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elbanditoroso's avatar

Bottled water controversy erupts again. How much of the issue is real and how much is environmentalist activism? And can/will anything change?

Asked by elbanditoroso (22418points) March 27th, 2012

Seems like we have had this argument every couple of years for the last 15 years.

The environmental movement is once again saying that bottled water is evil, primarily because of the plastic bottles that are left over. (it’s not the water that’s the problem, they say, it’s the container)

On the other hand, there are hundreds of other drinks (juices, soda, iced coffee, iced tea, sports drinks) that come in plastic bottles exactly like a water bottle.

So why single out bottled water, when the universe of plastic is so much larger?

Is there a cogent argument here? Or is this another attempt at behavioral modification by a minority of activists who are yearning for an issue to rally behind?

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23 Answers

gorillapaws's avatar

Bottled water is stupid, because water is freely available via plumbing. There are reasonably cheap filters that can make your water taste better than what’s available from bottled water. Also, bottled water is usually just tap/well-water from wherever they’re bottling it, it’s not regulated, and the fossil fuels burned to transport and distribute something that’s already available via pipes is wasteful. You can just use a re-usable container fill it with filtered water and you’re doing your planet and your wallet a big favor.

If I could get good beer via plumbing, I would say the same thing for bottled beer as well (one can dream).

syz's avatar

I think the argument against bottled water is that there’s no difference between what comes out of the tap and what comes in the plastic bottle (unlike other types of beverages).

I’m sure plenty of people will argue that the water tastes better, etc., but I’m suspicious since some bottled water companies will admit to basically getting their product out of the same sort of tap.

Our country (in general) has a safe, clean water supply. Why pay more to have the same thing?

elbanditoroso's avatar

@syz, in principle i agree with you. But isn’t that an individual decision? If I want to save money, then I will use a canteen. It I choose to pay more – isn’t that my choice?

You can make your choice – but why take away mine?

Seems like there are parallels to the abortion issue here. Why don’t I have the freedom to choose for myself how I get my water? Why is an external group (the anti-bottled water activists) telling me how to act and taking away my autonomy?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Give me a break. Our city water tastes one step below horse piss.I tried filling an empty water bottle with it one day and almost spit it out on the floor.I had to force myself to swallow it.

syz's avatar

Who’s taking away your choice? I think activists try to educate people about the ecological costs of the product, as well as the economic cost. There may also be health considerations associated with the plastic itself. Hopefully more and more people, if educated, would choose to be less wasteful, whether that means using refillable jugs (as is available at our local Whole Foods) or purchasing multi-use filters (like a Britta). If bottled water is so essential, why is it that it’s only recently become such a blockbuster product?

My own city water is a bit chlorinated for my taste, but I’ve found that if I let it sit for a few hours, the odor and taste dissipate and it tastes essentially the same as a bottled product.

Keep_on_running's avatar

It’s just so ironic how much water they use in the production of water, if you know what I mean. The millions of litres that go into making the plastic just so we can drink water from plastic. Yeah, the taste is better but hell, at least you have water. Some people don’t even have that in the world.

janbb's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe There are filters you cna put on your tap and filtered containers (BRita) you can put in the fridge.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@janbb This was from a water fountian. I’m not sure a filter would take care of it. Putrid begins to describe it.

gorillapaws's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe a reverse osmosis water filter can purify anything.

As for the freedom of choice argument, I agree that people should have the freedom to make bad decisions. I do think that marketing should be restricted from making people believe that the bottled water they’re drinking is anything different than what it actually is though. People have a right to know what’s in the stuff they’re consuming.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@syz – according to this article, a number of groups are trying to ban the sale of bottled water,

Keep_on_running's avatar

It’s like banning plastic bags, sometimes you just gotta do it for the sake of saving people from themselves. You can’t wait around for people to take up environmentally conscious habits, our Earth will be in the shits by the time that happens.

