Answering your questions: Bottled water vs. soda?

Thanks to Toni from Winston-Salem NC for writing in to ask why environmental tips focus on reducing the use of bottled water, but don't tend to address soda.

Being a bottled water lover for 1+ years now, I am trying to figure out why soda bottles are not a concern as well? I would rather see a bunch of people drinking fresh water than sugary soft drinks any day, but that is just me...so why water bottles only?

Although indeed convenient, bottled water has all these things going against it:

  1. Cost between $1.50 and $4.80/gallon versus tap water's $.002/gallon
  2. The fuel and energy costs for making the plastic and bottling the water would fill 1/4 of the bottle with petroleum oil
  3. Frequently draws down (or depletes) your municipality's drinking water supply; they take the water you are already paying for, rebottle it, then resell it to you at 1,000 times the cost (can we say rip-off?). This leaves less water for agriculture, fish, recreation and yes, tap water
  4. Bottling companies are increasingly trying to privatize water rather than leaving it in the hands of local populations
  5. Plastic bottles are a cocktail of toxic chemicals
  6. 85% of plastic bottles are ditched as garbage and never recycled

You should visit the Responsible Purchasing Network where you can find data to your heart's desire on bottled water. Just recently the GAO issued a report as well, 09-610, which concludes that EPA standards for drinking water contaminants are stricter than the standards covering bottled water.

I don't know much about soda bottling but do know it also involves significant inputs of local water and has caused much consternation. Do yourself a favor and get a stainless steel bottle and fill it up with yummy Winston-Salem water rather than supporting an inherently corrupt, illogical and non-consumer friendly proposition.

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I agree that synthetic soda is an ill conceived choice as well.

Hello Heidi,

I do apreciate your additional feedback and pro local water efforts. Yes, water is cheaper to a consumer and more logical and eco-friendly when consumed by your local water source, but I am still left wondering why no hype on soda bottles.

I think that we are missing the larger picture here, that being, there is such a great deal of environmental damaged caused by putting any liquids of mass consumption in plastic bottles. I am dismayed at the consumption of sugary drinks which contain no positive nutritional value and in fact contain so much we should not ingest but I am also dismayed by the bottling of water (a resource on which a high enough dollar value cannot be placed)in of all things a petrolium based package.
Both of these actions illustrate highly unsustainable patterns of resouce use. I understand the need to rate the relative environmental impacts of behaviors but in this case both behaviors are so damaging (and tied to a list of other damaging behaviors) that the more appropriate response is to call for an end to both practices.

Thanks for all the interesting comments.

1. I agree that soda manufacturing has additional problems associated with its components parts;

2. PET is considered food safe but it still poses potential problems; estrogenic compounds found in a German study; leaching of a catalyst called antimony; and possible leaching of FDA food additives and chemical catalysts. See the 2008 study conducted by scientists from the Environmental Working Group. Finally, it's still a petroleum based resin- why use a fuel feedstock at all?

3. The recycling rate of 23.5% from the American Chemistry Council is an overall recycling rate. The amount recycled in the U.S. is 15%- the remaining is recycled out of the States.

4. I mentioned consumers pay for bottled water twice- once in taxes and fees from local utilities to provide drinking water and then again to purchase that same water in its bottled form. I understand that bottling companies pay municipalities.

5. In some parts of the world, bottled water takes on very dangerous political ramifications. In Fiji, a visiting reporter was threatened when she was writing in less than illustrious terms about Fiji water while the island's local water infrastructure falls into hideous disrepair. The company gave $100k to the Vatukaloko Trust Fund- but compare this to their $10 million 2008 marketing budget and their continued tax-free status. Read this great article at www.motherjones.com/print/25997

6. Toxics policy is money policy and it's politics pure and simple. All the federal laws designed to protect consumers from toxic exposures are hobbled by campaign contributions, compromises that diluted legislative effectiveness, are based on an inherently flawed risk assessment model and are arcane and difficult for most consumers to even begin to consider confronting. But things are changing- extremely pissed off and organized parents groups, NGOs and scientists are forcing the hand of the EPA and legislators to strengthen protection for commercial and residential consumers.

Put your trust in local environmental agencies and NGOs whose financial interests are less insidious to purchase for health. See www.healthytoys.org; campaign for safe cosmetics; www.cosmeticdatabase.org; and www.ewg.org.

20 years ago we all seemed to have lived pretty well without bottled water, apartment sized SUVs and cell phones attached to our ears like vulcan-ear-wear. I think we can just fill up a steel bottle with tap water and get on with life.

This is a total non-answer and full of incorrect facts.

Clearly the environmental cost of sugary drinks is higher than bottled water. Sugar, preservatives, other additives take energy to produce and transport and fertilizer grow.

Clearly the health cost to American's is higher with sugary soft drinks.

PET bottles are not a "toxic stew." It is the plastic used throughout the grocery store to preserve lot of food products and in medical devices because it is so safe.

The water used in all beverages is incredibly small in the scheme of things. An average golf course uses 400,000 gallons a day in the summer. Far more water is used to wash cars and flush toilets.

A little critical analysis might also reveal US recycling rates are unacceptably low but nowhere near as low as you state.

GEEZ . . .

I think where Toni is coming from, a gazillion more plastic bottles are used and discarded in the consumption of sodas, and addressing the public consumption of soda would do more to reduce plastic bottle waste than addressing bottled water. So the trick is to get the public to be better to the planet and put water filters on their faucets and have us drink filtered tap water rather than bottled anything.

We make Koolaid when the grandkids come over and we hide the sodas under the vegetables in the crisper. If we don't hide the sodas, the grankids will sneak into the kitchen when we are not watching, pop open a soda, take a few sips, leave it somewhere 3/4 full and getting warm, then sneak in later and open another.

Heidi forgets an important point in her response to the writer: The water bottlers don't deplete the municipal supply for free; they pay the commercial water use rate for it. In fact, many municipal water systems depend upon the payers of the higher commercial rates to cover their bond payments and the steady flow through the system to maintain the proper pressure.

Thank you for the feedback! If water bottles could be a “…cocktail of toxic chemicals” why couldn’t soda bottles have the same effect? If they are toxic, then why are we allowed to consume them?

Ultimately what we end up with is assumptions. I will be more diligent about drinking water from home and work in a reusable container from now on and will use bottled waters at my own discretion. As far as soft drinks go, the only alternative is to install a fountain machine or purchase larger bottles at once verses individual servings.

Check out this article I found today when researching the web. It is eye opening and awesome!
http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Aug07/bottled.water.sl.html. My favorite part: “If we are truly concerned about maintaining access to safe and abundant public water, conserving energy, reducing waste (an estimated nine out of every 10 plastic bottles end up in landfills or littering our parks and streets), and shrinking our carbon footprint when we quench our thirst, then curbing our appetite for soft drinks would be a more effective strategy.”

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