It was not too long ago when the main source of drinking water in our homes was straight from the tap of our sinks. It all seems so nostalgic now as bottled water has been marketed so successfully that it is virtually everywhere we look: in homes, offices, airplanes, restaurants and sporting events all over the world.
Up five percent from the previous year, Canadians drank some 2.4 billion liters of bottled water in 2013, fueled by the demands of a healthy, portable drinking option that was calorie-free and refreshing. However, recent research on packaging has made a strong case for those questioning bottled water vs tap water: which is safer and is the convenience of bottled water worth the impact it has on our environment.
But bottled water is not the only source of this necessary nutrient that has come under scrutiny. In a very public article published by The Toronto Star, it was made very clear that the water in Canada’s taps can also be dangerous to our health. It seems by the evidence above that consumers are left to choose whatever they feel to be the lesser of two evils.
On one hand they can purchase bottled water and take on the risk of leached chemicals in addition to the negative environmental impact, or they can opt for the much cheaper but seemingly unprotected tap water that may be filled with harmful contaminants as revealed by The Star’s analysis.
Who will win the fight of bottled water vs tap water and which will you choose? Let’s explore the stigma associated with each and learn about the healthy options consumers have to live a chemical and contaminant-free, environmentally-friendly life.
Most people assume that bottled water is the purist source of water they can get – at least purer than tap water that is. The names of the major water bottle carriers would have us believe that the waters only come from the most pristine, untouched parts of the earth. It is not uncommon for bottled water to be labeled “spring water” or “pure glacier water” when in fact it comes from the same public water system as our tap water.
In Canada, federal regulations oversee bottled water sales and distribution. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency treats water as if it were a food item and “prohibits the labelling, treating, packaging, processing, selling or advertising of any food in a manner that misleads or deceives consumers as to the character, value, quantity, composition, merit or safety of the product. ” However, there are two categories of bottled water as defined in the Food and Drug Regulations:
1. Spring or Mineral Water: bottled water that originates from an underground source which is not part of a community water supply and is fit for human consumption at its point of origin.
2. Non Spring or Mineral Water: bottled water from any source treated for human consumption.
If you look at your bottled water closely enough you would see that the water you are drinking is likely subject to the same quality standards as your tap water. This is because, in many cases (but not all), most of the popular water bottle distribution companies draw from a municipal supply and not a snowy glacier or a sparkling spring.
In essence, you just might be drinking tap water but paying for a pretty label and convenient package. That said, the news from The Toronto Star doesn’t make you want to drink tap water any more than it does make you want to buy deceptive products.
13 percent of household water tests pulled from the past six years revealed that many Torontonians are drinking water with unsafe levels of lead. The lead leached into tap water is said to come from one of two sources: aging pipes on the city property or aging pipes on the homeowner’s property. Thing is, the homeowner’s are responsible for replacing the pipes on their side of the property line so the government is, in recent times, not replacing pipes on their side at all because it would all be for naught. As the tap water is treated before it is sent through the pipes, a homeowner with tainted pipes could still be exposed to lead even if the city did their part to replace pipes on the city’s side of the property line.
Both bottled and tap water are treated but are still expected to have small traces of some contaminants. While the presence of these contaminants does not generally pose a health risk, who wants to consume harmful microorganisms, disinfectants, inorganic or organic chemicals to begin with?
A fairly recent report from 2013 indicated that the pollution in and treatment of Lake Ontario near Toronto was amongst the worst in Ontario . The heavy floods of that year resulted in the seepage of untreated sewage which made its way into Lake Ontario, a major source of drinking water for Torontonians. Again, this water is treated but isn’t treated for emerging contaminants like personal care products, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, herbicides and endocrine disrupting compounds.
So it would seem that Toronto’s drinking water is safe if you factor in the contaminants that they are treating it for. However, emerging contaminants are on the rise and governmental action generally leads to an increased cost of water treatment that is passed along to you.
Plastic water bottles are generally deemed to be safe but studies have revealed certain dangers associated with leached chemicals, particularly as they relate to storage. The majority of plastic water bottles are packaged in polyethylene terephthalate, a thermoplastic polymer resin. PET or PETE, as it is often labeled, contains antimony, a potentially toxic material that, in small doses, can cause dizziness and depression and in larger doses, nausea, vomiting and death .
