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What's really in Bottled Water?

What's really in Bottled Water?

What's in bottled water? Some water & a whole lot of plastic lid - a kind of a micro plastic soup (along with a pile of marketing)

We recently discovered that microplastics have made their way into some of the most (previously) pristine places on the planet and into us. One of the places that a pile of microplastic comes from is bottled water. The problem with bottled water isn't just how it breaks down, but what's in it in the first place.

A study by scientists based at the Fredonia State University of New York was commissioned by journalism project Orb Media to analyse bottled water. The study found that there's nearly as much plastic in the water inside the bottle as is wrapped around it. An incredible average of 325 plastic particles in every litre of water. 

In one bottle of Nestlé Pure Life, concentrations were as high as 10,000 plastic pieces per litre of water. Of the 259 bottles tested, only 17 were free of plastics, according to the study.

It's pretty clear that the packaging itself is responsible for more than half the contaminants 

The most common plastic found was polypropylene, the same type of plastic used to make bottle caps. This finding was cross validated when the scientists tested the same brand of water but packaged in glass instead of plastic . 

While both of these packaged waters have the same water source, there was considerably less microplastic contamination within the water bottled in glass as compared to that packaged in plastic (204 vs. 1410 pieces per litre, respectively).

This indicates that some of the microplastic contamination is likely coming from the water source, but a larger contribution might be originating from the bottle and cap that the water is contained in.

High level findings:

  • Fragments were the most common morphology (66%) followed by fibers
  • Polypropylene was the most common polymer (54%) which matches a common plastic used for the bottle cap
  • 4% of particles showed presence of industrial lubricants

Countries and brands

Analysis of 259 bottles from 19 locations in nine countries across 11 different brands was conducted. (Countries from which bottles were analysed were bought in the United States, China, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Lebanon, Kenya and Thailand.)

The brands Orb Media said it had tested were: Aqua (Danone), Aquafina (PepsiCo), Bisleri (Bisleri International), Dasani (Coca-Cola), Epura (PepsiCo), Evian (Danone), Gerolsteiner (Gerolsteiner Brunnen), Minalba (Grupo Edson Queiroz), Nestlé Pure Life (Nestlé), San Pellegrino (Nestlé) and Wahaha (Hangzhou Wahaha Group).

Twice as much plastic as tap water

The report said that scientists had “found roughly twice as many plastic particles within bottled water” compared with their previous study of tap water.

Given that half the plastics in the tested bottles were from bottle caps, this makes sense. (And might just clarify once and for all that the water sources of bottled and tap water are pretty much the same... and there you have it.)


Bottled Water is truly a marketing triumph in 'un-necessity'

Bottled water was definitely one of the biggest marketing triumphs of the 20th century. Selling seemingly sane people the same thing in a bottle as better (now proven to be worse) than what they can literally turn on a tap and get - and pay up to 1000 times more for it, is the kind of thing that life time bonuses are made of at Marketing Central. And big Agency awards.

Just don't do it

The easiest way to deal with this issue is not to buy plastic bottles in the first place -  buy a reusable water bottle – preferably a metal or glass.  This simple action keeps you healthier and influences the supply chain.

Go tap and choose a reusable!

Are you taking a reusable water bottle to work today? You can buy them from pretty much any supermarket or health, fitness or home store.

What are microplastics?

Microbeads are tiny plastic balls, usually made of polyethylene. Depending on what they are in, microbeads can be too small to see, but some are as large as a few millimetres.

For the more scientifically correct readers, there are actually more than 60 different microplastics in use. Look out also for Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and Nylon (PA).

Images: Hero: Unsplash - Steve Johnson / Adam Navarro / Manu Schwendener |  The full Orb Media Bottled Water Study Results are available online.
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