Stop the Bottle in 2009


I remember when bottled water went on sale in my home town sometime in the 1980s. I was just a kid but I clearly recall that the universal reaction among both children and adults was mockery. Who would be dumb enough to pay for water when it comes out of the tap for free? Fizzy water maybe, but otherwise it was just a waste of money.

Two and a bit decades on and it’s quite a different story. Bottled water is big business, worth over $60bn a year. Next time you go out, count how many people you see clutching branded bottles of water.

Yet one of the best things you can do for the environment and your wallet is to go back to tap water. You can install a water filter at your house if you like but really there’s no need – unless you’re living in the developing world and then you probably need more drastic measures, anyway. In countries like the United States, Canada, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and most of Europe, tap water is proven to be very pure, sometimes purer than the spring waters sold in bottles. (Tap water comes out quite well in blind taste tests.)

PhotobucketThere are a number of problems with bottled water.

It takes time and energy to pump the water out of the ground, bottle it, label it, market it, sell it and transport it. (Time and energy that is doubling up on what the government is already doing in supplying you with clean, safe, free tap water.) It’s bad enough when the water is from a Scottish spring and sold in London or from two states over in the United States, but when you’re selling Evian from France in Australia and Fiji water from the South Pacific in Denver, there’s something seriously wrong.

PhotobucketWhat happens to the bottle at the end of its life?

You might get some reuse out of it but ultimately plastic degrades and it’s not safe to continue reusing it more than once or twice.

PhotobucketThe plastic is recyclable but that doesn’t mean it’s always recycled.

Given that it’s a product that is frequently bought and consumed when you’re out and about when you may or may not be near recycling facilities, it’s understandable that so many bottles end up in the landfill. The best way to avoid this is to not buy it in the first place.

PhotobucketYou are not going to dehydrate from running errands.

If you get thirsty, most cities still have drinking fountains – and they seem to be coming back in fashion. If you need a water bottle for the gym or to go hiking, you’re better off investing in a good quality water bottle that won’t leak – such as a metal Sigg bottle.

It’s a bigger challenge when you travel to countries without a safe water supply. It’s just so easy and tempting to buy bottled water. The problem is that countries without a safe water supply probably don’t have adequate garbage disposal facilities either, let alone recycling. I have visited various countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, and plastic water bottles are quite often the main type of litter – worse by far than the much-maligned plastic shopping bag.

If you can use the hotel kettle to boil your water and then carry it in your own bottle that’s ideal. If not, at least buy the biggest bottles you can and take them back to your hotel room to refill your personal bottle.  Within reason, you can even bring back some of your empties for recycling at home. Every drinking bottle you don’t add to the problem, it will make a difference. It’s harder for sure, but you don’t travel to these places for an easy life. I’ve seen plastic bottles littered in the dunes of the Sahara Desert in Tunisia and washed up on beaches in the Arctic. I know that I can’t clean up the mess single-handedly but the least I can do is not add to the problem.

Finally, as this New Statesman article says, if you’re going to drink from a bottle, make it wine. And if you cement one new habit in 2009 for the greener good, it’s got to be giving up the bottle.

Image: daviddesign

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17 thoughts on “Stop the Bottle in 2009

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  2. Pingback: 9 Reasons to Stop Drinking Bottled Water | EcoSalon | Conscious Culture and Fashion

  3. Most poor countries are efectively burning the plastic bottles. There is no recycling.

  4. Pingback: A Bottle's Place? « 3BL Media's Commentary and News

  5. Water filters are so cost effective without the addition of extra plastic bottles in the landfills. I’ve used a water filter for a few months and have already seen the effects of it in my grocery bill. What a great way to save money!

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  7. I agree that it’s not nice to be drinking chlorine and/or fluoride but personally I’m prepared to do that in order to lessen my load on the environment. I also think that the more people who drink tap water, the greater the pressure on the authorities to keep it safe and healthy. However, personal filtration systems are another great option and maybe that’s worth a follow-up post.

