Step away from the bottle

Empty water bottles litter landfills as tap water flows clean and cheap

For detailed information about local water quality, download the Truckee Meadows 2007 Water Quality Report

There was a time, in the dark ages before Paris Hilton or blogs, when people drank water from glasses. Water from the tap. “Tap water.” Water without labels or ingredient lists. Water that came from the same country, the same town even, where people lived.Now we buy designer drinking water in single-serving plastic bottles from places like Napa and Fiji. Then we throw the containers away.

In the United States alone, we throw out more than 60 million water bottles a day. That’s 2.5 million every hour. Bam! 694 more while you read that statistic. And those petroleum-based bottles will never break down. Not in landfills, composting piles or oceans, which is where they end up if they’re not recycled. The only other way to get rid of them is incineration, which releases a whole stew of toxic chemicals into the air.

America’s bottled water habit uses 1.5 million barrels of nonrenewable oil annually. That doesn’t include the enormous amount of fuel it takes to transport bottled water from source to consumer.

People tend to drink bottled water because it’s healthier than tap water, because it tastes better or because it’s more convenient. Let’s bust those myths one by one.

Federal standards for tap water are far more stringent than those for bottled water. The Truckee Meadows Water Authority performs more than 10,000 water quality tests each year, compared to the 53 tests required of bottled water companies. And most bottled water doesn’t come from naturally pristine mountain springs. It starts out as tap water. Then it gets filtered, like city water does, or has minerals added.

If taste is an issue, it’s likely due to the infinitesimal amounts of chlorine added to municipal water. That problem is easily solved by a filter or drop of lemon juice.

On the subject of convenience, which is worse? Walking over to the tap, or going to the store and buying a pallet of water, driving home to unload it, and then disposing of the bottles when you’re done?

Still not convinced? Bottled water costs between $1.30 for a generic jug at Raley’s and $8.26 per gallon for single servings of Aquafina or Dasani, compared to $1.58 for a thousand gallons of treated Reno tap water. That’s 5,228 times more expensive. Pellegrino sparkling water costs even more: $1.25 for 250 ml at local restaurants, or $18.90 a gallon.

The solution? Drink tap water. Go ahead, get a glass and fill it up. Or get yourself a re-usable Nalgene bottle or Sigg aluminum bottle, and carry it around. If you prefer the taste of bottled water, try a filter on your tap or a filtered pitcher system like Brita. If you love sparkling water, buy a countertop carbonation system from Soda Club, and make your own.

If you must drink bottled water, recycle. The national recycle rate for plastic water bottles is only 17 percent, and that is due mainly to the 11 states with container deposit laws. Insist that your workplace provide recycle containers. Your plastic bottles could be made into jackets or carpets, and you’ll be making a better choice.