Water-To-Go: Best Practices for Bottled Water

Bottled Water Pouring into Glass

By  Carolyn Budd

Bottled water is an $11.8 billion industry in the United States and represents the sale of over 30 billion bottles of water each year. Many purchase bottled water as a portable water source or rely on it for their home drinking water needs. Multiple factors determine the quality and value of bottled water products, including their cost per gallon when compared with home water filtration systems and the environmental impact of manufacturing and disposing of containers made from petrochemicals. Here are several questions to consider when deciding which water products to purchase and best practices to help ensure your water-to-go is of the highest quality.

  • Where is the water sourced?
  • How has the water been treated?
  • What testing has been conducted?
  • Which containers are healthy and sustainable?

1. Consider the source

While many manufacturers claim their bottled water originates from a natural spring, multiple findings indicate 25-45% of bottled water is tap water that has undergone treatment. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water as a packaged food and sets standards based upon those developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA. Bottlers use standard identifiers to describe their water, but these terms may not have the meaning you would expect. The following terms are frequently used on water bottle labels to describe the water’s characteristics, sources and methods of treatment.

Artesian water, Well water, Ground water: Water from an underground aquifer or tapped through a well. May or may not be treated.
Spring water: Water flowing to the surface or sourced via a borehole. May or may not be treated.
Distilled water: Recondensed steam from boiling water. Microbe and mineral-free.
Drinking water: Water for human consumption in sealed bottles.   May contain fluoride and disinfectants, as determined to be safe by the FDA.
Mineral water: Ground water naturally containing 250+ ppm (parts per million) TDS (total dissolved solids).
Purified water: Water from any source treated to contain less than 10 ppm TDS. May be free of microbes if treated by distillation or reverse osmosis. May be labeled according to how treated.
Sterile water: Water from any source treated to meet US sterilization standards. Free of microbes.

It is generally advisable to avoid drinking distilled water, which is better suited to laboratory use and your steam iron. The EPA acknowledges that distilled water, devoid of minerals, is an extremely “active” water that tends to dissolve substances with which it is in contact. Upon contact with the air, it absorbs carbon dioxide, making the water acidic and even more aggressive. As a short term detox, distilled water can pull toxins from the body, yet can also deplete the body of electrolytes and cause mineral loss. It should only be consumed while under the care of a certified healthcare practitioner.

2. Know the types of water treatment

Manufacturers of bottled water often point to taste as an incentive to purchase their brand; however, a pleasant taste does not necessarily indicate healthy water. On the contrary, an undesirable taste can actually indicate the presence of healthy minerals. Bottled water treatments often remove healthy minerals and warrant the addition of trace mineral. The EPA categorizes common treatments and their standard identifiers to include:

Distillation: Water boiled and steam condensed to remove salts, metals, minerals, asbestos particles and some organic materials. Microbes are killed, including Cryptosporidium.   Can actually compound more volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which will be in the final product.
Micron Filtration: Water filtered through screens with microscopic holes of various sizes to remove chemical contaminants and microbes, including cryptosporidium.
Ozonation: Water disinfected using ozone, may kill microbes depending on dosage.
Reverse Osmosis: Water forced under pressure through membranes, to remove microbes, minerals, color, turbidity, organic and inorganic chemicals.
Ultraviolet: Water passed through UV light, may kill microbes depending on dosage.
Carbon Filters or Absorptive Material Filters: Water is filtered through chemical absorption, usually via a bed of activated carbon. This process removes most VOCs, chlorine, and miscellaneous sediment.

More recently, alkaline water products are reaching the market with a pH of 9 or greater. This micro clustered antioxidant water is created through ionization, whereby water is separated into its alkaline and acid components through electrolysis. The alkaline component typically contains smaller clusters of H2O molecules which have higher cell membrane permeability and may provide more efficient hydration. Alkaline water with a pH above 9, however, should only be regularly consumed under the supervision of a certified healthcare practitioner, as it is therapeutic.

