Bottled water has much more of an impact than previously estimated, and it’s bad, according to new research.
The trend of drinking bottled water over tap has continued to escalate in recent years. Whether it’s taste, lack of trust in municipal water, a pandemic, or bottled water marketing, more and more people buy their drinking water at the store instead of turning on the tap.
Researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) wanted to measure the impact of bottled water’s popularity on the environment. They conducted an assessment of every stage of the process of bottling, shipping, and distributing bottled water, with an eye for the specific impacts on human health. For the sake of precise study, they restricted their research to the population of Barcelona.
Barcelona, Spain, is home to 1.62 million people. According to ISGlobal’s research, if that population drank only bottled water, the production would cost the city $83.9 million a year in loss of raw materials (water, and the materials needed for the refining and bottling processes), and an average of 1.43 species would be lost a year due to ecological damage.
Compared to a scenario where the entire population drinks only tap water, the resource cost is over 3,500 times higher to drink bottled, and the ecological damage is 1,400 times higher.
Scaled up to a very simplified global scenario, if the entire planet drank only bottled water, it would cost an annual $404 billion in lost resources. Compare that to an estimated $115.5 million if all 7.8 billion of us drank only tap water.
The study took into account health consequences, although only those consistent with Barcelona’s water quality. The only contaminant they identified from multiple samples was trihalomethanes (THM), a byproduct of the disinfection process associated with bladder cancer. But those risks could be completely eliminated with a home filter.
“Our results show that considering both the environmental and the health effects, tap water is a better option than bottled water because bottled water generates a wider range of impacts,” reads a statement by lead author of the study, Cristina Villanueva.