According to scientists, the impact of bottled water on natural resources is 3,500 times greater than that of tap water.
The study is the first of its kind, and it looked at the impact of bottled water in Barcelona, where it is becoming increasingly popular despite recent improvements in the quality of tap water.
According to scientists, tap water is thousands of times better for the environment than bottled water. In fact, a plastic bottle requires three times the amount of water that it can hold.
This may come as no surprise, but researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) crunched the numbers to determine how much better it is.
The study centred on Barcelona, Spain, which has a population of around 1.35 million people, nearly 60% of whom drink bottled water at least some of the time.
They used a technique known as a “life cycle assessment,” which estimates an item’s environmental impact over its entire lifespan. This includes raw material extraction, manufacturing, transportation, distribution, use, and disposal.
Every year, water bottle manufacturing in the United States consumes 1.5 million barrels of oil, which is enough to power 100,000 homes. And that doesn’t include the costs of fossil fuels or emissions from transporting them to stores.
According to the study, if every resident in Barcelona switched to bottled water, extracting the raw materials would cost more than €70 million and result in the extinction of 1.43 animal species each year.
This would have a 1400 times greater impact on ecosystems and a 3500 times higher cost to the environment in terms of resources than if the entire city drank tap water instead.
According to study’s researcher Cristina Villaneuva, the quality of tap water in Barcelona has improved significantly in recent years.
“However, this considerable improvement has not been mirrored by an increase in tap water consumption, which suggests that water consumption could be motivated by subjective factors other than quality.”
One issue is the perception of the presence of chemical compounds such as trihalomethanes. In an innovative move, data on the lifecycle of bottled water was also compared to a health-measurement framework.
They discovered that any health risk was minimal, and that installing a home filtration system significantly reduced that risk.
“Our findings show that, when both the environmental and health effects are considered, tap water is a better option than bottled water, because bottled water has a broader range of impacts,” says a researcher Cathryn Tonne.