There’s an inherent contradiction built into bottled water. On the one hand, water is crucial for health and most of us need to be drinking more of it than we currently are. On the other hand, the plastic and packaging for bottled water are major pollutants, and the process of extracting water for bottling can be devastating to local communities. In this article we will discuss these problems and some alternative hydration solutions to bottled water.
The Power of Plastic
Plastic is a serious threat to the environment because it is not biodegradable and it is used in enormous quantities for packaging and other roles. Plastic items can linger in the environment for many, many years without breaking down into their component parts. During that time they can cause life-threatening problems for wildlife. Animals that ingest plastic can become ill or die, and they can get stuck inside plastic rings or other pieces. Additionally, as plastic eventually does break down, the tiny pieces can still pose problems for the environment because they are still toxic to animals and plants, but are now microscopic in size and difficult to clean up.
Bottled Water and the Environment
Unfortunately, despite their convenience water bottles contribute significantly to this problem, especially when they are thrown away out in the wilderness. While it might be useful to carry plastic bottles with you to drink while you are out on a hike or a run, these bottles wreak havoc on the environment, and this is particularly devastating when they are discarded in nature. The farther out you are from city infrastructure when you drop a plastic bottle, the less likely it is to be cleaned up.
One good way to solve the problem with bottled water is with alternative hydration, like a portable water filter. These products can take water that you find from rivers and streams and filter it so that it becomes safe to drink. This is much more environmentally friendly than carrying around and using bottles of water, and in addition, it will be less bulky and heavy, so it’s also convenient. Backpacking water filters should become part of your standard kit whenever you go out somewhere that will have running water.
The fallout from bottled water is not limited to the damage caused by discarding plastic bottles in nature, so even if you are careful to bring your bottles home, the process of extracting water for bottling creates issues on a global, industrial scale. The biggest company behind the extraction, packaging, and sale of bottled water is Nestle. Extensive reporting has documented the lopsided equation of bottling water. Nestle frequently obtains the right to extract water at incredibly low cost. Even though they are taking water to sell on the market, they often pay about the same rate as consumers do, leaving them with very large profits. At the same time, the size of their extraction processes mean that the lost water can destroy downstream environments by drying up rivers, streams, and other water flow channels. Normally, a process like this can be addressed with help from the government. However, because Nestle pays such a small amount for the right to extract water, they don’t generate much revenue that the government can spend on fixing the environmental problems. The reports also document that Nestle occasionally draws more water than they are legally permitted to take, and that increased extraction rate can be truly devastating.
Buying bottled water means supporting an industry whose existence means major environmental harm. It can be hard to reconcile this sometimes. After all, for most people water is freely available and comes from a basic pipe system, so it is difficult to imagine that the sourcing for the water that comes in bottles is much more deadly to the environment than the process that we are accustomed to. The less bottled water Americans buy, the less demand there will be for this product, which translates into better environmental outcomes, better and sustainable life for the future generations.
The Bottom Line
Of course, bottled water does have its uses. For example, when it comes to emergency relief, it is an excellent way to get large amounts of water to areas that have suffered flooding, earthquakes, and other disasters that make the local water supply inaccessible.
But the typical consumer isn’t in the midst of a disaster. Having some bottled water is far from innocuous when you don’t need it. The best thing to do is find other ways to stay hydrated so that you can avoid buying bottled water. Portable filters like the Go Berkey Kit and other hiking hydration tools allow you to maintain access to water when you need it without having to support an industry whose impact might be contrary to your belief system. Both the plastic packaging and the water extraction are significant environmental hazards and you should be aware of just how bad they are for the natural world.