I’m normally a newsy kind of gal. The inspiration behind the pieces I share comes from my wonderful and plentiful clips, newspapers, or just watching Congress (yes, I called Congress inspiring). Today, I found a different source of inspiration. It’s not often that reading a scientific article makes me want to jump up and scream, “YES, YES, YES!” like an Herbal Essences shampoogasm. But, one recently did (props to grad school for this one, and to Amber Saylor, Linda Stalker Prokopy, and Shannon Amberg of Purdue University for writing it).
Not too long ago, I saw a Brita ad on tv talking about the number of plastic bottles the U.S. used in 2010 (39 billion) and how many times those bottles could wrap around the world (190 times). (Damn.) The point being, stop using plastic and get a Brita filter. But, for me, it actually brought on a moment of reflection. I wondered, “When exactly did water bottle fever take off?” Was it the striking and stunning Jennifer Aniston advertising for Smart Water on billboards? Is Fiji water just that much better? Or is it something more?
This may date me a bit here, but back in my day we didn’t purchase packages of bottled water. When you went on a field trip, you (or your mother/father if they were so kind) packed yourself a water bottle. If you needed a refill, well, that’s what water fountains at the zoo were good for. But at some point, somewhere, there came Evian, then Dasani, and now… it’s just out of control.
The good folks at Purdue University similarly wondered what spurred the increase of bottled water use. In a study published last year, researchers at Purdue sampled the campus population (undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and staff) to gauge bottled v. tap water use and perceptions about the two. They discovered that, overwhelmingly, undergraduates were more likely to consume water from a bottle than from the tap. Furthermore, of the undergraduate population, bottled water consumers were more likely to be female.
Why? What made the female undergraduates opt for the bottled water over the tap? The big takeaways influencing behavior: believing that bottled water is safer than tap water, convenience of bottled water, the feeling that tap water is unsafe to drink, and preferring the taste of bottled water to tap water.
They were unaware that there is little evidence to support the idea that bottled water is safer than tap water; in fact, it is likely the opposite. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the water that comes through your tap is subject to more rigorous standards with more frequent monitoring. The SDWA also requires reporting and public notification when a water treatment plant detects a violation of standards. There are no such requirements for bottled water. Bottled water is supervised by the FDA (not the EPA, like with tap water)—and only when it is being transported across interstate lines. If it is not, that is the water is being captured and bottled within the state, it is exempt from federal regulation. And folks, 60-70% of all bottled water in the U.S. falls under that category.
As a conscious environmental steward, I am sure that you know the true environmental impacts of bottled water use. It seems, however, that not everyone is equally aware. Purdue researchers also revealed that both male and female undergraduates saw little environmental harm in their consumption of water from plastic bottles, particularly once recycling was factored in. What both sexes failed to note is that only a mere 20 percent of plastic bottles are recycled. They also failed to perceive the fossil fuel emissions that went into producing the polyethylene terephalate (PET) that comprises the majority of plastic water bottles. Then of course, refrigerating and transporting plastic bottles requires large amounts of energy, likely from nonrenewable sources. All in all, it is estimated that the 33 billion liters of water consumed in 2007 required 32 to 54 million barrels of oil.
Mind you this study and its results come from a sample of a sample, but it’s also a start—and a needed one at that. Additional questions, particularly going forward, might ask if awareness of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) and water treatment plants lack of ability to treat them influences people’s perceived safety of tap water. We here at Spinach will be looking forward to those answers.
Oh. Wait. You tuned in to hear about what I had for breakfast?