All bottled up

Bottled water is big business. As people have become ever more aware of their health and the dangers of consuming too many sugary beverages, more people are forsaking the empty calories in soft drinks in favour of a bottle of water.

However, even thought bottled water may have a much reduced impact on your health, people are often ill informed on the origin and concerns surrounding bottled water.

Where does it come from?

Not all bottled water is created equal. Some of it may be bottled at the source somewhere in a supposedly picture perfect setting, although the truth tends to be a whole lot more industrial than that. It is also worth taking a look at the listed levels of minerals in your bottled water. These can occasionally be higher than recommended, meaning that not all spring water is quite as healthy as one might imagine.

Not all bottled water is spring water either. Although water labelled as spring water has to be, much of the bottled water that can be purchased locally is actually distilled water, which means that it comes out of the regular water supply, is treated, and then bottled and sold on to consumers. Although the filtration certainly makes the water more palatable and can remove contaminants, it means that there is very little difference between that water and water you filter at home when it comes to its purity. As it is the minerals and oxygen dissolved in the water that gives it its taste, really pure water will also lack taste, which is why distilled water will usually have minerals added afterwards in order to improve the taste.

Backlash

Even though the health benefits of drinking bottled water over drinking soft drinks is difficult to dispute, the impact of bottled water on the environment is enormous, which has caused a backlash from environmental groups in recent years. Water that is transported from a bottling facility in Europe has to travel a long way to get to Cayman, which means that by the time the water reaches our shores it has a substantial carbon footprint.

The bigger concern is the number of plastic bottles disposed of each day by the water drinking public. Although some may purchase bigger containers and refill a cup or smaller bottled from that, most consumers purchase bottled water in small individual bottles. It has been found that the recycling rates on plastic water bottles are very low compared to other recycling, with some figures quoting a 25 per cent recycling rate. In Cayman, this is a moot point as at the moment there is no recycling programme for plastics in place. This means that water bottles contribute to the growth of the landfill every day.

Health concerns

Although some high end water is sold in glass bottles, the most prevalent container used is plastic.However, even if the water starts out as pure and healthy when it goes into the bottle, certain types of plastic can interact with the water if the bottle is exposed to extreme temperatures such as being let in a hot vehicle or frozen.

New plastics

Some bottled water companies have taken the criticism to heart and started using plastics derived from non petroleum sources such as corn, which removes some of the reliance on oil. Some of these plastics are also biodegradeable, although many will only degrade under commercial composting conditions where quite high temperatures are present. This means that the bottles will not biodegrade under backyard composting conditions and will definitely not biodegrade if discarded by the roadside.

Alternatives

For those who prefer the taste of bottled water to that of tap water, there are a number of options that are more environmentally acceptable.

Filtering tap water and using a reusable water bottle can be a much more environmentally friendly way of having better tasting drinking water. There are various options on the market, from systems that treat all the water going into a home, to systems that sit under the sink or on the faucet and filter only water intended for drinking. The most familiar and cheapest of the systems are the water pitcher filtration systems, which although not as convenient as the faucet based systems tend to be a lot easier to operate.

Whole home systems tend to rely on reverse osmosis, a similar technology to what is used to create Cayman’s drinking water. The most popular filters used in pitcher and faucet filtration systems tend to be based on activated charcoal filtration, which is effective at removing chlorine, sediment and volatile organic compounds. Most systems add other levels of filtration in order to reduce minerals and dissolved inorganic compounds.

Even just refrigerating tap water can improve the taste. For anyone concerned about microbes in the water, boiling water before consumption will destroy microbes present in the water.

Bottled water dispensers also offer a more environmentally acceptable option, as reusable bottles or cups can be used with the dispenser, thereby reducing the need for disposable bottles or cups and limiting the impact on the environment.

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