Worldwide people have been drinking increasingly more bottled water. Due to lack of trust in public water quality, convenience, perceived flavour, or even tap water unavailability, people in different countries choose for bottled over tap. However, this choice does not come without a price for the environment.
A recent study conducted in Barcelona found that the impact of resource use to produce bottled water can be up to 3,500 times higher than that of tap water.
The study took into account the damage caused to the local ecosystem (measured in species lost per year) as well as damage to resource availability. They measured these two aspects of environmental degradation using data from waste generation and disposal, use of electricity, chemicals, and plastic to produce tap or bottled drinking water.
Next to environmental degradation, this study also took into account the difference in health impact of bottled versus tap water. Specifically, they looked at local bladder cancer incidence attributable to trihalomethane (a disinfection by-product, usually higher in tap water than in bottled water).
In other words, the study sought to find whether there is a trade-off between environmental degradation of bottled water and health consequences of tap water.
They found that bottled water contributes to approximately 1400 times more species lost per year, and 3500 times more resource use(in $).The environmental impact of bottled water is linked to the amount of materials (i.e. packaging) and energy needed for bottled water production as compared to tap water.
When it came to health impact, the results were positive for bottled water. Bottled and filtered water led to the lowest bladder cancer Disability Adjusted Life Years per year in the global population. A complete shift to using only tap water would lead to a 2-hour decreased life expectancy (on average for Barcelona residents). However, this risk is lowered significantly by filtering the tap water using home water filters.
Overall, the results show that in Barcelona the sustainability gain from consuming filtered tap water relative to bottled water far exceeds the human health gain from consuming bottled water.
The study concludes that bottled water consumption should be reduced where public drinking water is safe.
This is the case in the Netherlands, where tap water is not only safe to drink but also considered to be one of the best in Europe. Considering the environmental impact of bottled water, and the quality of water in the Netherlands, restaurants and cafes could take steps to serve tap water.
Future of Food Institute conducted a study to see under which conditions Dutch consumers would be willing to pay for tap water in restaurants.
You can read about our study here.
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