It is obvious that drinking tap water (or spring water, if we are lucky) is far better than drinking bottled water, at least for environmental issues, but why is it so? And to what extent? In order to give a good answer to this question, we should take a look at the P-issues: Price, Plastic, Postage-and-Packing and Product Prodigality (a little bit Phar-Phetched, I know). Also, some people claim that bottled water may be somewhat harmful for our health, but none of their arguments seems quite convincing to me… and it is not a P-issue anyway.
Price. Bottled water is more expensive, even 10,000 times more expensive than tap water. It is difficult to make an estimate because there are many bottled water brands with different prices, and tap water price also varies depending on the country and the household consumption. Just to get an idea, I took my latest water bill and a calculator, and I realised that I pay 0.0004657 € per litre of water. In other words, with 1 € I pay 2,147 litres of water. Now you can check the price of any bottled water: it is way too expensive.
Plastic. This tremendous increase in price is not only due to trading benefits: putting water into bottles is also expensive. But the problem is not the price of bottles, but the amount of plastic and glass required. Every year we waste 17 million barrels of crude oil to manufacture plastic bottles, which is the necessary amount of oil required to move one million cars every year. Moreover, only one out of every five plastic bottles is recycled.
Postage and packing. The environmental impact and the waste of oil and money increases if we take into account freight costs: oil should be taken from oil wells to factories to manufacture bottles, then these bottles should be taken to bottling plants and, once filled, they are taken to the grocer’s and eventually, from the store to our house. A bottle drunk in Barcelona may have been manufactured with oil from the Persian Gulf or from Brazil in a factory located in Southeast Asia, filled with water in the Pyrenees or Sierra Nevada and then shipped to Barcelona for our consumption.
Product Prodigality. The bottling process results in water wasting. From 3 to 5 litres of source water from the aquifer are wasted in every bottled litre. Some more water is also wasted in the plastic manufacturing process, in the oil extraction, in the steel manufacturing process later used in trucks and boats, in the bottle recycling process… It is impossible to make an accurate calculation because there are too many variables, but just bear in mind one fact: the steel used to manufacture just one car requires the consumption of 177,000 litres of water (that is 39,000 gallons of water).
Most water consumed by humans is not for drinking purposes but for construction, irrigation and cattle fattening. However, it does not mean that drinking water has no impact on our planet… and if we drink bottled water, this impact is even greater. One final note: every year 200,000 million litres of bottled water are consumed around the world (5,500 millions just in Spain). Therefore, our option is clear: we should drink draught beer and tap water (filtered, if you want), but if you insist on buying bottled water, at least take big bottles so that you waste less plastic.
There are many web sites with data about bottled water –some of them more serious than some others. Just to give you an idea: