The Environmental Impact
The environmental impacts of bottled water are largely foisted on the public and our ecosystems in the form of large amounts of energy to produce the plastic and large amounts of plastic thrown away into our environment. It takes the equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil every year to make the PET water bottles we consume in the United States, and even more energy to move it, store it, and chill it (the IBWA pretends this is a “myth” but here is the link to the scientific paper (pdf) that discusses the massive energy requirement of bottled water). Most PET bottles are not recycled; most (more than 60%) are dumped in landfills or by the side of the roads.
Around 45% of all bottled water comes from local groundwater sources (sometimes labeled as “spring” water). In some regions, these aquifers have been overpumped, with adverse consequences for local wells and streams.
But the rest (around 55%) of all bottled water is simply taken from local municipal tap water systems. Sometimes it receives additional processing, but that tap water originally met all federal water quality standards, and cost a tiny fraction of what the bottled water industry subsequently charges for turning a public resource into a private commodity.
So, one thing you can do for the Earth today and every day? Cut back on your purchases of bottled water. Start to carry a refillable bottle around if you feel the need to rehydrate during the day. More and more drinking water fountains are being designed to fill bottles. Here is a new “GlobalTap” fountain at the San Francisco Airport.