While keeping hydrated is essential to your health, that bottled water in your bag may be doing more harm than good. Here’s what you need to know about the dangers of bottled water and how to avoid them.
At this point, it’s getting around that plastic is dangerous to your health for many reasons. BPA, a component often found in plastic, is a hormone disruptor that can have a wide range of impacts on the human body, including hormone imbalance, toxicity, inflammation, and even cancer. (1) BPA isn’t even the only component of plastic that is potentially dangerous—there are dozens of other chemicals that can have adverse effects on the body, endocrine system, and other organs.
When bottles say that they are BPA-free, consumers often think that they’re safe from the hormone disrupting problems that BPA is widely known for. However, any form of plastic will likely also contain BPS, a chemical similar to BPA, but one that hasn’t yet received the publicity that BPA has (not to mention other chemicals). Research points to six areas where plastic exposure can significantly impact health.
5 Dangers of Drinking Bottled Water
1. Hormone Disruption and Fertility
Hormones are the most critical component in fertility in both men and women. While anatomical problems can also lead to infertility, hormone problems and other related conditions, like endometriosis, are most commonly implicated in impaired fertility. Plastics are known hormone disruptors that can send mixed signals, causing some reproductive hormones to be produced excessively and leading to deficiencies in others. (2) Women and men both are susceptible to this, and in both cases, excess estrogens can be the culprit in reducing ability to conceive.
2. Placental, Fetal, Infant, and Pre-Pubescent Development
While endocrine disruptors can significantly alter the ability to conceive, many are able to get pregnant and have children in spite of the presence of these chemical hormones. The impact doesn’t end there, however. Fetal development in utero, along with the critical early years of a child’s life, can be dramatically altered by the communication from these hormone messengers. (3) Boys seem to be the most at risk for severe alterations before and during puberty, and while testicular development itself doesn’t rely on hormones, every other aspect of male puberty and subsequent fertility and reproductive ability does. (4)
The World Health Organization has determined that plastics and endocrine disruptors are a worldwide problem that isn’t being addressed as seriously as it should be—either for fertility and reproductive impact or for the lasting changes that can result from exposure during formative years of life. (5)
Of course, water in plastic bottles is the most convenient way for many to purchase it or take it with them on the go. Glass and heavy stainless steel bottles usually aren’t something that parents want to put into the hands of their children. Still, when the potentially life-altering concerns of plastic are considered, it’s important to look for healthier alternatives immediately.
Cancer impacts men and women, young and old, and various organs, tissues, and cells. But researchers continue to report that the increase in estrogenic chemicals, like BPA and other plastic materials, has contributed not only to breast cancer, but also testicular cancer and prostate cancer. (6)
4. Toxicity Burden
BPA and other plastic toxins have been found in blood and urine, widely circulating throughout the body. (7) The toxicity burden that accumulates over years of exposure can impact all organs and body systems, but the liver is the primary detox organ that filters the blood, and the kidneys filter the urine.
When you drink a beverage that is housed in a plastic bottle, you’re also drinking what the bottle is made of. Even water (and not just acidic soda beverages) can leach particles from the bottles, especially if it has been exposed to heat or stored for a longer amount of time. Reusable plastic bottles are subject to the same problems if they’re washed or dried in hot temperatures like dishwashers or are used for hot beverages, like coffee or tea.
5. Weight Gain & Fatty Tissue Storage
Obesity has reached epidemic proportions in recent decades, and while the definition of obesity might seem narrow (greater than 25 percent body fat in men or 30 percent in women), the reality is that many adults weigh more than they should, with over 30 percent of adults in the U.S. categorized as obese. (8) Even the obesity rate in children under 19 has tripled in the last 50 years. (9)
The constant exposure to plastics today is having an impact on total body weight, too, since the estrogenic nature of these chemicals can directly influence the rate that fat is stored and what is stored there—including toxins from environmental exposures. (10)
Bottom line: Chemicals found in plastic water bottles and other sources of plastics can have significant impact on hormone communication, cellular health, and specific organs and body systems that can begin before birth and continue impacting future health for the rest of a person’s life, including future offspring.
