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Is Bottled Water Better Than Tap Water Environmental Sciences Essay

Dark clouds of bottled water industry are spreading over the minds of innocent US consumers day by day. These clouds pour drops of rain that is washing brains and pockets of consumers together. Bottled water industry, as the name suggest, is an industry that is “selling” a free gift of nature very efficiently. According to Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), more than half of the US population drinks bottled water. The consumers are not just rich white Americans, but also low income Hispanics, Blacks and Asians (NRDC). The sales of bottled water are increasing regularly making it the second most ever consumable drink after soda after soda, says Elizabeth Royte, an American author, in her book Bottlemania (67). This enormous sale of bottled water tries to prove that it is a consumer choice product. People, who are drinking bottled water, view bottled water as a regular consumption product. However, the reality is otherwise. This really “simple” product has remarkably concurred the minds of consumers by making them believe that it is the purest form of drinkable water with no negative effects. Thirst stricken consumers have easily fallen into the pit created by bottled water industry. This industry is not only affecting the minds of people, but is also hurting our environment. Royte analyzed the bottling plants in different regions of the US and concluded that these industries are sucking water from small towns by forcefully owning someone’s private property making the water level to decrease other water reservoirs of those areas (256). One more problem that comes in clinging with these small bottles is the recycling issue. Only a small percentage of these bottles get recycled and the rest is dumped into landfills (Royte 34). Overall, bottled water industry is a culprit of effecting environmental and human health.

How people feel about the safety between using bottled water instead of tap water depends on the degree to which they have internalized the ideology of the society. The well-known American Attorney, Gerry Spence discusses ideological control in his article, “Easy in the Harness: The Tranny of Freedom”. He says that people have been so controlled by the ideology of society, that it has become very difficult for them to make truly free decision. Spence’s contention is clearly demonstrated in those who believe that usage of bottled water is far healthier and safe than tap water. According to Naideinko, a medical surveyor and a writer, “bottled water is also a very much leading cause of spreading number of harmful diseases, in some cases fatal including cancer…”. In other words, bottled water can be totally revese of being healthier.

Tap was a major channel that provided people with drinking water throughout the world until in 1977, when bottled water was introduced says Elizabeth Royte , an American author, in her interview with Ira Flatow, a National public radio host that it was the first branded packaged water in the US. It started as a fashion symbol, and led its way to a health savior (Royte). This journey of bottled water from a fancy commodity to a necessity seems to be a very difficult one because buying something that is available almost for free does not make sense. Think about paying for "oxygen". If a company claims to sell pure and pollution free oxygen in plastic cans, would anyone like to buy it? This question is of course ridiculous. So, after looking at the sale of bottled water one question strikes the wires of mind is that how bottled water became a business when tap water is available almost for free.

Anne Leonard, an environmental activist, says in her online video, “The Story of Bottled Water” that it (sale of bottled water) all started when soda companies felt that their business is falling. They, in order to keep up their business, made a unique decision that is selling water. They labeled in “Perrier” and started selling it. It was not an easy goal. So they used “marketing demand” (Leonard). Further, She adds that bottled water companies used three strategies including scaring the consumers, seducing them and misleading them. They scared the consumers by making them believe that tap water is for sure hazardous to health. Elizabeth Royte in her book, “Bottlemania,” states a quote by Robert S. Morrison, vice chairman of PepsiCo, “The biggest enemy is tap water”(Royte 170). So, if tap water is an enemy, which means it can harm the consumers, then what is to drink? The answer was obvious; the only water from pristine springs of Fiji or other pure water sources comes the misleading part. Almost 40% of bottled water is just filtered tap water and this applies to major brands like Aquafina and Dasani (Royte). So, the pictures of pritisine waterfalls and ever green forests is nothing but just a scam. The technique of scaring, seducing and misleading is working really successfully. Bottled water is seen everywhere including schools, offices, stations, airports and hospitals says Jane0t Majeski Jemmot, a Reader’s Digest writer, in her article, “Rethink What You Drink; Growing Thurst.” It is indeed a joyous event for bottled water companies because they made impossible, possible "just" by making environment to pay a heavy price for a natural resource that is technically already free.

