The growth of bottled water over the last decades is astonishing but comes at a huge cost as revealed by a new study. I always wonder why the Water Companies, who spend so much to create excellent drinking water in the UK don’t do a hundred times more to support initiatives like Refill Day update – City to Sea.

Environmental impact of bottled water ‘between 1400 & 3,500 times greater than tap water’

The research is the first of its kind and examined the impact of bottled water in Barcelona, where it is becoming increasingly popular despite improvements to the quality of tap water in recent years.

Research led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) found that if the city’s population were all to drink bottled water, this would result in a 3,500 times higher cost of resource extraction than if they all drank tap water, at $83.9m (£60.3m)a year.

New paper: Abstract: ‘Quantitative evidence of health and environmental tradeoffs between individuals’ drinking water choices is needed to inform decision-making. We evaluated health and environmental impacts of drinking water choices using health impact and life cycle assessment (HIA, LCA) methodologies applied to data from Barcelona, Spain. We estimated the health and environmental impacts of four drinking water scenarios for the Barcelona population: 1) currently observed drinking water sources; a complete shift to 2) tap water; 3) bottled water; or 4) filtered tap water. We estimated the local bladder cancer incidence attributable to trihalomethane (THM) exposure, based on survey data on drinking water sources, THM levels, published exposure-response functions, and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) from the Global Burden of Disease 2017. We estimated the environmental impacts (species lost/year, and resources use) from waste generation and disposal, use of electricity, chemicals, and plastic to produce tap or bottled drinking water using LCA.

The scenario where the entire population consumed tap water yielded the lowest environmental impact on ecosystems and resources, while the scenario where the entire population drank bottled water yielded the highest impacts (1400 and 3500 times higher for species lost and resource use, respectively). Meeting drinking water needs using bottled or filtered tap water led to the lowest bladder cancer DALYs (respectively, 140 and 9 times lower than using tap water) in the Barcelona population. Our study provides the first attempt to integrate HIA and LCA to compare health and environmental impacts of individual water consumption choices. Our results suggest that the sustainability gain from consuming water from public supply relative to bottled water may exceed the reduced risk of bladder cancer due to THM exposure from consuming bottled water in Barcelona. Our analysis highlights several critical data gaps and methodological challenges in quantifying integrated health and environmental impacts of drinking water choices.’ Click here to read more

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