The other issue of plastic water bottles is the presence of bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical element that is also used to make hard plastic toys, bottles and food containers. CBC News reports that animal studies using BPA may be linked to “obesity, infertility and insulin-resistance in rodents.” BPA has gotten so much attention it was even added to Canada’s toxic substances list in October of 2010. A committee from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) concluded that BPA may cause neurological and behavioral problems in fetuses and kids and a separate panel found that BPA can also cause negative affects to the brain, female reproductive system and immune system.
You may have heard that bottled water is more expensive than gas. At the time of this writing, gas prices in Canada are, on average, around 140 cents per liter, or about $5.60 per gallon. Depending where you buy your bottled water and the fact that about 2/3 of all bottled water sales are single bottles, bottled water is as much as $8.00 per gallon. This begs the question, “Why isn’t anyone complaining about the costs of bottled water?”
According to CBC News, bottled water in Canada can cost about $0.08 per 500 ml bought in bulk or as much as $2.50 for a name brand purchased out of a vending machine (which accounts for the majority of bottled water purchases) . Tap water, on the other hand, costs you only tenths of a cent per liter.
Nestle, the biggest bottled water provider in Canada , pays only $3.71 for every million liters it withdraws from a well yet somehow manages to charge consumers – considering the price of tap water and their inherent costs – exorbitant prices.
According to the Canadian Beverage Association, about 70 percent of PET bottles are recycled  and the Canadian Bottled Water Association (CBWA) says that these bottles account for only 1/5 of the one percent of landfill space. However, plastic water bottles take 100s of years to decompose, if at all, and much of that plastic waste gets shipped overseas for recycling, creating additional greenhouses gases associated with transportation.
Beyond the issues with the 30 percent or so of plastic bottles that never make it to a recycling plant there is the use of resources used to create them. Virgin petroleum is used to make PET and some estimates put the required amount of oil to exceed 17 million barrels of oil for plastic bottle production in the US alone. In addition to the abuse of fossil fuels required to make plastic bottles, the manufacture of PET results in three tons of carbon dioxide emissions, hurting Mother Nature even more.
For every bottle of water that is produced, the Pacific Institute has estimated that twice as much water is required for the production process . This means that for every liter of water that is sold, three liters of water are used.
The logistical requirements of water production, distribution and storage also factor into the environmental impact. Additional energy is required to automate the water bottle filling process, transport it by truck, train, ship or plane, cool it at home or in grocery stores, and to recover, recycle or trash the water bottles.
It seems that the facts and research behind both bottled water and tap water reveal some disappointing discoveries. Whereas most bottled water seems to be the best source or pure, clean water, we find that not only are there misleading advertisements and labels as to the source of this water but there are also a large percentage of bottled water companies that simply repackage the same municipal water that comes through our pipes. Then there is the fact that this water – packaged in a convenient and pretty plastic bottle – is more expensive than gas and can seep unhealthy contaminants into the drinking water of families. Finally, the environmental impact of bottled water provides a strong case in and of itself for completely excluding this fossil fuel-draining, carbon dioxide-emitting beverage which does nothing but hurt our environment.
While bottled water is no great option, tap water too has concerns with contaminants such as lead, chlorine, fluoride and other undesirable impurities that can have significant health concerns. Toronto in particular has been getting a lot of negative publicity in the last few years due to the antiquated underground water works systems that distribute drinking as well as sewage water. So while this is the obvious choice in terms of cost and environmental impact, it too has associated stigmas.
It is of our opinion that tap water is the way to go but this recommendation comes with a major asterisk. What we are really suggesting to consumers is that they take a strong look at tap water that runs through a proven filtration system before being consumed. While most Canadian’s can assume that their tap water is safe for drinking, Torontonians are subject to a tougher analysis of what they are trusting from their pipes. The sewage seepage and lead contaminants are very real – upwards of 13 percent of households in of Toronto had higher than what was considered to be safe levels of lead – and should not be ignored.
Couple these issues with the fact that municipal water treatment facilities are not equipped to treat emerging contaminants that can make their way into your home. A quality water filtration installed either under the sink, at the point where water comes from the city to the homeowner’s property line, or a standard drinking water filter will help prevent your family from the dangers of consuming harmful contaminants plus give you the benefit of significant savings and the best possible taste.
Check out all of Filter Butler’s water filtration options to determine what is best for you.