Once upon a time, if you needed water, you would take a drink from a fountain, or, if you were really rustic, a pump, and if you needed to take it with you, you would fill up your own bottle or canteen. (I had such a canteen the summer I went to overnight camp. Everything I drank out of it tasted slightly metallic.) But then we got bottled water that at first allegedly came from magical springs in pristine parts of the South Pacific or the French Alps. And then manufacturers just gave up and began slapping their labels onto bottles of water from any old place. Even Donald Trump got into it. And bottled water just kept proliferating.
In an op-ed for The Guardian, Adrienne Matei argues that bottled water has been disastrous for the environment. Although the plastic bottles are recyclable, 80% end up in the trash instead, where they disintegrate into microplastics that destroy sea life and have been found in the placentas of human babies. On top of that, bottled water is expensive to produce, costing 3,000% more per gallon and requiring 2,000 times the energy of plain old tap water. On top of that, it’s not even healthier or cleaner (at least in most places): industrial chemicals called PFAS have been found in both.
So what should we do? Matei talked to several scientists who suggested the best path forward is to buy a filter for tap water—either the kind that’s installed in a kitchen tap or refrigerator system, or a Brita pitcher—and then use the hell out of it. And then when you’re done with your filter, you should incinerate it, otherwise the PFAS that it caught will leach back out into the environment again.
I support all of this, mostly because I resent having to spend $2 for a bottle of water at a gas station because all the drinking fountains have gone away. Remembering to replace filters and to carry a bottle with me at all times is a pain in the ass, it’s true, but at least we don’t have to bore a hole through the ice of a lake or haul the water up from a well and boil and cool it until it’s drinkable. Small mercies.