3. Test for more than taste

Bottled water companies make many claims about the purity of their products, but not all companies provide results from independent testing or distribute water quality reports. In 2011, The Environmental Working Group (EWG) published a  Bottled Water Scorecard that reports on 173 brands of bottled water from the Environmental Working Group website which includes transparency ratings on source, purification and testing. This is a helpful reference point for comparing bottled water brands. In addition, rather than simply relying on taste, you can test several preferred brands with pH strips to find out if the water you drink has a minimum pH of 7.

4. Evaluate containers for safety and environmental impact

In addition to considering the water itself, it is equally important to consider the safety and environmental impact of materials used to manufacture containers that store drinking water. According to Food & Water Watch.org it takes the equivalent of 17.6 million barrels of oil to manufacture the over 28.6 billion plastic water bottles sold each year in the United States. Equally significant, more than two-thirds of these plastic bottles are not recycled and end up in landfills, where, according to the EPA, they can take an average of 450 years to break down. Many of the plastics used to manufacture water bottles are made from harmful chemicals that leach into the water they contain, especially when the plastics are exposed to heat. Toxic endocrine-disruptors such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs, a class of flame retardant chemicals), estrogenic Bisphenol-A (BPA) and Bisphenol-S (BPS), phthalates and cancer-causing perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), are some of the more dangerous offenders. Here is a guide to the resin identification code system, represented by the number on the bottom of plastic bottles.

Code Resin Notes
1 PET – Polyethylene Terephthalate: Considered safe, but can leach antimony, a toxic metal used in manufacturing.
2 HDPE – High-density Polyethylene: Considered low hazard. Has been found to release estrogenic chemicals.
3 V – Vinyl: PVC plastic contains DEHP, a type of phthalate.   Endocrine disruptor.
4 LDPE – Low-density Polyethylene: Considered low hazard. Does not contain BPA, but may pose estrogenic leaching risks similar to HDPE.
5 PP – Polypropylene: Considered low hazard. PP plasticware, considered safe for high heat tolerance by EPA, leached chemicals in recent laboratory studies.
6 PS – Polystyrene: Used in Styrofoam products. Manufactured with benzene & petroleum. Known to leach styrene, a carcinogen, especially under hot temperatures.
7 Other – Mixed Plastics: May contain the endocrine disruptors polycarbonate/BPA or BPS.

The best containers for water storage, especially long term, are glass and stainless steel, as they are safe, non-toxic and reusable. Choose a stainless steel container without an inner liner, which might contain toxins, or a glass container with a plastic sleeve, to prevent breakage. Should you decide to purchase bottled water in a plastic container, be advised that any determinations of safety include “allowable” levels of contamination whose long-term effects are unknown. Relative to other plastic containers, containers with a #1 recycling stamp may currently be considered “safe” while #2,4, and 5 may be considered “low hazard.” However, BPA-free polycarbonate #7 containers - once preferable over other containers—are currently the source of scrutiny for leaching contaminants other than BPA. This suggests a best practice of avoiding plastic containers when possible, and of storing water bottled in plastic in a cool environment.

5. Best practices

When looking for drinking water to go, consider the beneficial properties of pure, high-quality water:

  • pH between 7 and 9. (If 9 or higher, consult a healthcare practitioner.)
  • Not contaminated with toxic residues.
  • Contains healthy minerals.
  • H2O molecules in smaller clusters.

The optimum bottled water would come from a living spring, such as the water available through Findaspring.com, and be stored in a glass or stainless steel container. If you must purchase water in a plastic container, look for brands such as Fiji, Palomar Mountain and Volvic, which are sourced from artesian or spring water. Consider toting filtered tap water from your home, in a stainless steel container.

When taking into account the cost of installing a home water filtration system, remember that buying bottled water can be more expensive than purchasing gasoline for your car. Understanding what constitutes healthy water and the options for creating healthy water will help you determine the cost effectiveness of purchasing water versus treating the tap water in your home.

More and more consumers are discovering the health benefits of drinking sufficient quantities of high-quality water. The source of your water, the treatment and testing it has undergone, and the container it is stored in all contribute to its quality—and your health.

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