We’re hardly the first blog out there to talk about how unsustainable bottled water in plastic bottles can be.  Heck, this isn’t even our first post on the topic.  So why spend a week writing about something everyone already knows?  Because as it turns out, there’s a lot more to the question of “what’s the most eco-conscious drinking water out there?” than you might realize.

Let’s start with the obvious: plastic is ridiculously bad for the environment.  It takes 2 gallons of water to produce a 1 liter bottle, and that’s not even counting the impact of the plastic that ends up in landfills and doesn’t get recycled.  So clearly, drinking bottled water isn’t sustainable.

My office (and probably many others like it) has a water dispenser where I can refill my reusable water bottle throughout the day.  Sure, our water is still delivered in plastic bottles, but the bottles are reused, and I’ve seen dispensers before that use glass bottles.  Assuming the maintenance companies are reusing the bottles, let’s disregard the impact of the water’s container and look at the ecological footprint of the water itself.

My office gets its water from Sparkletts, one of 108 water bottling companies based in California.  And if you’re thinking “wait, I thought California was in the midst of a massive drought, that makes no sense,” you’re absolutely right.  California is home to nearly all of the nation’s biggest bottled water brands, and, up until last year, was one of the only states that didn’t regulate groundwater pumping. And even that new bill won’t really take effect until 2040.

In other words, if you buy some land and build a pump to draw the water from underground, there is no law limiting how much water you can take.  Imagine a giant underground lake that’s hundreds of miles wide.  Then, imagine someone sticks a straw in that lake and starts drawing the water out.  The water isn’t going to follow property ownership legislation.  So even if you only own a small plot of land, you could easily deplete water reserves for your neighbors and anyone who lives over the same groundwater reserve.

Bottled water isn’t only unsustainable due to the bottles.  The water itself is harmful to the environment, or at least the way it’s extracted from the earth is.

The CDC advises against drinking rainwater.  True, human kind drank rainwater for millennia, but thanks to environmental pollution, the rain is no longer safe to drink.

Is your mouth feeling dry?  There has to be an answer that’s environmentally healthy, right?  After all, we can’t just stop drinking water.

The solution is simpler than you think, although it’s not perfect.  Good old tap water may be your most environmentally friendly option.  As we cover in The Longest Straw, most major cities import their water from far away, and that water importation has its own ecological impact.  Spoiler alert: tap water has its own downsides, but at least agencies like LADWP are bound by regulations and laws to limit their water diversions so that sources like Mono Lake don’t go dry, making them more sustainable than companies like Arrowhead.

To learn the full extent of water importation and its impacts, you’ll have to watch the film, but in the meanwhile, keep conserving, and next time you’re feeling thirsty, take a moment to remember the source of that water.  Put the bottle down, and reach for the tap.

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