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Bottled Water: No Longer Cool?

Bottled water is the second largest beverage seller in the U.S. today, right behind soft drinks. But where toting a personal plastic water bottle used to be the definition of eco-chic, it’s no longer quite as cool. Not only is it less than green (bottled water produces unnecessary garbage and strains the ecosystem through its production and transport), bottled water may pose health concerns.


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The water itself may be no better than water coming out of your kitchen tap. At least one-fourth of bottled water is actually tap water (some estimates go as high as 40 percent). And some brands contain chemical contaminants at levels above strict state limits. If consumed over a long period of time, some of these contaminants could cause serious health problems.



Even if the water is pure, a plastic container may leach chemicals such as phthalates or bisphenol A (an industrial chemical linked to increased risk of birth defects, miscarriage, and prostate cancer) into the bottled water. Scratches in the plastic, harsh detergents, and boiling liquids exacerbate the leaching.

The Facts

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has declared bottled drinking water to be a food item. Interestingly, mineral water and soda water, including both seltzer and club soda, aren’t included in the legal definition. Sparkling and still water are. In addition, bottled water produced and sold entirely within the borders of a single state is also exempt from federal regulations (some states may have their own regulations). Unfortunately, bottled water under the authority of the FDA only has to meet a minimum water quality standard.



Bottled drinking water can come from a variety of sources, including private wells and natural springs, as well as municipal water supplies. So it’s best to carefully read labels to determine the original source and any treatments performed at the bottling plant. (Reverse osmosis combined with carbon filtration removes most common contaminants.) If this information is not provided on the label, and you wish to make this brand your daily beverage, contact the bottler and find out. Make sure the brand is certified by a reputable source. Look for the NSF International mark on the label.

Types of Bottles

For personal health, the ideal water container is glass. However, glass bottles are rare, heavy, and breakable. Many believe polycarbonate (PC) plastic is a good option due to its durability and lack of odor, but it can still leach bisphenol A into its contents and with a recycling code of number 7, is rarely recyclable. A better health option may be one of the new bio-based alternative plastics (such as those made with corn starch)—not really a plastic, but with similar properties, yet reusable and readily biodegradable. A possible drawback, however, is that bio-based plastics are usually made from genetically modified corn.


If purchasing water in plastic, look on the bottom of the bottle, near the three-arrow recycling symbol, to find out what kind of plastic it is. Slightly opaque/translucent polypropylene bottles (number 5) may be a good alternative. It’s best to avoid highly flexible containers and those made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), both known to leach plasticizers into bottled water. In addition, PVC bottles are not recyclable. If the recycling code on the bottom of the bottle is the number three, the bottle is made of PVC.



A Better Alternative

Why pay so much and get so little? Instead of buying bottled water, use low-cost water filters at home and fill your personal non-plastic reusable bottle with filtered tap water. An economical way to ensure a clean supply of drinking water at home is to use faucet-mounted or pitcher filters. This yields benefits all around:

  • Save 1.5 million tons of plastic from ending up in landfills.
  • Get rid of contaminants normally found in tap water, such as chlorine, cryptosporidium, Giardia, lead, and pesticide runoff.
  • Save money. Where bottled water can cost 10,000 times more per gallon than tap water, filtered tap water costs as little as ten cents a gallon.
  • Using filters at home is often a safer health bet than buying bottled water.


If you want to carry a water bottle around with you, think about using a stainless steel bottle, but make sure it doesn't have a plastic liner inside, which may leach bisphenol A. If you can’t avoid drinking water from plastic bottles, make certain it has not been exposed to high temperatures, such as being left inside a locked up car or near a glass window. Plasticizers become unstable when warm.



With thanks to Lynn Bower for valuable research.


(Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The Healthy House Institute, LLC.) 



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Bottled Water: No Longer Cool?:  Created on May 28th, 2007.  Last Modified on December 11th, 2009


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About Linda Mason Hunter

Linda Mason Hunter

Linda Hunter is a pioneer in the home ecology/green movement. Her first book, The Healthy Home: An Attic-To-Basement Guide(1989, Rodale Press) was the first book on home ecology written for the layperson. Linda was featured in The New York Times and on "Good Morning, America." She has since authored two more "green" books: Green Clean (Melcher, 2005) and Creating a Safe and Healthy Home (CPI 2005). Linda is a field editor for national magazines and a consultant. Linda Mason Hunter's Website is She also founded Healthy Home Designs.



Information provided by The Healthy House Institute is designed to support, not to replace the relationship between patient/physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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