    Rain water is lovely if you live in the country and don’t have a problem with acid rain – it’s a viable option in most of rural Australia, for example, but there tends to be more problems with it in the northern hemisphere.

    I certainly agree with the commenters who point out that it’s no worse to buy bottled water than bottled soda.

    Caitlin’s last blog post..Carnival of Cities: From marbles in Kansas City to snow in London

  8. People are so confused right now about how to drink their water. you know those friends who always had the bottle by their desks ready for guzzling.
    Now with the PBA’s they’re finding in the water those same friends are freaking out.
    I recently bought a Klean Kanteen made of stainless steel which doesn’t make my tap water taste metallic but the down side is it’s made in China.
    Anybody out there want to amke a safe water bottle made in the U.S.?
    I think we probably have the technology….

  9. Another way round the problem of water when you’re traveling could be carrying a Steripen or similar UV device as replacement for water purification tablets”¦

    I was in Riga, Latvia, a few years back, and the mains water supply was so untrustworthy that everyone relied on bottled water – except the bottles were actually enormous hard-plastic drums that were collected after depletion, like water-cooler drums. This struck me as a very sensible idea – like oversized milk bottles”¦.

    I sincerely hope 2009 sees the beginning of the end for plastic water bottles. (It doesn’t help that they’ve recently become associated with celebrities looking fabulous as they go out for a run!).

  10. definitely do think that ‘packing your own’ water is the best way to go (and yes, Siggs are awesome!) but there are those times when even the best of us forget and just want a drink (with no watercooler in sight), in these scenarios, I reckon bottled water is a far better alternative than what alot of the world still turn to, sodas or ‘fruit drinks’.

    Just published an article on bottled water here:

  11. I recently watched a fascinating documentary called “Flow: For Love of Water” which has made me rethink my bottled water addiction…

  12. In my neighborhood they are trying to force everyone over from well water to city tap. Mostly as a development went in and someone somewhere underestimated the drain on the local water tables. Then they found several wells that had a VOC in them and they rushed along the whole switch to city well or else. Every house was shipped a few crates of bottled water. Thankfully our well water was safe and they are willing to just run the pipes to our house without actually connecting. However, from those that did switch I’ve heard horror stories about the water being a nasty color and smelling. Plus the whole chlorine thing doesn’t exactly excite me.

    Eventually I know we’ll have to switch but I have been looking in to reclaiming rain water. I was amazed to find out that for every square foot of roof you will collect 0.6 gallons for every inch of rain fall. I found a fair amount of sites online to buy tanks and filters. The costs overall were pretty reasonable. In the few months I’ve been checking into reclaiming rain water I’m seeing more and more sites pop up. I wonder if this will be a new trend?

  13. This a difficult shift for Americans, as we’ve been told for decades that the water is ‘better’ from a bottle. It’s become a sign of health, and in some cases, wealth, as a number of bottled waters are anything but cheap.

    In fact, I remember being a dinner once and a point was made about where the water had come from and how far it had traveled. That also links into the American habit of generating waste as a sign of success.

    It is time to reverse this trend, and as mentioned in the previous comment, it is encouraging to see restaurants step up and install their own filtration and carbonation systems to avoid cases of water.

    Global Patriot’s last blog post..Doctors Without Borders – Part Two

  14. It’s funny how things shift. I remember when bottled H2O was considered the height of health and everyone scorned the tap. Now it’s all about getting your own water filtration systems. Many sustainably-oriented restaurants won’t even carry bottled water any more, and have a carbonation system to make their own sparkling water.

  15. What bothers me about the bottled water debate is that municipalities are trying to tell residents that city water is perfectly safe and therefore they should avoid buying bottled water – but they fail to mention the health risks posed by the chlorine and in many places the fluoride in municipal water. I wish more companies would focus on portable filters for stainless steel bottles


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