filter your
own water

water is

We need access to water, however, how we achieve this impacts the environment immensely. With so many options including purchasing bottles, gallons, filters, or just tap – how do you choose? Single use plastic bottles are wreaking havoc on the environment by polluting waterways with microplastics. The good news is there are alternative solutions to having clean water for an affordable price for both you and the planet. Filtering your own water at home is the least wasteful method, and you can fill your own reusable water bottle for on to go adventures. Take action and find out how you can get started filtering your own water.

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the problem with

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know your

Water is the most vital component to life as we know it. Our bodies need it to accomplish all kinds of processes each minute of our lives, and so it’s important that the water we consume is clean enough to be safe to drink. Our local governments readily provide us with tap water that’s been treated to improve its quality to that level, but mistakes can be made by anyone, and there are still people in this nation unsure of the quality of water they receive. Bottled water companies will be among the first to point this out and offer their products as a far safer alternative to tap, but these claims are dubious at best. The decision between trusting your government and consuming cheap water, and trusting big companies and consuming expensive water isn’t an easy or straight-forward one for many Americans, but thankfully a third option exists; filtering your own water.

where to start:

 Retail water filters can be purchased from any sizeable store like Target or Walmart, or online from those stores and many more, and run the gamut from being cheap $17 Brita 5-cup pitchers like the one I use, to large 12-gallon stills upwards of $150 if you want to make really sure your water is filtered. The filters for pitchers like mine (cheap $17 Brita 5-cup pitcher) are typically $18 for a pack of 4, so roughly $4.50 a piece, and “each last for 40 gallons of filtering, or about 2 months for the average family” according to the packaging. A good insulated water bottle from the same stores is around $10, and they are designed to hold more liquid than most plastic water bottles can.

Doing the math, if you wanted to recreate the bottled water experience at your residence, the pitcher plus the filters plus 2 insulated bottles (so you can always have one in the fridge) would be around $56, but we’ll round it up to $60 (this accounts for the typical cost of tap water, which is fractions of a penny per gallon) . Doesn’t sound that cheap, but if the packaging is to be believed, that’s 160 gallons of filtered water for $60, and then only $18 for each 160 gallons after that. Nestle water specifically is about $1 per gallon if you buy the jug or the 32-pack of bottles, which does sound cheap, but when directly compared to filtering water it’s no match. $60 for 160 gallons as opposed to over $160 for 160 gallons. Filtering tap water from home is more expensive than drinking straight tap water (it’s hard to beat fractions of a penny per gallon), but in the long run it’s certainly cheaper than buying bottled water at any significant rate, and gives you the same convenience of having bottle-ready water on hand, plus the absolute knowledge the water has been treated by the city and filtered by you.

avoiding waste:

In recent years there has been a more concentrated effort in promoting the act and effectiveness of recycling and recycling programs. For example, I’m sure many of us have heard the phrase “Re-use, Reduce, Recycle” a number of times in the past. But even with more attention given to the problem by the consumer public, and even with some companies and corporations privately doing their own work at waste reduction, the EPA reported that in 2017 about 13% of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) was plastic material. 1  

MSW is the official terminology for garbage, and it covers literally any item or material that is collected from garbage cans every week by municipal government workers. Plastic water bottles are not the only type of waste being accounted for in the above article, however the article below finds that upwards of 60 million plastic water bottles are thrown away every day in the U.S. which still amounts to billions of pounds of plastic every year. 2

As it turns out, many of the plastic food and beverage containers commercially used and sold are made from a specific polymer known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET). PET is an incredibly useful material for storing consumables since it’s very light, yet durable and chemically stable as well, and doesn’t promote microorganism growth. PET is the material that allows microwaveable plastics to be microwaveable and has been cleared by the FDA as safe for repeated usages. PET is technically a form of polyester, and so it is highly recyclable either back into bottles/containers for consumables, or into items likes clothing, rope, carpeting, and even construction material! 3  

Due to its durability, weight, and greater sustainability compared to container materials like aluminum and glass, PET seems like an easy solution to at least mitigate the amount of energy being used and waste being generated just to package foods. The problem is the majority of these PET containers are still being thrown out. The EPA estimated that in 2017 only 29.1% of PET bottles processed by waste management were recycled. That’s certainly better than nothing, and is an impressive amount, seeing as it represents millions and millions of pounds of recycled materials, but the flip side of that statistic is that about 70% of the PET bottles they encountered were thrown away, and likely sent to a landfill. This is quite ironic given that the whole point of consumables containers being made of PET is so they can be reused again and again, and not be wasted.

