Bottle or tap?

I grew up in southwest Florida, and disliked the taste of my local water. We were definitely a bottled water family. To this day, my dad’s fridge in southwest Florida is fully stocked with bottles of water. I can’t tell you how many times I have told him how destructive these single-use plastic bottles are on the environment and how the water quality is not guaranteed.

To get that bottle of water into my father’s hand from his fridge:

  • oil in the deep ocean is drilled,
  • shipped to port,
  • trucked to a refinery,
  • refined,
  • shipped to a manufacturer,
  • made into a bottle, which can be
  • filled with any tap water that meets Safe Drinking Water Act Standards (see the Food and Drug Administrations’ bottled water regulations for more information), then
  • shipped to the store,
  • stored in a warehouse,
  • put on a shelf,
  • taken home,
  • refrigerated,
  • consumed quickly, and then
  • thrown away.

But where is “away”? Well, there is no away.

Most of these bottles will end up in a landfill, and many will end up in our water bodies where they will break up into tiny pieces known as microplastics. Some pieces will be taken from the guts of fish, birds, dolphins, and turtles (to name a few), which showcases how we are literally consuming our own waste. And just a small percentage of these bottles will be recycled.

Still, bottled water continues to be the most consumed bottled beverage in the United States.

Quick Facts on Bottled Water:
  • In 2015, Americans bought the equivalent of 224.4 million gallons of bottled water each week, enough to provide every single person in America with five bottles of water per week (James 2007 and RPN 2008).
  • In 2005, when sales were lower, almost 50 billion new plastic bottles were produced, and less than 15 percent of those were recycled (James 2007 and RPN 2008).
  • Processing, manufacturing, distributing, and refrigerating bottled water takes 2,000 times more energy than taking water out of the tap and adding ice (Gleick and Cooley 2009).
  • It takes three times the amount water to produce a single 0.5 liter (16.8 ounces) bottle of water (James 2007 and RPN 2008).
More than 1/3 of Floridians Report Bottled Water as their Primary Source of Drinking Water

In 2015, 36 percent of Floridians surveyed reported that bottled water use was their primary source of drinking water (Odera and Lamm, 2015). That means one out of every three Floridians either believes that Florida water tastes bad, that it is not safe, or that bottled water is a better alternative (Hu et al. 2011). While drinking water quality was reported to be highly or extremely important to nearly all survey respondents (Odera and Lamm, 2015), perception for a third of Floridians must be that the quality is not good enough to drink. What’s more, 75 percent of these respondents were less than moderately familiar with the Florida Safe Drinking Water Act (Odera and Lamm, 2015), which means that they were not familiar with the actual legal requirements that tap water must adhere to in order for it be considered safe for consumption.

Choosing the Bottle Creates a Disconnect

Compounding the problem is the fact that bottled water consumers are less likely to want to protect local water resources.  If water consumers think that bottled water is the only reliable source of clean, safe drinking water, then they will be less likely to want to support projects that enhance the quality or supply of their municipal (tap) water (Hayes). Consumers are more likely to rely on bottled water as their primary drinking water source if they perceive that their own public supply is not safe or if it poses a health risk (Doria 2006, Hu et al. 2011). Some bottled water consumers think that bottled water is higher quality than the tap water alternative; however, this is most often not the case (Ferrier 2001). Meanwhile, people who consume bottled water do not think about where it comes from, the contamination risks of the source, or the future of its supply. As a result, they become disconnected to water supply issues. Furthermore, most bottled water consumers in the U.S. do not know the regulatory standards, but assume they are higher than those that govern public water supply, which is also not the case (Hu et al. 2011).

Sarasota County Continues to Win Drinking Water Taste Tests

The good news is that Sarasota County continuously beats competing utilities from Manatee, Desoto, Charlotte, and Hardee counties for drinking water taste.  Drinking local will not only help reduce the county’s plastic waste and carbon footprint, but it will also get people more invested in thinking about the future of local water supply and the protection of local water resources.

So bottle or tap?  I choose tap.  I filter my tap water to improve its taste.  The rule of thumb for filters is the smaller the pore size, the longer it takes for the water to pass through, the more contaminants are removed.  Try a 0.5-micron, activated carbon block filter, or check out the Environmental Working Group’s Water Filter Guide for more information.  Want to know where your drinking water comes from? Check out an earlier blog post.

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