Gareth Jones, Sustainability Manager
Why should you switch to tap water from bottled water?
Here in the UK we have an addiction to bottled water with 7.7 billion bottles bought every year creating an industry worth more than £2.4 billion. However, what is our obsession with spending money on bottled water when water is readily available from our taps?
In this blog post we take a look at how tap water compares to bottled water and the benefits of switching from the bottle to the tap.
You can save money, lots of money
Tap water is cheaper, much cheaper. A 1.5l bottle of mineral water might cost you around £1 whilst the equivalent amount of tap water would cost you around 0.3p! If you bought 5 bottles of water a week you would spend £260 over the course of the year vs 78p for tap water. In fact, there are currently over 20,000 places where you can refill your reusable water bottles with tap water for free!
Strangely enough, the fact that tap water is cheap, or free, is one of the reasons why people actually buy more expensive bottled water. This is because that there is a stigma and embarrassment around asking for tap water in restaurants for fear of being seen as ‘cheap’. Don’t be ashamed to ask for tap water!
But bottled water is healthier, isn’t it?
Mineral water (over other types of bottled water) contain a greater variety of minerals than tap water. Whilst this shouldn’t be surprising, the minerals present in mineral water are found in really small quantities so they make very little difference to your health when you take into account everything else you eat and drink over the course of the day – especially if you eat a good amount of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Whilst you won’t find the same number of minerals in tap water it does contain things like calcium, iron, manganese and potassium. Chlorine is also added in small quantities to disinfect water and kill bacteria whilst some water companies add fluoride, in conjunction with local health authorities, with the aim of preventing tooth decay.
It’s worth noting that the elevated levels of sodium and sulphate in mineral water means that it is not suitable for babies and small children. If you have to use bottled water (for example if you are abroad in a country where you can’t drink tap water) you should boil the water before you use it in formula or other drinks.
Okay, but isn’t bottled water safer?
Tap water is theoretically a lot safer to drink due to the standards of the EU Drinking Water Directive which governs the cleanliness of tap water in the UK. Whilst there is a chance of water picking up some contaminants from traveling through pipes to reach you, 99.9% of tap water in the UK meets this standard unlike bottled water which isn’t tested as extensively as it falls outside this Directive. Millions of checks are carried out on tap water in the UK to make sure it is safe.
Whilst this is fine in the UK, in other parts of the world you may be advised to boil water or use bottled water due to the cleanliness of the tap water which may give you an upset stomach. If you do buy bottled water, make sure that you recycle the bottles where you can.
But bottled water is much more convenient
Whilst it might be easier to grab a bottle of water when you need one, plastic bottles are incredibly wasteful and can be incredibly harmful to the environment if they are not collected and recycled properly. David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2 highlighted the scale of the plastics problem and at the current rate that plastics are entering our rivers and oceans there will be a greater tonnage of plastic in the sea than fish by 2050! Microplastics are a huge problem and a recent study from 2018 showed that 92% of bottled water in Europe was found to contain microplastic debris with some containing up to 10,000 plastic particles per litre. Whilst tap water isn’t microplastic free there is generally around half, or less, microplastic than water from plastic bottles.
Of the 13 billion plastic bottles used in the UK each year (of which the majority are water bottles), around 58% are recycled meaning that a staggering 5.5 billion bottles are either landfilled, incinerated or littered. A lot of these bottles end up in the environment where they pose a hazard to wildlife and where they can also break down into microplastics which are consumed by wildlife and humans alike. Even recycling plastic bottles doesn’t necessarily stop the plastic from eventually entering the environment depending on what plastic bottles are turned into and how those items are used and disposed.
In the UK a national Refill scheme was set up to increase the availability of tap water and reduce the amount of plastic waste we produce. At the time of writing there are over 20,000 places listed on their website, and app, where you can refill reusable water bottles with free tap water. Whilst this includes shops and restaurants where you can ask for a free refill there are increasing numbers of dedicated self-service refill stations being installed across the country.
Bottled water tastes better
Well that’s a matter of personal taste, pardon the pun. However, on a serious note, it’s worth considering whether bottled water is worth the price you pay for it as well as the price that we all pay for the impacts on our health and the environment caused by waste plastic.