If an Alien Asked You What You Were Made of, What Would You Say? Drinking Water?

Microplastics water filter water Bottled Water Scientific Studies Chlorine Water Toxins Water Filtration 6 min read

Muscle? Bone? Blood?
No. You are made of water. Drinking water.

At birth, you are almost all water. Perhaps that’s why a baby is so.. Soft and adorable.

baby covered with white blanket
Photographer: Luma Pimentel | Source: Unsplash

As we age, our percentage of water slowly reduces, but the average for most of us is 70% water.

So.. the (friendly) alien soon realises that he or she (or it) is talking to a bag of water.

Nobel laureate Albert Szent-Gyorgyi takes it even further:

“Life is water, dancing to the tune of macromolecules.” So.. the alien is talking to water.

And water, says Szent-Gyorgyi, is life itself.

It’s not unreasonable then, that we should care about the water we consume because that is what becomes life itself within us.

Today, (unlike the days of our ancestors), we have a choice: but this can be a good thing.. Or not!

Paleo man or woman had water.

Or.. no water.
Those were his only choices.

Today we are bombarded with choices—sparkling water, flavoured water, even vitamin-infused water, tea, coffee, beer—but our two most common choices are plain-old tap water and regular bottled water.

And even though we are water, and water is our life, we have the ability - the ‘privilege’ to decide that drinking from a plastic bottle is better than drinking from the tap in our kitchen.

Of course, we know that tap water may contain some chemicals, like chlorine, chloramines and fluoride, as well as (in some areas) chemicals life PHAs, heavy metals, nitrates... that have seeped into our source reservoir - but as yet have not been able to be removed prior to piping it to your home.

Tap Water vs. Bottled water. Would you believe it?

What if you were told that even with all those shortcomings, tap water is a LOT better than bottled water.. would you believe it?

Or would you continue to believe the stories of the corporations bottling our water into plastic?

Here’s an article just published in the journal Science of the Total Environment by researchers at the Barcelona Institute of Global Health.

It compared the health and environmental benefits of three kinds of water—bottled water, tap water, and filtered tap water—in the city of Barcelona, where bottled water has become more popular - despite recent investments in water treatment that have made the local tap water more drinkable.

The results were indisputable:

Tap water is better than bottled water—both for people and for the planet.

But will we listen? And where does home filtered water stand?

How Much Better?

Ready for it? Bottled water is 3500% more harmful to the world than tap water.

If everyone in Barcelona drank bottled water instead of tap water, it would cost $83.9 million per year to extract the raw materials needed for bottles. This, say the researchers, would cause the destruction of 1.43 species per year.

Compared to tap water, that’s 3,500 times the cost of resource extraction and 1,400 times the impact on ecosystems.1

Here’s what the researchers said:

“The higher environmental impact of bottled water was attributed to the high input of materials (i.e. packaging) and energy needed for bottled water production as compared to tap water. Raw materials and energy required for bottle manufacturing accounted for the majority of the impact of bottled water use (up to 90% of the impact in all indicators), consistent with previous studies.”

What about Health?

Consumers do choose to believe bottled water is healthier than tap water, but scientific data doesn’t agree.

“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,” said Cathryn Tonne, researcher and co-author of the study with Villanueva.

“The use of domestic filters, in addition to improving the taste and odour of tap water, can substantially reduce THM levels. For this reason, filtered tap water is a good alternative. Even though we didn’t have enough data to measure it's environmental impactfully, we know it is much lower than that of bottled water.”

But wait there’s more... And it’s serious!
Before you rush to fill your glass from your kitchen tap, consider this.

Trihalomethanes are created when chlorine reacts with organic matter in the water. (They are also known as Disinfection Byproducts)

And yes, it’s a problem for all water supplies around the world, because THM’s are a known carcinogen, and the data has already linked national bladder cancer rates to drinking water supplies with unsafe levels of THM’s.

In the same study the researchers looked at the effect of trihalomethanes in the various waters people drank.

And they concluded that generally, THM’s are more abundant in tap water, not bottled water.

But people who filtered home tap water saw a major reduction of the THM’s still present in tap water. (From 309 life years lost to approximately 39: see below).

“Our results indicate that under the current drinking water source share, 3% of new (incident) bladder cancer cases annually are attributable to THM exposure from drinking water, resulting in 94 years of life lost in the Barcelona population . A complete shift to tap water without domestic filtration would increase the number of life years lost to 309 (on average approximately 2 h of lost life expectancy if borne equally by all residents of Barcelona)”.

Adding domestic filtration would reduce the number of life-years lost to 36. A complete shift to drinking bottled water would essentially remove the health burden to THM exposure through drinking water. Most of the attributable health burden due to THM exposure from drinking water was from years of life lost rather than lived in disability.

So filtering your tap water is better than just drinking it from the tap by a tenfold factor, and is much much MUCH better than drinking bottled water due to the enormous environmental effect of disposable plastics.

The researchers are hoping their study may persuade some people to switch to tap water. They say much larger public information efforts are necessary in order to move the needle away from the bottle and toward the tap.

So.. they are hopeful... But pessimistic.

The Looming Global Plastic Bottle Problem

Photographer: tanvi sharma | Source: Unsplash

The findings of the study really shows up the impact plastic water bottles have worldwide.

More than a million plastic bottles are sold every minute.

Not only does it take 2,000 times the energy to produce bottled water than tap water, but anywhere between 5 million to 13 million tons of plastic makes its way to the oceans each year.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the ocean will contain more plastic (by weight) than fish by 2050.

In the United States, in particular, more than 17 million barrels of oil are required to meet the nation's annual demand for bottled water, with 86% of plastic water bottles becoming garbage or litter.

My choice? Filtered water, drunk straight from the filter at home, and from my stainless steel water bottle when I’m not at home. I love my life. I love my waterbody.

Article Sources

  1. Villanueva, Cristina M., et al. "Health and Environmental Impacts of Drinking Water Choices in Barcelona, Spain: A Modelling Study." Science of the Total Environment, vol. 795, 2021, p. 148884., doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.148884
  2. "The New Plastics Economy." Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

"Reasons to Avoid Bottled Water." Harvard University.

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