No, I am not telling you to stop drinking water from packaged bottle. But rather ask yourself before purchasing it: “Is there any alternate way?” We can get readily available bottled water in majority part of India. We can get exotic island water, or even water from Himalayas. And purchasing water bottle while travelling has become a norm in India because carrying water from your home is perceived as “low class” among ourselves. But your convenience comes at a cost to you, your health and environment.
Fossil Fuels & Carbon Emission
When we hear of efforts to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, we may envision driving our car as the primary way we use petroleum. But do you know how much oil is used to produce so many plastic bottles? The estimation done by the “Pacific Institute” tells us that producing the bottles for American consumption alone required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including the energy for transportation in year 2006. This much oil is enough to fuel a million cars for a year. The report also says that bottling water produced more than 2.5 million tons of Carbon Dioxide in 2006 in US alone, or the equivalent of 400,000 passenger cars per year. The energy required for bottling 1 litre of water is between 5.6 to 10.2 MJ. In contrast, the energy required to produce tap water was estimated at around 0.005 MJ per litre (1579 times less).
Now, let’s consider the effects of plastic bottles. Research carried out in 2011 says that 67 million water bottles are thrown away each day. Of those tens of millions of bottles consumed every day, 85% end up in landfills or incinerators. And it takes up to 1000 years for these bottles to biodegrade in landfills.
Effects on water level
So, what about water inside the bottle? The International Bottled Water Association estimated that for North American companies, it takes 1.39 litres to make one litre of water. But what this number not telling you is that it’s not the net water used to make one litre of water. Ertug Ercin says true water footprint includes all freshwater used in production, including the water used for packaging. And packaging makes a significant footprint. Water is required in the process of making plastic bottles as well as in the drilling process for oil to make plastic bottles. He estimated that the amount of water going into making the bottle could be up to SIX or SEVEN times what’s inside the bottle.
But is there any problem for the bottle companies? Have you ever heard any reduction in supply of any mineral water companies when our entire country face severe water shortage? I think the answer is a straight ‘NO’.
We generally believe that the bottled water is 100% pure water without any contamination. So, people who have water purifier installed at home also don’t want to carry couple of bottles. It turns out that 25% of bottled water is nothing more than tap water. In India, 80% of the diseases are water-borne and 50000 people die every day due to water contamination. Most water bottles are made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate), a clear plastic derived from oil. PET is made with a mixture of cancer-causing substances, including benzene and arsenic. These chemicals can leach into the water, especially if it is stored for a long time or gets direct sunlight on it. Ultraviolet rays from the sun or high temperatures will accelerate leaching of the plastic chemicals mentioned above into the water.
Adding to this health threat is a toxic substance called dioxin, which is also released into bottled water when it is left in the sunlight. Dioxin has been strongly linked to the development of breast cancer.
Cost of Bottled water
How much do you pay for the water delivered to your home by municipality including the water purifier charges? If you calculate this, you will understand that you are spending thousands of time more for your “convenience”.
Greenwashing by bottle companies
Bottle companies tell you that they are “Water Positive” – which means they are creating more water than they are utilizing. And they claim this because they planted thousands of plants and trees. True, that growing more trees can help rain more. But the plants that these companies growing today can only give their result (in terms of rain) in a longer term. Bottle companies calculate the rain to be achieved by each tree in its lifetime and project it as water created by them today. But as you see, each bottle of water requires 6 to 7 litre of water, it is impossible to create more water than they consume it.
In India, Bottled water industry is expected to grow at CAGR of 22%, to reach INR 160 billion in 2018. Some critics believed that the billions of dollars spent annually around the world on bottled water could be better used to install and maintain a safe public water infrastructure everywhere. They argued that, by investing one fifth of what was currently spent on bottled water, the world could eradicate the 1.8 million child deaths each year due to water-borne illness.
While the long-term environmental impact of plastic water bottles may be the first thing we think about, the more imminent problem is the threat they pose to our public water supply. The more water we buy, the less we rely on it. In fact, continuing this could mean the privatization of water, which would create an economic divide as wealthier people opt out of municipal supplies and lose interest in their upkeep. It’s a doomsday scenario.
Right now, the EPA says that over 91% of U.S. populations served by municipal water systems have access to safe water. But that number is only going to decrease as systems age and climate change produces superstorms that damage pipes and treatment plants. Even rising sea levels could eventually overwhelm water plants. And when this happens in poorer communities, they often don’t have the money or expertise to fix them. It’s become both an environmental justice issue and an equity one.
This may be outcome of a far future in India. But as we’re following the western world in most of the aspects, there is a great possibility of this phenomenon in Indian scenario.
So, is there any alternative for bottled water? A big YES.
- Simply stop purchasing these bottles for your own sake, unless it’s extremely necessary. By not purchasing the bottle, you are actually saving money, protecting your health from water-borne diseases, reducing plastic wastage, reducing carbon emission.
- Carry metal bottles or glass bottles with you from your home (strictly not “low class”).
- Make awareness among your friends regarding bottled water and its harmful effects.