Boycott Bottled Water

Boycott bottled water? Why? What’s the problem with bottled water? Well, for starters, the bottle and the water.

Boycott bottled water because of the water.

The water in the bottle is not worth more than a thousand times as much as the water from your faucet.

Boycott bottled water

The water aisle at my local grocery. Photo: Bruce Brown, Sierra Club SW MI Group.

Here in Portage, my water costs $3.19 per thousand gallons. Let’s round that up slightly to 3.2¢ per ten gallons. One litre (33.8 ounces) of Ozarka Brand 100% Natural Spring Water (one of the lower priced bottled waters) costs 89¢ at Target. To get ten gallons of Ozarka, I’d have to buy (rounding up slightly again) 38 bottles at 89¢ each – or $33.82 for ten gallons. That’s 1,057 times the cost of Portage tap water and about a dollar a gallon more expensive than gasoline here in my neighborhood right at the moment.

What kind of water is it? Where does it come from? Whose is it?

Boycott bottled water

By Bruce Brown

The corporations that bottle water – mostly Nestlé, Coca Cola, and Pepsi – almost always draw their water from the same aquifer as their neighbors. In fact, it’s often just municipal tap water. A recent Salon report says, “The expensive water the beverage industry sells is no better – and possibly worse – than the water you get from your tap (and often, the water they sell is tap water).”

Nestlé calls one of its brands “Ice Mountain® Brand 100% Natural Spring Water.” Nestlé says it’s “born better” and that it’s “sourced only from carefully selected springs, and contains naturally occurring minerals for a crisp, clean taste.” Well, yes, the word “Spring” is in the names of the places Nestlé takes its Ice Mountain® water from. Wikipedia describes those “springs.”

Ice Mountain sources their water from two groundwater wells at Sanctuary Spring in Mecosta County, Michigan and/or Evart Spring in Evart, Michigan. The water is drawn from underground aquifers using wells and is not drawn from surface springs, rivers, or mountain run-off as the packaging would imply.

Mountain run-off? Mecosta County’s highest elevation is 1280 feet, towering 647 feet above its lowest elevation, 633 feet. “Ice Mountain” is at most a humble hill that’s kinda snowy in February. Truth in labeling? Snowy-Hill-in-Wintertime® Brand 100% Well Water. Does the promise that the stuff has “naturally occurring minerals” indicate that it’s untreated? Does it go straight from the well to the bottle? Is that how it stays “natural”? Is it essentially the same as Mecosta County tap water? Could be.

Whose water is it?

Screenshot from the movie "Tapped"

Screenshot from the movie “Tapped”

Is bottled water really better?

The Michigan Journal of Environmental and Administrative Law, in its report “Why you should choose tap water the next time: The gaps in bottled water regulation” points out that municipal water supplies are subject to much more scrutiny than bottled water.

There are some gaping holes in the bottled water regulatory regime. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, up to 70 percent of bottled water is unregulated by FDA because it never crosses state lines for sale. FDA only has authority to regulate bottled water that is sold in interstate commerce, the rest is regulated by the states and by the industry itself. Furthermore, bottled water plants are only inspected every two to three years, and according to FDA, “bottled water plants generally are assigned low priority for inspection,” unless they have had violations in the past. FDA only devotes 2.6 full time-equivalent positions each year to inspecting bottled water.

Natural Resources Defense Council agrees that tap water is much more strictly regulated than bottled water. Furthermore, municipal water gets tested much more often than bottled water. NRDC’s report “The Truth About Tap” says:

It’s important to note that the federal government does not require bottled water to be safer than tap. In fact, just the opposite is true in many cases. Tap water in most big cities must be disinfected, filtered to remove pathogens, and tested for cryptosporidium and giardia viruses. Bottled water does not have to be.

Both kinds of water are tested regularly for bacteria and most synthetic organic chemicals, but city tap is typically assessed much more frequently. For example, bottled-water plants must test for coliform bacteria just once a week; city tap needs to be tested 100 or more times a month.

Boycott bottled water because of the bottle.

The bottle harms the water that’s in it.

Chemicals present in the bottle can leach into the water. You seldom know how long ago the water was bottled before you bought it. The longer the water has been inside the bottle, the more likely it is that the water has collected harmful chemicals.

More from the NRDC report “The Truth About Tap” under the heading “Could the actual bottle pose a health risk?

Recent research suggests there might be cause for concern. Chemicals called phthalates, which are known to disrupt testosterone and other hormones, can leach into bottled water over time. One study found that water that had been stored for 10 weeks in plastic and in glass bottles containing phthalates, suggesting that the chemicals could be coming from the plastic cap or liner. Although there are regulatory standards limiting phthalates in tap, there are no legal limits in bottled water; the bottled-water industry waged a successful campaign opposing the FDA proposal to set a legal limit for these chemicals.