The Plastic Planet and The Truth About Bottled Water
You don’t have to be an environmental activist to be concerned about the extreme waste buildup that is happening on our planet.
The bottled water industry continues to grow rapidly, with people drinking 10.9 billion gallons per year. (11) Approximately 38 billion water bottles go into landfills in one year alone, since only a little over 20 percent of plastic bottles are recycled. (12) While drinking bottled water is definitely healthier than drinking soda or other sugary beverages, the amount of waste from the beverage industry alone will have serious long-term consequences for our planet if we don’t make drastic changes to our daily habits.
Research points to lack of confidence in the public water supply as the primary reason that people regularly consume bottled water. (13) But the fact is that the public water supply is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, which restricts and monitors public drinking water. (14) While it’s assumed by many consumers that bottled water would be more strictly regulated than the public water supply is, it’s actually the opposite. The FDA regulates bottled water, and their testing process is less rigorous than that of the EPA. Some municipal water supplies actually bottle their water and sell it, and many brands of bottled water are actually the same as drinking tap water.
Plastic isn’t going anywhere, but environmental activists and sustainable advocates need to more clearly work to communicate the message to the public that bottled water is not safer in most cases, especially not within the United States, and that recycling a bottle doesn’t undo the environmental impact of manufacturing that bottle in the first place. While plastic may have various helpful roles for future technological advances, it’s essential to streamline production and reduce waste where possible, and nowhere is there more potential for this than in switching to a more sustainable method of getting in your daily ounces of water. (15)
Bottom line: Bottled water consumption is increasing every year, and recycling numbers stay the same, with well under half of the population recycling their plastic products. Reusable plastic bottles are certainly preferable, from an environmental standpoint, to disposable plastic bottles. However, ideally, glass or stainless steel bottles would be substituted to help overall plastic consumption levels decrease.
Where is Bottled Water Coming From?
Consumers have an unwavering belief that companies cannot sell products that aren’t good for them, even though the FDA’s regulation standards for foods, beverages, and even supplements are not nearly as stringent as people believe. Drugs and pharmaceuticals must go through rigorous testing processes and trials before they’re allowed on the market, but foods, beverages, and supplements are more quickly approved, not tested, and only pulled from the market when significant problems are discovered.
As mentioned above, the EPA regulates public tap water supply, and sets legal limits for nearly a hundred contaminants that can be found in water. (16) The good news is that these chemicals are closely watched and regulated, and when they exceed levels, the public must be notified that their water supply is compromised. (17)
While people feel uncomfortable knowing that there are allowable toxins in their water supply, including, but not limited to, bacteria, pharmaceuticals, fluoride, and lead, the more depressing news is that there is a whole list of unregulated contaminants that could be found in the water that aren’t being strictly monitored for human safety standards yet. Every five years the EPA adds to their list of regulated contaminants for drinking water, but in the meantime, there is the potential for thousands of chemicals to be found in your tap water, with no known impact on human health. (18, 19)
So what’s a water drinker to do? If bottled water is no better (and less regulated) than tap water, then what options are left?
You can get a quality report on your drinking water through the EPA, usually available July 1 each year. This will allow you to make an educated and informed decision on how you proceed, and whether you filter your tap water or not.
Bottom line: Bottled water is thought to be cleaner than tap water because it is processed and regulated by the FDA, but the truth is that the EPA regulates tap water more stringently than bottled water. Still, tap water has a long list of legally allowed contaminants.
7 Healthier Alternatives to Bottled Water
In order to ensure that tap water is pure, it can be filtered to remove many of these allowable contaminants. There are a number of filtering options on the market.
People filter their water for many reasons, but primarily it comes down to two categories: filtering for taste and filtering for purity. Others have no issues with drinking unfiltered tap water, and those who do so can switch from plastic bottles to more sustainable drinking options.
Below, we explore the various alternatives to bottled water, and ways that you can filter your water.
1. Glass Water Bottles
Glass water bottles tend to be the most inexpensive non-plastic alternative, but they are also the easiest to break. Many companies sell silicone sleeves for glass bottles that help to prevent breakage, and as someone who has personally used them (and dropped them), they’re quite effective. The bonus of glass bottles is that they’re easy to clean and sanitize and don’t retain flavors of beverages. The downside is that they tend to be a little heavier, and for that reason aren’t super child-friendly.
