My 8-year-old has recently developed an aversion to tap water. You see we drink rainwater at home, one of the benefits of living on acreage and yes regular tap water certainly does taste pretty ordinary when you’re accustomed to rainwater. So if we go out for dinner, my son has started to refuse to drink water unless we buy him bottled water (which I totally refuse to if there is the option of tap water).
A friend asked the other day why I would choose tap over bottled water, so I thought I’d call in the expert, Building Biologist Nicole Bijlsma to explain….
There are several concerns associated with bottled water that warrant discussion:
- The source of water – bottled water comes from either a natural source such as a spring or well OR from an approved potable municipal supply (tap water). History shows that natural sources are susceptible to periodical contamination from pollutants generated from agriculture (pesticides, fertilisers, and nitrates), industrial contaminants, algae blooms and bacterial issues. Despite this, bottled water companies are not obliged to regularly test or disclose these contaminants to consumers. In contrast, there are strict guidelines for the testing and treatment of tap water.
- Microbial growth – apart from the bottles themselves, a concern associated with the reuse of bottled water is that the sputum harbours bacteria that can grow in the plastic itself. As such, it is critical that you DO NOT reuse plastic PET water bottles. Plastics that don’t pose a health risk that can be reused (refer to plastic bottles below) should be washed in hot soapy water and dried thoroughly with EVERY use.
- Environmental waste – if the water quality issue is not enough to get you to avoid plastic water bottles, then the environmental impact should. Disposable plastic water bottles are derived from a non-renewable source (oil), and have a high embodied energy as the fossil fuels required to produce, recycle and transport them is enormous. Despite manufacturer’s assurances that their bottles are biodegradable, the reality is that in Australia more than 65% ends up in landfill or in our waterways – that’s around 76,000 tonnes (Deery, 2008). In fact, bottled water accounts for almost 38% of general waste! Furthermore, these ‘biodegradable” bottles can take hundreds of years to break down!
- Chemicals in plastics – plastics can be differentiated by the resin identification code at the bottom of the bottle. The problem with plastics is that they may contain a range of additives and non-intentionally added substances (NIAS) that provide it with varying properties such as heat resistance, hardness, flexibility, resistance to degradation and transparency which are not evident by the recycling number. Consequently, a plastic bottle can be made from a variety of copolymers and still legally be marketed as only having one type of plastic. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) ie the #1 is the most commonly used plastic for disposable water bottles and soft drinks because it is the most recyclable. It breaks down readily when exposed to heat and UV, when the water is carbonated or if it contains bacteria (this may come from saliva when you reuse it) which is once again why PET bottles should never be reused. Unlike other forms of PET packaging, PET water bottles contain non-intentionally added substances (NIAS) which contaminate the bottled water. Up to 80 contaminants have been identified including formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, antimony, trace metals and so on (Bach et al, 2013). Whilst phthalates or other softening additives are not used in the manufacture of PET, there is evidence to suggest they may leach into the water causing a weak oestrogenic like anti-androgenic effect if they have been recycled from personal care products (Wagner and Oehlmann, 2009; Pinto and Reali, 2009; Montuori et al, 2008). Another concern with PET bottles is the presence of the heavy metal antimony which may leach if the bottle is exposed to high temperatures of 60 degrees Celsius or more such as during summer inside a car, garage or storage space (Westerhoff et al, 2008). Antimony in drinking water may lower blood sugar and increase blood cholesterol (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2009).
- Do yourself a favour and buy a water filter for your tap at home.
- Store your water in food grade stainless steel or glass (the Grolsch beer bottles are great!). Plastic should always be avoided, especially for children (more on that here). Even BPA-free plastics are NOT safe, read more on the truth about BPA-free here.
This is a brief discussion of the concerns associated with bottled water. For more detail, refer to Nicoles book Healthy Home, Healthy Family.
To purchase safe drink bottles (and lunchboxes) click here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nicole Bijlsma is an accomplished Naturopath, Acupuncturist and Building Biologist who is the founder and CEO of the Australian College of Environmental Studies, and was instrumental in bringing building biology into Australia. Nicole is a popular public speaker and best-selling author on environmental health having featured on every major television network. Nicole writes a Healthy Home column for Body+Soul which is published in NewsCorp newspapers across Australia. Nicole is passionate about empowering people to create healthy homes. To find out more about Nicole and her amazing work, click HERE.