After bottled water succeeded to gain confidence of consumers, its growth started to mount. Actually Bottled water industry is working on the mechanism of viruses that enter human body unchecked and then they start replicating every minute. People in America consume nine billion gallons of bottled water that sums up to hundreds of millions of dollars says Martin Lewis, an internationally recognized water expert and a critical writer, in his article, “Costly Water: Bottled and Sold: The History Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water.” Such a huge consumption of bottled water is not a good news because when bottled water is compared with tap water, barely any difference can be seen.

Moreover, tap water has to follow more strict regulations than bottled water when it comes to purity. FDA (The US Food and Drug Administration), that regulates bottled water and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency),that regulates tap water have different rules regarding the contents and quality of bottled water. NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), an environmental group, provides a data showing the difference between the rules of FDA and EPA in its article, “Bottled Water; Pure or Hype?” The data shows that testing frequency for bacteria in bottled water and big city tap water is once a week and hundred times a week respectively. It further states that bottled water companies are not required by to have certified operators ,whereas; big city tap water requires certified technician to do the job. Most surprisingly, FDA doesn’t give consumer any right of knowing what is in the bottle. On the other hand, big city tap water department is required to let people know what is in the tap water. Catherine Golub, an environmentalist, in her article, “Liquid assest; Is Bottled Water Really Better Than What’s on Tap?” She states that FDA regulates bottled water as a food product and it receives less federal inspection that tap water, which is controlled by EPA with strict standards. She further discussed the survey of NRDC,a nonprofit consumer group, conducted on 103 brands of bottled water. The results showed that one third exceeded the state limits of contamination with bacteria and chemicals. Also, only 5% of these bottles met the standards of fluoridated/regular water. It turns out that bottled water is no healthier than tap water.

Next concern is about the plastic bottle itself. These bottles are made out of PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate). According an article, “Bottled water may contain ‘hormones’: Plastic,” by Janet Raloff, “this water may also pack a substantial quantity of estrogen-mimicking pollution, according to researchers at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt”(3). He discusses an experiment done on snails by Johann Wolfgang Goethe University experts. Two species of snails that were very sensitive to estrogen were placed in plastic and glass water (one in each). The snail in bottled water showed an enormous production of embryo’s concluding that plastic can leach estrogen into water. Obviously, estrogen can cause genetic changes when males are subjected to it. Even though, bottled water is a small package but it has huge circumstances.

Apart from the health issues, bottled water also helps human beings in degrading the environment in the form of global warming, water waste and increase in garbage. Making of these bottles requires a lot of oil (to run the plants). When this oil is burned, it adds to global warming as mentioned in, “Water Wars; Bottled or Tap, “by Mother Earth News. One can wonder that how much oil is it?. The answer shows a mounting 1.5 million gallons of oil--enough to run 100,000 cars for a whole year, while transporting these bottles burns thousands more gallons of oil (Mother Earth News). Moreover, the water used for reverse osmosis of bottled water is a lot more than one showed on the store shelves. It takes 3-9 gallons of water to get 1 gallon of water using purification plants. Apart from purification, a large amount of water is used to cool down and wash the water plants (Royte 140). While many lakes in the US are drying up and people suffer from water shortage, bottled water companies keep on wasting them. Elizabeth Royte, an American author, in her book, “ Bottlemania” says that Lake Superior, Huron, and Michighan which contain 20% of worlds water surface are becoming steep since late 1990s. Nestle pumps 114 billion gallons a year from groundwater that goes to Lake Michigan (201). Last, comes the garbage problem.

After a bottle is produced using a lot of water and oil, we drink it in about just 1-2 minutes. In this era of going green, almost everyone is concerned about the recycling of waste and maintaining a clean healthy environment. So, now a question arises that do these bottles fill the criteria of environmental friendly? According to “The Story of the Bottled Water,” by Anne Lenard, an environmentalist, 80% of the used bottles end up in incinerators, where they burn to produce toxic gases or they are dumped underground, where it takes about 1000 years for them to degrade thus making a healthy land “unavailable” for a long period of time. The remaining is recycled. Here the term recycle doesn’t mean they are recycled immediately after being used. These bottles are shipped all the way to India to get “recycled”, again using a lot of fuel. The story doesn’t end here. In India, ideally these bottles are supposed to be recycled, but unfortunately that is not what happens. These bottles remain there as big heaps of plastic, or they are thrown into someone’s back yard creating a problem for them. In this course of bottled water production to its disposal, the need is of about 1-2 minutes but the time required for the rest of the course is 1000 times more.

