Distribution of Drinking Water: Alternatives to Traditional Plastic Water Bottles
Bottled water is readily available just about anywhere you go for a low price and a high level of convenience. Recently, bottled water has been put under a microscope as an industry which is unnecessarily wasteful and inefficient when clean tap water is available in many first world countries. Many different solutions and alternatives have been proposed including: bottled water bans, production of plastics made from resources other than oil, and filtration systems for refilling stations. Each proposed solution presents a different set of positive and negative attributes, so to progress towards the goal of a more sustainable system of distributing water, it is imperative that the positive attributes of each alternative are embraced and built upon.
Despite having strict regulations for drinking water quality in the taps of many Canadian cities, the demand for bottled water has been constantly increasing, “Twenty years ago in Canada, bottled water was largely unheard of. Today approximately 20% of our population relies exclusively on bottled waters for their daily hydration” (Trottier, Ferguson, & Cook, 2009). What is the cause of this trend? Marketing from the companies producing bottled water has turned the plastic containing gold from a “why would I pay for that” into an “I guess that's worth paying for” thought process. Such companies tend to portray bottled water as coming from remote, pristine sources such as Fiji or a glacial lake tucked between some snow capped mountains, implying a higher quality of water than from the tap. The simple convenience of grabbing a single use bottle of high quality water for some pocket change when thirsty is undoubtedly attractive and is what I would consider to be the biggest factor in the popularity of bottled water but the specialized marketing is what has made this possible.
While marketing presents bottled water as a preferable alternative to tap water, from a water quality standpoint this has been shown to often be opposite of reality. In Canada, “Bottled water is not required to meet the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality” (Trottier et al., 2009) as bottled water is considered to be a food product so it is regulated by the Canadian Food and Drugs Act where the more strict standards of the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality monitors the quality of tap water. The disparity between the two has resulted in a difference in water quality because “guidelines for the chemical content of bottled waters are much less stringent than they are for tap water” (Trottier et al., 2009). In face of it's “clean” image, bottled water is often just filtered tap water bottled “the most popular brands of bottled water in Canada, Dasani and Aquafina, are essentially municipal tap water” (Trottier et al., 2009), and this bottled water faces contamination and quality challenges, “In Canada, there have been 29 separate recalls of 49 bottled water products since January 2000 due to bacterial or chemical contaminants including Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Bacillus cereus, and Arsenic [CFIA]” (Trottier et al., 2009). In addition to these contaminations, a study done by the Biological & Medical Research Department at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Centre in Rydiah, Saudi Arabia has shown that the levels of 5 different phthalates significantly increase when bottled water is stored for a period of two to three months (Al-Saleh, Shinwari & Alsabbaheen, 2011). Al-Saleh, et al (2011) found that the levels of phthalates found in the water varied with storage conditions, type of plastic, and length of storage, but were consistently higher than water fresh from the tap. High levels of phthalates in the human body have been shown to contribute to a wide variety of undesirable...
References: Al-Saleh, I., Shinwari, N., & Alsabbaheen, A. (2011). Phthalates residues in plastic bottled waters. Journal Of Toxicological Sciences, 36(4), 469-478.
Carlson, S. (2010). Thinking outside the bottle. (Cover story). Chronicle Of Higher Education, 57(6), A1-A12
Mülhaupt, R. (2013). Green polymer chemistry and bio-based plastics: Dreams and reality. Macromolecular Chemistry And Physics, Basel, (2), 159.
Pacific Institute. (2007). Bottled water and energy fact sheet. http://www.pacinst.org/publication/bottled-water-and-energy-a-fact-sheet/
Trottier, C., Ferguson, P., & Cook, V. (2009). Murky waters: the urgent need for health and environmental regulations of the bottled water industry. Polaris Institute. pg 6.
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