Though I didn’t make a formal announcement or send out a mass e-mail, this year I officially decided to kick a couple of bad eco-habits. Plastic grocery bags were first on the list.
The process was easy. I simply located a couple of sturdy reusable bags (canvas works well), parked them by the front door next to the umbrellas and before I knew it each trip to the store was enhanced by an undeniable feeling that I was contributing to the planet’s well-being. Filling those bags with food that was locally and/or organically grown only increased my status as a responsible citizen.
Next on my list was bottled water. I will confess that I’m not 100 percent there — I occasionally cave in to the convenience of prepackaged H20 while waiting at the airport or when I forget my reusable Sigg bottle — but I’m close. My primary motivation for fighting the lure of bottled water can be traced to the nagging question that fills my mind each time I take a sip of the prepackaged stuff: Where do all these bottles go when we are through with them?
It turns out that I have good cause for concern. Americans purchased 31 billion bottles of water in 2006, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Of those billions of plastic bottles the NYS DEC found that only 10 percent are recycled. This means that 90 percent end up as garbage or scattered across our parks, highways and beaches. Ninety percent!
But overflowing landfills and litter-strewn open spaces are just the beginning of the environmental catastrophe that is bottled water. At a recent symposium held in New York City, Elizabeth Royte, author of “Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It,” gave me even more inspiration to skip bottled water and reconsider what comes out of my tap.
Royte explained that the manufacturing alone of the billions of plastic water bottles used in the U.S. requires about 17 million barrels of crude oil, which results in 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide. And that oil is also used to transport bottled water — think of the bottled-water brands that pride themselves on being sourced in exotic (read: far away) locales — and to keep it chilled. Royte also covered the social impact of the bottled-water industry, bringing attention to the effect it has on the areas where the water is sourced. These small towns have to deal with wells going dry and increased truck traffic, often with no compensation — according to Royte, many water companies pay little to nothing for the water they take. The solution? Drink from the tap. Though Royte admits that “tap water is not perfect,” she stresses that bottled water is not the solution, suggesting instead that Americans take the time to find out what’s going on with their tap water (you can have your water quality tested for a reasonable fee) and to invest in a good filter.
As a New Yorker, I have no excuse not to go tap. My water comes from the Catskill Mountains and is tested for safety more than 100,000 times a year, according to Alex Matthiessen, president of Riverkeeper, the Hudson River’s biggest environmental advocacy group. Matthiessen is also a fan of the filter. Though “New York City’s water is extremely safe at the source,” he notes that it may pick up impurities when it goes through a building’s infrastructure (translation: pipes).
There are numerous filtering options available today that can help rid your water of those impurities. Brita makes reliable filters; Zero Water is another brand that has recently entered the market. As an added perk, each Zero Water filter comes with a TDS meter (total dissolved solids), a slim device with which you can obsessively test your water.
Whatever filter you choose, it’s important to remember that while bottled water is not necessarily safer to drink than tap water — the EPA sets standards for water provided by public water systems and the FDA follows those standards for bottled water (with less regulation and testing) — it is definitely worse for the environment.
Marisa Belger is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience covering health and wellness. She was a founding editor of Lime.com, a multiplatform media company specializing in health, wellness and sustainable living. Marisa also collaborated with Josh Dorfman on “The Lazy Environmentalist” (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang), a comprehensive guide to easy, stylish green living.
Please note: Neither Marisa Belger nor TODAYshow.com has been compensated by the manufacturers or their representatives for her comments or selection of products reviewed in this column.