Bottled water: it harms you, your wallet and the planet

Written by William Fryer - MA Oxon

Every year 2.8 billion litres of bottled water in 7.7 billion bottles are consumed in the UK. The bottled water market is big, consumers shell out huge sums on bottled water and yet this fashionable convenience does nothing but harm. It is time we took a stand against bottled water, here's why:

Bottle water harms you

A lot of bottled water contains BPA an oestrogen analogue which is linked to birth defects, hyperactivity disorders and cancers in children. And it can triple the risk of cardiovascular disease in adults. BPA is becoming less common however but it is being replaced by a chemical called BHPF and BHPF is just as bad as BPA. There are a lot of different types of plastic. The safest of the plastics is Polypropylene which does not get used in bottled water, it is relatively common in the higher quality plastic bottles like the sports water bottles that are available.

In addition, research has found all water sold in plastic bottles contains microplastics. On average there are 10.4 larger pieces of microplastic and 314 smaller pieces of microplastic per litre in bottled water. Remember, this is an average; the amount found in some bottled water is considerably higher. Also, the amount of microplastics does not correlate with the cost of the water. Remember, your body does not know how to deal with microplastics, research is still ongoing, but we do know that microplastics tend to accumulate in your body.

Bottled water harms your wallet

Bottled water is ridiculously expensive. It is often more expensive than milk or petrol. And a lot of bottled water actually comes from public sources anyway - you are just paying for someone to fill a bottle with water from a tap. Only spring water is actually from a natural source and as soon as it is put into a plastic bottle it is contaminated.

Even Smart Water from the Coca-Cola corporation is simply distilled water. Well, you can make your own "smart water" with a distiller for 10p a litre rather than shell out over £1 a litre for water that was contaminated the moment it passed through the (plastic) bottling plant.

Bottled water harms the environment

Plastic bottles take 450-1,000 years to degrade and there are a lot of them. Also, only 1 in 4 is actually recyclable - all the rest get put into landfill. Then there is the energy cost. 22% of UK bottled water comes from overseas and it actually takes 3 litres of water to produce one litre of bottled water - absolutely crazy.

And huge amounts of oil are used. In fact, in the UK alone, 10 million barrels of oil go into the production and transportation of bottled water EACH YEAR. Producing bottled water is environmentally costly - it takes 2,000 times more energy to produce a litre of bottled water compared to a litre of tap water. The Attenborough campaign was effective because it raised awareness of the harm caused by bottled water. However, consumption in the UK only went down from 2.98 billion litres to 2.81 billion litres per annum. So it worked, but the bottled water industry is still flourishing.

So why do we drink bottled water?

The only benefit is convenience. It is just too easy to pick up a bottle of water at the supermarket or newsagent. But now is the time to stop. Try to break the habit. Buy eco-friendly water bottles like stainless steel or glass, start distilling your own water and stop harming yourself, your wallet and the environment.

A quick note about different materials for water storage:

Plastic water bottles  - plastic varies in quality, some is very good like high quality polypropylenes, however, the general danger from plastics is nasty chemicals leaching into the water. Good quality polypropylene bottles designed for water storage are generally safe, be wary of the rest.

Stainless steel water bottles - 304 stainless steel can react when chloride ions are present and heat. That is why we always suggest you wash out your home water distiller after each distillation and give it a thorough clean if you are not going to use it for a while. As regards water bottles, tap water can contain chloride ions but distilled water does not. So distilled water cannot react with stainless steel and it is safe to store distilled water in but not so tap water. 316-grade stainless steel is modified so that it does not react with chloride ions, hence it is marine grade.

Glass water bottles - great for storage but heavy and expensive - works best for home storage rather than a portable water bottle. Even toughened ones shatter when dropped - as we have discovered numerous times!

Titanium - very unreactive, and super lightweight, the perfect material - it's just rather expensive.