Bottled water not only affects health of humans and earth, but also deprives us from money. The ecological foot print is not negligible. The price of bottled water is a lot more than tap water. People in the US are paying up to $2.50 to $ 3.00 per gallon that is even more than that of petrol says Amanda Woods, a journalist and a producer, in her article, “The Cost of Bottled Water”. On the other hand, the price of tap water in the United States is $1.50 for 1,000 gallons – or less than a penny a gallon. So, people are paying 1000 folds for something that is virtually free. This money can be used for other needs.

Even though bottled water has its cons, its pros are forcing its booming sale. First of all, it is easy to carry. Its light weight and soft plastic (so it can squeeze into pockets of back packs) makes it convenient to carry when going out. Secondly, it is already filtered water i.e. you don’t have to filter water every time you want to drink it. Also, it is light in weight unlike the metallic bottles that can be used to carry water. IBWA (International Bottled Water Association) provides information about the regulations of bottled water. Many bottled water companies have decreased the weight of bottled water to 36.2% according to bottled water reporter section of IBWA. Also, tap water in many areas of the US is contaminated. Tap water has been reported to contain life threatening chemicals such as lead. Mireya Navarro, a New York Times reporter, in her article, “Higher Levels of Lead Seen in Tap Water,” mentions that elevated levels of lead are reported in New York’s water. According to Environmental Protection Agency 15 parts per billion of lead in water is considered to be elevated. The amount of lead found in New York city water is reported to be 16 parts per billion. However, the portability is not enough to cover up for all the trouble that bottle water causes to health, wealth and environment. Also, bottled water is not a solution to water problems.

The first step to save health, wealth and environment is to try the tap water again. It does take a lot of courage because people are mentally scared from it—thanks to the bottled water companies. Tap water is environment friendly with no economic or environmental problems. Tap water in the US is best for drinking because EPA regulates water to make sure no contaminants get through the tap (Royte 220). Cynthia Dougherty, director of the EPA’s Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water says, “I wouldn’t hesitate to drink tap anywhere in the country” (Royte 220). This solves the problem for most of the tap water concerns. Local tap water utilities can be contacted any time to get tap water checked. Also, bottled water costs up to 10,000 times more per gallon than tap water as stated in an article by Mother Earth News, “Water Wars: Bottled or Tap?”. About the quality of tap water Eric Glodstein, a water specialist from NRDC says, “The city’s water is nearly pristine”(Royte 101). It is easy to find out the quality of tap water. Customers can call the EPA's toll-free safe drinking water Hotline at 800-426-4791, or visit the website for the Campaign for Safe and Affordable Drinking Water can as stated by Jannet Majeksi.

Second step is to cut back on bottled water. With the availability of stainless steel bottles, it has become easy to avoid bottled water. These bottles can be used to carry water. Majeski points out that water that comes out of tap is safe. Generally, contaminants in drinking water don’t go over the limitations of EPA, but if there are still concerns like chlorine smell or taste then filters can serve the purpose. Elizabeth Royte talks about Brita filters that she uses, in her book, “ Bottlemania”(224). Going back to tap and cutting back on bottled water, are two necessary steps in saving the health of environment.

Furthermore, many campaigns are going on in different states of the US against bottled water. Government is also taking part in these campaigns. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has banned bottled water usage in the city says Mayor Gavin Newsom issued an executive phasing out the city's bottled water use says Shawn Query, an author, in his article, "SAN FRAN'S BOTTLED WATER BAN". Natural Resources defense Council (NRDC) is an environmental group. Its main motive is to invoke awareness among people about the safe use of natural resources. It provides reports about the quality of tap water in almost every city across the US. Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) is another group working for the security of water. It organizes events to help the consumers seek awareness about the quality of bottled water and its effects on environment. This year it is organized a water week 5-11 September. The theme was, “The water quality challenge.” Other than organizations many public institutes are also taking steps. For example, college students along with volunteers from Corporate Accountability International, a vigorous group, every summer hold events at public places. In these events, they fill water from different sources and challenge people to drink it. Mostly people can’t differentiate between bottled and tap water (Royte 140-141).

The problems like health issues and environmental pollution, needs a serious attention by both public and government, and this issue as whole needs to be brought up on a higher level of society, so that everyone will get well-aware of this deception. In order to have that completed, every individual has to stand up by him/her self. Otherwise, in the essence of Spence’s argument our Blind-minded society will have to suffer one day.

Work Cited

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