We all want to do our part to help cut down on waste, and save what we can to reuse safely; and we know that, even though as a society we’re trying our best, we are unnecessarily contributing to that waste by throwing away containers that are still reusable. But now we also know that each of us currently has the means to cut down on that waste in our day to day lives. Many of the ‘disposable’ water bottles you buy are made of PET, and therefore able to be reused as often as you need; I work at a Publix, and after learning how to distinguish PET bottles from others I took a stroll down our water and soft drinks aisle to sample and see how many were bottles made of PET. I didn’t look at every single bottle on the shelves, but I took down a dozen water and sports drinks bottles, and every one I looked at had the symbol denoting PET with the letters right below it. Check your water bottles, your plastic bowls, your Tupperware. You might be surprised how many of them are made of PET. All of those containers can last you for years, provided you still clean them and treat them much like you would the plates in your cabinets.

Saving Money:

Beyond just the environmental, reusing water bottles can help cut down on the monetary cost of staying hydrated as well. Individual bottles of water normally cost between $1 and $3, which isn’t a lot by itself, but most definitely adds up if you’re buying water bottles at any sort of significant rate. Buying in bulk, packs and cases of bottles instead of lone bottles, can offset that cost and make it seem like a good investment, but when compared with the cost of tap water that seemingly sound purchase becomes more questionable. Several groups private and governmental have participated in studies estimating the average cost of bottled water, which is between $1 and $9 per gallon, depending on the source; what they all agree on pretty well, however, is that the average cost of a gallon of tap water is fractions of a cent. Literally. One group found that the cost per gallon of municipal tap water was about $0.002, which is 1/5 of a penny.

The fact of the matter is that bottled water is ludicrously more expensive than tap water, and it does you no favors (besides maybe convenience) to spend money on it. You might read that and think, “Oh, but bottled water is of such higher quality than my city’s tap water, so it’s worth the extra cost.” While this may be true in some instances (Flint, Michigan for example), in so many cases that is a talking point that has been and still is pushed by the people and companies that profit from bottling water, at the expense of the environment and public trust in public water.

is bottled water cleaner?

The most dramatic and publicized example is that of Fiji water, the company that bottles water on the island of Fiji for sale overseas, and for years marketed itself as healthy, sustainable, and most importantly for this example, cleaner than public municipal water. Specifically, in 2006 Fiji Water ran an ad joking about their water being clean because it wasn’t bottled in Cleveland, a city with a notorious reputation for having extremely polluted water before the passage of the Clean Water Act (Their river caught on fire multiple times before the 70’s). Cleveland took offense, since they’ve been working on improving their water’s reputation, and tested Fiji bottled water against Cleveland tap water, as well as Dasani and Aquafina bottled water. The Fiji water was found to contain more than 6 micrograms (6 millionths of a gram) of Arsenic per liter, while the other waters weren’t found to have measurable levels of Arsenic at all. 4 Granted, that is just one example of one company outwardly advertising what turned out to be total falsehood in an attempt to increase profit and brand awareness by disparaging the public water of an entire city, but just because Dasani and Aquafina didn’t have any measurable levels of Arsenic in Cleveland’s test doesn’t mean only one or a few of the bottled water companies have questionable practices when it comes to their water quality. The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 gives the EPA authority over monitoring the quality of public drinking water, through mandatory laboratory testing, deadlines for reporting problems, and public disclosure of water source and contents. 5 This means that, if there is an issue somewhere in the public water supply, the direct managers of that supply, the EPA, and then the public would know about the issue and how to deal with it. Notice I say public water is what they’re in charge of. For bottled water quality control, we have to turn to the FDA who lumps bottled water in with food, for the purposes of regulations.  The FDA can’t require that bottled water be quality tested by independent labs, leaving the responsibility of reporting to consumers on the quality of goods up to the discretion of the business who profits off said goods. At the federal regulation level, this means that bottled water is held to a significantly lower standard than municipal water when it comes to things like the presence of certain bacteria (E. Coli, for example) and chemical leaching from product packaging. 6 

in conclusion:

In summation, plastic-bottled commercially sold water is expensive to us economically, and to all life ecologically, and better alternatives are easily available. Tap water is monitored for quality and reported on (and costs fractions of a penny per gallon), and retail water filters are cheap (depending on which kind you get) easy ways to be confident in the quality of your water right in your own home. An easy, immediate, impactful way each of us can reduce our waste is to stop buying plastic water bottles to be drained and dumped, and start drinking the water our taxes pay for the management of, the water that flows freely throughout the country, being tested and tried in every state.

Michael D. Bulu

Michael D. Bulu

Green Actioneers Intern
UCF Environmental Studies Student

references:

1https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/national-overview-facts-and-figures-materials 2 http://www.container-recycling.org/index.php/issues/…/275-down-the-drain 3 http://www.petresin.org/faq.asp 4 https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/20/AR2006072000322.html 5https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/gwire/2009/07/09/09greenwire-fewer-regulations-for-bottled-water-than-tap-g-33331.html 6 https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/bottled-water2.htm

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