isn’t because people don’t know how to recycle, either. While the materials in plastic bottles are technically recyclable, the process of turning old, used containers into new ones is often more expensive and time-consuming than companies and governments consider it to be worth. You may throw your empty plastic water bottle into the recycling bin, but, once it gets to a facility, it’s more likely to be sorted out of that pile and sent to a landfill than it is to be melted down and turned into new containers. 

Even when plastic is recycled, the process can be too labor and cost-intensive for American companies. Tons of used plastic containers are shipped to other countries, where they can be recycled more cheaply. While better than incineration or landfill, transporting and recycling bottles overseas still consumes an excess of resources, as well as only being financially feasible because of exploitative conditions for the workers in those countries. 

Plastic Water Bottles vs. Tap Water 

There are a number of reasons that people buy so much bottled water. For many of us, the convenience of grabbing a case of water bottles while we’re out shopping seems to be the easiest way to have drinking water available at all times. While this may be true to some extent, reusable water bottles are not only the more environmentally-conscious choice, they’re also far cheaper in the long run, with bottled water prices far exceeding the cost of a reusable bottle over time.  

Many people also buy bottled water because of the perception that it tastes better than tap water, although studies have found that most people could not actually tell the difference in blind taste tests. Expensive, artesian spring waters may in fact taste noticeably superior, but these are also far more expensive and less common. Not to mention, ordinary bottled water may even come from municipal water sources.  

Health and quality of the water is another rationalization for buying bottled water for many people, whether they believe that tap water is more susceptible to contamination or because of the vitamins and minerals in name-brand water. Some bottled waters are fortified with additional things, like electrolytes, but most are not. While the FDA controls the safety of bottled water, tap water safety is mandated by the EPA, which has different regulations, although safety is paramount to both. Likewise, having a water filtration system can also guarantee that the water in your home is as clean as (if not better than) the water you buy in the store. It’s also worth noting that bottled water is also often found to contain microplastics. While it’s not clear whether these microplastics are immediately dangerous to humans, preliminary research has indicated that they can cause inflammation as well as a negative impact to hormones and the immune system

There are times when bottled water can be a lifesaver, of course. During emergencies, rescue personnel often distribute bottled water to survivors, and bottled water has served as a stopgap measure in places like Flint, Michigan, where clean, safe drinking water wasn’t available. Scenarios like these only contribute to a small percentage of the overall demand for plastic water bottles, however, with the bulk of bottled water purchases made purely for daily use. 

Home Water Filtration 

Whether you’re concerned about microplastics, environmental impact, or are just looking to save money, installing a good water treatment system can take the tap water in your home to the next level.

At The Science of Water, we assess and install water filtration systems to meet your unique needs. Using filtration technology backed by NASA and the EPA, our advanced water systems purify your water supply to the highest standard. No matter what you’re looking for in a water filtration system, we can help you enjoy safer, clearer, and more delicious water through every tap and appliance in your home.

Don’t wait to find out about contamination when it’s already too late. Proactively protect your household with pure, delicious water that you can rely on. For more information about The Science of Water or to book your free water test, get in touch with our team today!