2. Stainless Steel Water Bottles
Stainless steel water bottles are also quite popular plastic alternatives, and in contrast to glass, aren’t breakable. They come in different shapes and sizes, and are easily the most child-friendly option (unless your child is prone to throwing their bottles). Stainless steel bottles are also better for keeping beverages cool or hot. They’re typically dishwasher-friendly, although painted stainless steel may chip if exposed to repeated washings in a dishwasher. Bottles are typically labeled if they’re safe for dishwasher use. Stainless steel also doesn’t retain flavors of beverages like a plastic can, making it a great option if you switch between water, coffee, and tea.
3. Self-filtering Water Bottles
If you are on the go and only have access to refill your water bottle from public water sources like water fountains, you may be concerned with being able to purify your water. Some water bottles have self-contained filtration systems, but most of these tend to be in BPA-free plastics. There are some stainless steel options, which are preferable to plastic, but are also significantly more expensive. Still, if you’re traveling abroad where water sources may be questionable, or you simply want to ensure that your water is as clean as possible, these might be preferable choices. These types of bottles tend to rely on carbon filtration, which can only remove larger particles, but can also remove unpleasant tastes, like chlorine.
4. Whole House Water Filtration
There are a number of home water filtration systems that can provide different levels of purification.
Reasons why you might want to filter your tap water include a sensitivity to fluoride, which can be a special concern for people who have autoimmune disorders, thyroid problems, or different chemical sensitivities, or they have a small child.
5. Carbon filters
Carbon filters can remove larger particles from tap water and generally can improve water taste because they remove the chlorine that is often found in city water supplies, along with other sediment, tastes, odors, and volatile organic compounds. Carbon filters work via a process known as adsorption, where the large particles are chemically drawn into the carbon and the cleaner water passes through, ready for drinking.
Carbon filters tend to be smaller, refillable options that are situated in individual drinking bottles or pitchers. Water is poured into the top portion, and it slowly drips through the carbon filter, resulting in the lower portion of the bottle containing the filtered water. This can be effective for single family use or a small office, but is not practical for larger families, and only filters water as you manually pour it.
6. Reverse Osmosis
Like carbon filters, reverse osmosis can remove larger particles and chlorine, improving taste. It also removes smaller particles than carbon filters can, making it a more thorough method of filtration that can also remove salt (like from softened or treated water), lead, fluoride, iron, calcium, and every other mineral. Some of these removed minerals can be found in naturally clean water (which might have benefits), but to users of reverse osmosis, the benefits of removing lead and other toxic substances far outweigh the loss of the beneficial nutrients.
Reverse osmosis takes place in a larger filtration device that is installed at point-of-use, typically under the kitchen sink. A separate faucet is installed which dispenses the filtered water. In reverse osmosis, the unfiltered water is forced through a semipermeable membrane using pressure, leaving the undesired water particles on one side of the membrane. The cleaner water is left on the other side, and it is dispensed into your reverse osmosis tank for drinking. Reverse osmosis filtration happens without your needing to control the amount of water, and the membrane filter on the reverse osmosis system only needs to be changed every six to 24 months, depending on the particular product.
7. Infrared filters
Infrared filtration systems reportedly use ultraviolet light to destroy bacteria and viruses, as well as to reduce chlorine and lead contaminants. This filtration system works at the point of entry for cold water lines, meaning no dedicated faucet is required. It also doesn’t strip beneficial minerals from the filtered water, but is not as effective as reverse osmosis at removing all lead, chlorine, or fluoride. The unit is a light bar that is encased in an aluminum tube, and is typically mounted to the wall near the water’s point of entry in the garage or water closet.
Bottom line: While drinking water is certainly better than not drinking it, it’s best to ensure that the water you’re taking in is as clean and pure as possible—for both you and the environment. There are a number of ways to achieve this, and you can make an educated decision after looking into the quality of your tap water and the filtering options available on the market today.