Environmental impact of bottled water ‘3,500’ times greater than tap water

Small risk to health from drinking treated tap water vastly outweighed by the environmental cost of drinking bottled water, study finds

Bevan Hurley
Thursday 05 August 2021 20:43
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How to be fashionable and look after the environment

The environmental impact of drinking bottled water is 3,500 times higher than drinking tap water, a new study has found.

Consumers have long been warned about the ecological toll of bottled water, from plastic production and transportation costs to the billions of discarded bottles that wind up in the ocean each year.

This newly released study is thought to be the first research project that investigates the environmental damage caused by our obsession with bottled water compared to tap water.

A team of scientists from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) examined the impact of bottled water in the Spanish city.

It found that if the city’s 1.6 million population were to switch to bottled water, the cost of extracting the water at source was $83.9 million, 3500 times higher than tap water costs.

Scientists also discovered the impact on natural ecosystems of the city population drinking bottled water was 1400 times higher than if they were to drink tap water.

While there is a small risk of developing bladder cancer from tap water due to trihalomethanes (THM) in the treatment process, this was more than offset by the lesser environmental impact.

Lead researcher Cristina Villanueva said: “While it is true that tap water may contain trihalomethanes (THM) derived from the disinfection process and that THMs are associated with bladder cancer, our study shows that due to the high quality of the tap water in Barcelona, the risk for health is small, especially when we take into account the overall impacts of bottled water.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US has one of the safest water supplies in the world.

Standards vary from state to state, depending on source and treatment methods, but all water must meet the Environmental Protection Agency standards.

Adding a home filtration system would help to rid tap water of any toxins, the researchers concluded.

Globally, water consumption increased from 212 billion litres in 2007 to 391 billion litres in 2017.

In the United States, per capita consumption of bottled water reached 171 litres (45.2 gallons) in 2020, which equates to an estimated 50 billion bottles every year.

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