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Is Bottled Water Dangerous for People and the Environment?


The quality of water is one of the key aspects that characterize the standards of living in the country. For humans, it is impossible to last more than three to four days without water; therefore, it is hard to overestimate the importance of this resource. In particular, bottled water has become an essential part of everyday life for many people around the world. It is a convenient way to stay hydrated throughout the day, no matter where the person is. However, the discussion arises around the advisability of such a means of storage. The purpose of this paper is to discuss alternative perspectives on bottled water and whether it is dangerous for people and the planet.

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Bottled Water vs. Tap Water

One of the controversies associated with bottled water is its safety and impact on people’s health in comparison to tap water. Siegel addresses this issue in his article “Americans Choose Bottled Water for Safety and Quality. Are They Right?” According to Siegel, over 90% of Americans who buy bottled water name better quality and safety as primary reasons. However, most countries with advanced economies, including the US, have access to tap water that corresponds to drinking standards. At the same time, the level of bottled water consumption has increased significantly in developed countries over the last decades. Qian researched drinking behaviors and preferences in her article “Bottled Water or Tap Water? A Comparative Study of Drinking Water Choices on University Campuses.” It turns out, the average annual per capita volume of bottled water consumed in the EU is about 104 L, while in the US, it accounts for over 138 L (Qian, p. 1). Such a growing tendency is worrying for countries with drinkable tap water, as it leads to excessive demand for the product.

Despite the prevailing assumptions, bottled water is not necessarily safer than water from taps. According to Qian, its quality is regulated less thoroughly than that of municipal water (p. 2). However, Katherine Zeratsky argues with this statement in her article “Is Tap Water as Safe as Bottled Water?” Zeratsky claims that bottled water quality is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Everyone’s choice of drinking water should be based solely on personal preference, as there are institutions that control both segments. Nevertheless, Siegel refutes this observation noting that in the US, almost 70% of bottled water is not regulated by the FDA because it is sold within the same state, and local procedures apply. They might be stricter or less controlling than the FDA regulations but, in both cases, “less comprehensive than those for tap water” (Siegel). Therefore, buying drinking water in bottles does not necessarily ensure its safety.

Environmental Impact of Bottled Water

Along with the possible outcomes for human health, it is essential to study the environmental risks associated with consuming bottled water. It is evident that the higher demand for it is, the more resources are spent. Qian states that energy utilization and plastic waste are two primary disadvantages of the industry (p. 2). About a thousand times more energy is required to produce and distribute a bottle of water than to process and deliver a liter of water to taps (Qian 2). Moreover, manufacturing causes much dangerous non-recyclable plastic waste. The same idea is supported in the report of 2018 by Food & Water Watch, named Take Back the Tap: The Big Business Hustle of Bottled Water. About 70% of all plastic water bottles ended up in landfills because they were not recycled (Take Back the Tap 2). It is a terrifying statistic, as waste eventually remains in forests and oceans, polluting the environment.

As a result, many researchers believe that reducing bottled water production would be beneficial for the environment. In her research, Qian carried out a survey and concluded that one-fourth of the respondents from two out of three regions consume bottled water more often than tap one (10). The disbalance and overconsumption raise concerns about the advisability of such resource utilization. Qian claims that bottled water “potentially costs more energy and burdens the environment” (p. 10). Take Back the Tap supports this belief and maintains that the NPS policy implemented in 2011 and aimed at encouraging national parks to stop selling water in bottles had proved to be efficient (p. 9). About 2 million bottles could have been consumed over the validity period of the policy until 2017, when it was reversed (Take Back the Tap, p. 9). This decision was justified since a healthy choice had been removed, which had led to the growing consumption of sugary soft drinks. Therefore, the policy should take into consideration the substitute goods presented in the market as well.

Microplastic in Water

Another debate surrounding bottled water is about the adverse effect on health caused by plastic particles potentially contained in water. Microplastics in Drinking-Water, authored and published by the World Health Organization in 2019, focuses on potential health risks caused by microplastics in water (vii). Microplastic can be detected in air, ocean water, food, and drinking water, both bottled and tap, and there are several ways how it can spread in the environment. Primarily, via wastewater, “sewer overflows, industrial effluent, degraded plastic waste, and atmospheric deposition” (Microplastics in Drinking-Water vii). As a rule, the manufacturers ensure that water is free from chemicals, bacteria, and similar contaminants. Zeratsky points out that the FDA oversees how bottled water is processed, bottled, held, and transported. However, the authors of Microplastics in Drinking-Water claim that containers are made of plastic, which means they also might be a source of microplastics in bottled water (p. 12). Therefore, there might be a harmful effect on the consumers caused by the package.

However, more research is needed to prove that plastic containers are the source of microplastic in water that is stored in them. The WHO notes that now there is no standardized method that would allow specialists to sample and analyze microplastic and its origin in water (Microplastics in Drinking-Water, p. 13). Even though the presence of plastic particles in bottled water is concerning, it is not the only product with such an issue. Take Back the Tap reports that in 2016 the market share of soda in the US was about 38%, while bottled water accounted for less than 40%, and over 20% were other beverages (6). In particular, plastic bottles are also used for energy and sports drinks, as well as fruit beverages, so all these industries might contribute to the plastic waste spread.

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The Business of Bottled Water

Besides, some researchers believe that the bottled water industry is significantly powerful. Take Back the Tap asserts that the myth about the higher purity and quality makes people choose bottled water over drinkable water from taps (p. 2). Its consumption has remarkably increased, which is what water and beverage companies need. According to Take Back the Tap, over 60% of sold bottled water actually comes from taps, and the increased sales are the result of “crafty marketing tactics — including targeting vulnerable and lower-income consumers” (p. 2). Indeed, because municipal water quality might be monitored more thoroughly, it appears that most people’s choice is based on their preferences and beliefs, which might be a result of advertising. At the same time, the WHO indicates that the bottled water industry provides missions of people with jobs (Microplastics in Drinking-Water, p. 6). It cannot be simply shut down as it would have an adverse economic effect. Alternatively, another solution can be found, for instance, turning to more environmentally friendly packaging. Other options might be developing a system to help manufacturers recycle plastic bottles or encouraging people to carry reusable containers.


To sum up, opposite perspectives on bottled water and its effect on the environment and people’s health were discussed in this paper. Several aspects of the subject were considered, including the differences between bottled and tap water, the environmental impact of bottled water, the issue of microplastic in water, and the industry impacts on the world. The growing consumption of bottled water might have negative consequences, as many resources are involved in production and distribution. Besides, more plastic waste contributes to the already existing problem of environmental pollution. It can be concluded that scientists mostly agree in their statements that the safety of bottled water is essential and needs to be researched further.

Works Cited

  1. Microplastics in Drinking-Water. World Health Organization, 2019. Web.
  2. Qian, Neng. “Bottled Water or Tap Water? A Comparative Study of Drinking Water Choices on University Campuses.” Water, vol. 10, no. 1, 2018, pp. 1-12. MDPI, doi:10.3390/w10010059/.
  3. Zeratsky, Katherine. “Is Tap Water as Safe as Bottled Water?Mayo Clinic, 2020. Web.

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