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Bottled Water: What you didn’t know

By Sustainability Office on February 3, 2014

By Gillian Fisher ’16

I had never given much thought to the quality of the water I drank until I traveled to Costa Rica this past summer. I never before needed to think twice about what water I was drinking, or even what water I was using to brush my teeth and wash my clothes.

On Playa Buena Vista, a secluded beach in the Pacific-coastal town of Samara, these worries became second nature. In a house with no electricity or way to get to town other than wading across a crocodile-infested river, getting potable water became more of an ordeal.

In the United States and many other Western countries, we do not give a second thought to where our tap water comes from. We flip on the faucet and get as much cold, clean water as our hearts desire. When we take showers, we don’t pause to think about the huge amount of hot, potable water that is going down the drain.

In Buena Vista, on the other hand, it is far more complicated. Each morning two people have to walk down a path carrying a huge, heavy motor. They walk all the way to a water pump connected to the house’s pipe system and have to use the motor to pump the water back to the house. The water fills up two huge basins – one for shower water and one for dishwashing water. There are separate sinks used for certain tasks that need potable water, like brushing your teeth, and there are two Gatorade dispensers holding the only water that is for drinking.

When we washed dishes, we had to turn on the faucet to rinse the plate, turn it off while we used the dish soap, and then turn the water back on again to rinse the soap off. The shower routine was the same way. We were forbidden from having the water on for longer than two minutes at a time. You got in, rinsed, turned off the water while you used soap and shampoo, rinsed again, and then got out.

Being someone who likes my twenty minutes of constantly steaming hot water at all times in the shower, this took an adjustment. After a month in Costa Rica, I had finally gotten used to thinking about my daily water use just as it was time to go back to my home in Massachusetts. When I returned to the States, the idea of drinking bottled water when we are lucky enough to have perfectly clean tap water seemed ridiculous to me. After being in a country where bottled water is actually the ONLY way to insure clean drinking water, using bottled water in the US seemed unnecessary and wasteful.

Americans commonly assume that bottled water is much cleaner and more “pure” than their tap water. However, according to the film Tapped, 40% of all bottled water is taken from municipal tap water. Huge corporations such as Coke, Pepsi, and Nestle are taking vast amounts of this water from communities that need it, and are selling it in cities to make enormous profits.

Tap water is actually regulated much more carefully than bottled water. Various people from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) test all tap water multiple times a day and make their records available to the public. Bottled water, on the other hand, is only tested once a day by one person at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and these findings cannot be accessed by the public (www.banthebottle.net/bottled-water-facts). Also, 60%-70% of bottled water is produced within state lines, which means that it is not under jurisdiction of the FDA at all (www.tappedthemovie.com). Aside from the regulation of the actual water, there are also the possible negative effects of the chemicals found in plastic bottles. We all have heard that BPA is harmful and therefore is not used anymore, but we don’t really know if the other chemicals used in plastic are safe. Therefore, although advertisements claim that bottled water is the “purest” water, it is more risky to drink than your tap water.

In addition to being a healthier choice for individuals, tap water is a much more environmentally friendly alternative to bottled water. “Bottling and shipping water is the least efficient method of water delivery ever invented. The energy we waste using bottled water would be enough to power 190,000 homes” (“Not Disposable Anymore.” P.O.V.’s Borders. 2004. PBS). The amount of energy used and waste produced by bottle water is enormous. Just think about if everyone on the planet eliminated every single plastic water bottle, and instead made a one-time investment in a reusable water bottle that they would refill with tap water. People would save money, and the earth would benefit immensely.

Many students at Colgate claim that the Hamilton tap water tastes bad and impure. Some say it tastes a lot like chlorine. An easy solution is buying a water pitcher that will filter the tap water. It may be an investment at first, but over time, it will be much more cost-effective than continuously buying the huge 24-packs of bottled water from Price Chopper. Astonishingly, if you drank eight glasses of bottled water per day for a year, you would spend about $1,400. If you drank that same amount of tap water, you would pay only $.49 for the whole year (www.banthebottle.net/bottled-water-facts). The cost benefits of drinking tap water should be incentive enough, even without the added benefits to your own health and to the environment.

The amount of drinking water that the earth has to offer is rapidly declining, especially with our careless abuse of this precious natural resource. We know that very soon many people all over the world will not have access to clean drinking water. So why not start conserving it now? Drinking tap water in comparison to bottled water is better for your personal health, for your wallet, and for the well-being of the planet as a whole – there are absolutely no downsides. All we have to do is to start doing our part to reduce bottled water consumption right here on campus!

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