From the movie “Tapped” (below) toxicoligist Dr. Stephen King reviewed two independent studies. He says:

If you were to look at all the data I’ve logged, and you read everything, you’d be horrified — horrified — at what they’ve found. From vinyl chloride, to butadiene, to styrene, benzene. I mean, it’s horrifying…. Test America found in an analysis of the samples toluene. Toluene is a constituent in gasoline and has been used in paint thinners. It’s a neurotoxic agent. It is also linked to adverse reproductive outcomes… [Environmental chemist] Dr. Michael Sommer…identified styrene in one of the samples. Styrene is a cancer causing agent and can cause adverse reproductive effects. Dr. Sommer also found three different types of phthalate. Phthalate can cause dysfunction, particularly in the fetus. It can cause adverse reproductive outcomes…

Boycott bottled water because the plant that makes the bottles harms the people who live nearby.

Boycott bottled water

The beach of the future. Screenshot from the movie “Tapped”

One Green Planet answers the question, “What’s the Problem with plastic bottles?

Bottling plants also cause problems for the humans who live near them. Water extraction surrounding bottling plants involved millions of gallons of water to make the bottles. This often leads to local water shortages that affects nearby residents, especially farmers who need to provide food for the surrounding neighborhoods.

Algalita Marine Research and Education explains why plastic water bottles are harmful to the ocean, air, and you:

[W]ater bottles are manufactured in petrochemical plants that release harmful air contaminants. Various citizens interviewed who live near these plants reported numerous health problems, such as respiratory issues, that they believe were caused by the air pollutants emitting from the plants.

More on how plastic production and use harms air quality in “What’s Plastic Got To Do With Clean Air” on Moms Clean Air Force website.

Boycott bottled water because the bottle harms our environment.

boycott bottled water

The new sand. Screenshot from the movie “Tapped”

The movie “Tapped” explores in more detail the harm to people whose aquifers are being drained by bottlers, the harm to people who live near the bottle manufacturers, and the harm to our environment – especially our waterways and oceans. The movie is about an hour and a quarter. You can watch it online for free. If you don’t have 75 minutes to spare right now, please plan to come back to this post later, click the link, and watch it.

Meanwhile, watching the movie’s five-minute trailer can give you a good idea of the problems exposed in the movie. It’s from 2009, but not much has changed since then.

The trailer for the movie “Tapped”

But bottled water is so convenient! I need to take water to work, to the gym, on my bike rides.

Well, that’s just silly. For eight to twelve bucks you can buy your very own bottle to carry your less-than-half-a-penny’s-worth of tap water wherever you go. A week or two after you stop buying bottled water and start filling your bottle at home, you will have saved enough money to pay for the bottle. Plus you’ll save yourself all the inconvenience of having to go somewhere and buy your water by the bottle.

How I make the chlorine taste go away. Photo: Bruce Brown, Sierra Club SW MI Group

How I make the chlorine taste go away. Photo: Bruce Brown, Sierra Club SW MI Group

But my tap water tastes kinda yucky.

If you don’t like the taste of your tap water, you’re most likely tasting the water’s disinfecting agents. The off taste quickly dissipates if you give it half a chance. My wife and I have a couple of two-gallon jugs. We use water from one jug while the chlorine and other disinfectants evaporate from the other. Simple.

But you said there was a chemical leaching thing going on with plastic containers.

The jugs and bottles you buy for your personal use are made from a different kind of plastic. And, yes, there will still be leaching over time. But if the water is in your personal jug or bottle for just two or three days, no problem.

Well, okay then! Let’s go ahead and boycott bottled water!

More information:

Websites calling on us to boycott bottled water:

Tapped © 2009, Atlas Films. Used by permission.


  1. Bruce,

    Excellent and timely article. People have bought thousands of bottles of water to give to Flint, for example. I don’t doubt that same money could have easily kept Flint residents connected to their former Detroit water souce with safer lead levels.

    How “convenient” the money we spend on bottle water for Flint payrolls contributions to the Governor’s causes. Nestle, one of the largest bottle water providers, has given a ton of money to the Governor. …and in a sweetheart deal Nestle doesn’t pay anything for the water it pumps out of the Michigan aquafier, while Flint pays for poison water!!

  2. Nestlé’s operation near Evart, Michigan, has been trying to increase its pumping capacity to 450 gallons per minute, 24-7-365 – all for the price of a permit that costs Nestlé $200 a year. So far, Osceola Township has been winning its fight against Nestlé!

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