If taking away your right to buy highly wasteful and polluting products is so bad, then maybe you need to focus on the important things in life more. It doesn’t mean the government needs to dictate everything else to us and we lose freedom of choice/speech etc. Picking out some foul apples in global consumerism is necessary, people will adjust and get on with life. Just my opinion.

marinelife's avatar

Bottled water is a waste because fresh water is available through pipes. There is almost no need for bottled water.

Soda manufacturers at least use a deposit system for their bottles (some of them) and use recyclable aluminum cans.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@marinelife HI, OR, ME, CT, and NY all have deposits on water bottles.

marinelife's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe Would that others did as well.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I’ve walked the 6 miles from my house to work for the fun of it a few times. It helps a little, not a lot.People still throw them away.

john65pennington's avatar

Since I know what is in the river water that comes out of my tap, I will never drink it, again.
And, the taste and aftertast just ruins coffee and tea.

Bottle water will always be in my home for drinking.

I agree that plastic containers for water is a problem. But, no more so than other drinks that are housed in plastic.

I also believe you are correct, that when certain activists have nothing to do, they once again hit on bottled water.

syz's avatar


In a study comparing 57 bottled water samples and tap water samples, all of the tap water samples had a bacterial content under 3 CFUs/mL(colony-forming unit) and the bottled water samples’ bacterial content ranged from 0.01–4900 CFUs/mL. Most of the water bottle samples were under 1 CFU/mL, although there were 15 water bottle samples containing 6–4900 CFUs/mL.[21] In another study comparing 25 different bottled waters, most of the samples exceeded the contaminant level set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‎ (EPA) for mercury, thallium, and thorium.


In 2007, US consumers purchased more than 33 billion liters of bottled water, or 110 liters (30 gallons) per person. The total energy required to produce 33 billion liters is equivalent to 32–54 million barrels of oil (although not all the energy used comes from oil). Energy to produce bottled water accounts for about one-third of one percent of total US energy consumption.


“…there is no assurance that just because water comes out of a bottle it is any cleaner or safer than water from the tap. And in fact, an estimated 25 percent or more of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle—sometimes further treated, sometimes not.


Ignorance is not bliss, and activists are not ‘making up something to do’.

janbb's avatar

And I would add that this a continuing campagn and issue for environmentalists, not something that goes in and out of fashion.

jca's avatar

I saw a documentary about the water supply and bottled water approximately one year ago. They said Dasani and some other bottled waters come from Lake Michigan, Detroit area. Then they showed the sewer system and water supply, and this brown goo (you can imagine what it was) coming out of their pipes. That’s where Dasani comes from. Now, I don’t drink Dasani unless I’m very thirsty and there’s no other bottled water available. I try not to drink bottled water, because I hate paying for something that is available free. If I’m shopping and that’s what I have to do, to have my supply, though, that’s what I do.

nikipedia's avatar

People can make bad decisions when they don’t affect other people. When you fuck up the environment, you affect other people.

For what it’s worth, I think it would be great to get rid of plastic containers for all beverages. There are plenty of alternatives that are better for the environment.

bkcunningham's avatar

Why did we go from paper to plastic in the first place? Why did we go from glass to plastic? I remember once upon a time before plastic. The environmentalist PACs got involved and before you know it, we had plastic bags and plastic bottles. We know where this got us. I guess everything old is new again.

dabbler's avatar

I think it should be “true cost” solution. Bottled water should include a charge for management of the empty bottle. and the original bottle probably should have cost more than it did in the first place. So many products have a lower price than they should because the manufacturers have externalized costs, guess what: to us. Bottled water is a good example of that.

jca's avatar

I think if the bottle deposit were increased from 5 cents (which is the same deposit since the 1970’s) to 25 cents per bottle, people would pay better attention to their bottles and where they end up. All the time I see people throwing water bottles in the garbage, with or without the deposit. People throw soda cans in the garbage if they just have one or two. If each can represented 25 cents, people would collect them or take care to give them to someone that collected them.

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