man drinking water from plastic bottle
Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
March 15, 2020 ·  5 min read

There Is No Excuse for You to Casually Drink Bottled Water

Without a doubt, the plastic pollution crisis is one of the most significant environmental disasters of the modern era. Waves of plastic rubbish are splashing onto the shores of coastal communities, dead whales are washing up onto beaches with stomachs full of plastic, and even deep sea fish can’t escape ocean trash.

Different types of plastic degrade at different rates, but the average length of time it takes a single-use plastic water bottle to break down is 450 years. The majority of the water bottles that you throw in the blue bin- about 90 percent- don’t actually get recycled, and any made with Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE) will never degrade [1].

Water Bottle Sales on the Rise

With governments banning plastic straws, and grocery stores eliminating plastic bags from their checkout lines, you would expect that single-use water bottle sales would be declining as well. Sadly, the opposite is true.

Bottled water has become the most successful beverage category in the United States, with nearly 14 billion gallons sold in 2018. The bottled water industry has grown more than any other beverage category since 1978 and does not appear to be slowing down [2].

Beverage giant Coca Cola, who was recently deemed the world’s largest contributor to plastic pollution for the second year in a row, has released a statement that they will not stop producing single-use bottles because consumers still want them.

Bottled Water the “Biggest Marketing Con of Our Time”

In a piece for the New York Times, Mohammid Hanif declared water bottles as the biggest marketing con of our time, and stated that “the array of bottled waters available on the market is a testament to the fact that humans can be conned into buying anything.” [3]

And buying they are- to the tune of 100 billion dollars per year [4]. Americans purchase approximately 42.6 billion 1-liter water bottles every year and spending about one hundred dollars per person [5].

In California, for example, tap water costs around one-tenth of a cent per gallon, while bottled water costs 0.90 cents per gallon, making tap water 560 times less expensive than the bottled stuff [5].

For most Americans, a glass of water from the tap and the water you get from a plastic bottle are virtually indistinguishable, in terms of their health and nutritional quality. In some cases, tap water may actually be safer because it is tested more frequently [4].

The driving force behind this is the growing popularity of “luxury” water brands, which are indistinguishable in blind taste tests but charge two to three times the price of a regular water bottle. A brand called Frequency H2O claims their water is an “ultimate elixir of life” and charges 2.30 dollars per bottle, while another brand called Svalbarði is selling bottles of water for 90 dollars each that have been taken from melting Norweigen icebergs [6].

Most of these companies justify their hefty price tag with similar claims that the more obscure the origin of their water, or by making its preparation more elaborate, it will be healthier and better-tasting [6].

Why do People Buy Bottled Water?

Of course, there are areas of the world where drinking tap water is not good for your health. Those people have legitimate reasons to purchase bottled water. For most of the Western world, however, there are different factors behind the desire to purchase water.

For some, it’s convenience. As the spokesperson for Coca Cola explained, people like plastic bottles because they reseal and they’re lightweight [7].

For others, there is a certain status associated with purchasing “rarified” water, and the wellness industry, which has boomed in popularity over the past few years, has encouraged the replacement of alcohol and soda with “luxury” water [6].

Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, published a study in 2017 that found the number one reason people purchase bottled water is out of fear. The paper argues that bottled water and its association with wellbeing are the perfect countermeasures against an individual’s fear of death.

This existential fear may lead to people to make irrational decisions, such as purchasing overpriced water bottles, because of subconscious thoughts like “How could the planet be dying when I hold in my hand a bottle of such unfathomably pristine water? How could I be dying when I’m making such healthy decisions?” [8]

Slogans like “Evian, drink young”, and Fiji’s “bottled at the source, untouched by man”, make their products highly appealing to someone with an underlying fear of dying, since they seem to represent life in its purest form [8].

These marketing tactics use basic psychology to make people think that they’re making a better choice by choosing their brand of water when in reality they would be no less healthy drinking out of the tap.

Do the Planet a Favor

The reality is, almost half of all bottled water actually comes from a tap, and unwitting consumers are paying three hundred times the price for it [9].

The cost of bottled water doesn’t stop with the price tag. A study in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that producing bottled water requires anywhere from 32 to 54 million barrels of oil in a year. This includes the energy it takes to not just make the bottles, but to clean, fill, seal, and label them, and then, of course, to transport them to retailers [10].

The production costs coupled with the millions of water bottles clogging up our oceans is an environmental disaster- one that can be prevented if we all make one simple choice: to stop buying plastic water bottles.

Of course, there are times when you might have no other option, but if you’ve been making plastic bottles a regular habit, it time to reach into the back of your cupboard and pull out that reusable bottle you haven’t been using.

Carrying around a reusable water bottle is no less convenient than carrying around a plastic one, and you will be doing the environment, and not to mention your wallet, a favor.