Environment at Home: Bottled water is cheap to buy, but the environmental cost is high

Special to Idaho StatesmanJanuary 8, 2007 

I've got a bottle of water in my refrigerator that makes me feel bad.

It's not the taste. In fact, I know it will taste good. It's been microfiltered, ozonated and "bottled at the source high in the Rocky Mountains of Montana."

I feel bad because of all the fossil fuel it took to get that plastic bottle to me. First, there are the ingredients in the bottle, the energy it took to make the bottle and the gas it took to ship it to the store where I bought it. Not to mention the energy it takes to recycle the bottle.

I usually carry a giant hiker-size bottle of water with me in the car, but this time I forgot. So I became one of millions who bought a bottle of water that day.

We've gone crazy for bottled water. One need only to look at the vast array of water possibilities in any gas station or store to know this, but some recent data from the Census Bureau quantifies it.

We consumed more than 23 gallons for every man, woman and child in the country in 2004. In 1980, we didn't even drink three gallons of bottled water per capita.

Drinking more water is great for health reasons. But buying bottle after bottle is not great for the environment.

In 2005, we generated about 800,000 tons of garbage comprised of milk and water bottles. Another 850,000 tons came from plastic soda bottles. Even though the recycling rate is pretty good — about 28 percent for milk and water bottles and 34 percent for soda bottles — that still leaves more than 1.1 million tons of plastic bottles getting buried every year.

Another bummer about bottled water is that some of it won't taste any better than tap. water. And it may not be cleaner.

Here is what the Environmental Protection Agency has to say about bottled water:

"Some bottled water is treated more than tap water, while some is treated less or not treated at all. Bottled water costs much more than tap water on a per gallon basis. Bottled water is valuable in emergency situations (such as floods and earthquakes), and high quality bottled water may be a desirable option for people with weakened immune systems. Consumers who choose to purchase bottled water should carefully read its label to understand what they are buying, whether it is a better taste or a certain method of treatment."

To learn how to get information from the label, visit this Web site: www.epa.gov/safewater/faq/pdfs/fs_healthseries_bottledwater.pdf.

Do you have an idea or tip for our weekly Environment at Home column? Let us know. Send an e-mail to Local@IdahoStatesman.com with subject line "Enviro at Home."

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