Plastic water bottles pollution in ocean

7 Dangers of Drinking from Plastic Water Bottles

You’ve probably already heard that plastic water bottles are wreaking havoc on the environment. Like other instances of single-use plastics, they are building up at alarming rates and take a long time to break down once they’re in a landfill.

But that’s not the only reason you should ditch plastic water bottles. Plastic compounds inside water bottles can leach into the water and contribute to some fairly serious health problems. Water companies are often deceptive about the source and treatment of their bottled water. By far the best reason to stop drinking from plastic water bottles is the high cost. Read on to learn more about all the dangers of plastic water bottles and why you should switch to filtered water and reusable bottles.

The Hazards of Plastic

Most of the dangers of drinking from plastic water bottles and using plastic containers are rooted in their construction. Single-use plastic water bottles most commonly contain polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a polymer in the polyester family. It’s been linked with low energy levels, reproduction issues, hormone interruptions, stunted growth, and more.

The plastic used to make reusable water bottles frequently contain substances such as Bisphenol A (BPA), which is a structural component in polycarbonate bottles. Because disposable bottles can be less rigid, they frequently don’t contain BPA. The FDA has decided that present levels of BPA in plastics in food contact applications (including water bottles) are safe for human consumption at present levels.

However, studies surrounding BPA in the water supply and leaching in from plastic water bottles are inconclusive overall. Plus, the presence of disposed off plastic could be causing the leaching of harmful chemicals on a large scale, causing health problems we aren’t fully aware of yet.

plastic reusable cutlery flat lay, bpa free

According to National Geographic, BPA replacements—BPS, BPF, BPAF and diphenyl sulphone—can interfere with reproductive function.

What About BPA-Free Bottles?

Many water companies that advertise BPA-free plastic are referring to PET plastic bottles, which, as we mentioned earlier, typically don’t contain BPA simply because they don’t need it. Two other alternatives, bisphenol S and bisphenol F, have been found to cause reduced testosterone secretion the same way BPA does. 

Overall, many researchers agree that BPA, BPS, and BPF are all potentially harmful to humans. The risk of negative health outcomes increases with the amount you consume. With so many food products being served in disposable plastic, avoiding single-use plastic water bottles is the least you can do to protect your health.

Differing Opinions: The Plastic Debate

While many researchers do believe that ingesting these plastic particles is harmful to human health, there are a few organizations that are trying to sway public opinion in the opposite direction. We’ve already mentioned that the FDA has stated BPA is safe for human consumption at current levels. Some others agree.

In general, it seems you can find polycarbonate suppliers like Bayer MaterialScience supporting BPA and studies by researchers at top universities such as Harvard finding that BPA leaching from water bottles is a significant problem. People who support plastic products point to benefits like portability and convenience.

These plastic water bottles are easy to use, sturdy enough to carry around, and easy to clean. But anyone who has ever used plastic water bottles knows they’re no more convenient or easier to clean than bottles made of glass, and they’re no sturdier than bottles made of other materials like stainless steel. The following are the 7 dangers of drinking from plastic water bottles.

1. BPA is Linked to Lower Thyroid Hormone Levels & Cancers

Negative health results from BPA plastics such as reduced energy levels, fertility issues, and stunted growth are the results of lower thyroid hormone levels. But it isn’t just bisphenol A that causes these reduced thyroid hormone levels – other bisphenols like BPS and BPF also have negative health risks, most notably in pregnant women and their newborn babies.

Thyroid hormones are linked to neurological development and their reduction can lead to many problems. Studying them is tricky because bisphenols don’t accumulate in the body. They are secreted fairly quickly, but they cause negative effects while they are present.

Even at very low doses, BPA mimics estrogen and in some cases acts more strongly than estrogen. It can be found in high concentrations in the placenta when there is a history of significant exposure. Estrogen and the estrogen signaling pathway play huge roles in the development of breast carcinogenesis, meaning they are prime causes of breast cancer.

BPA mimics the harmful effects of estrogen as a carcinogen in people exposed to it in utero and also adults exposed to it later in life. It is not only a carcinogen but also appears to create more aggressive tumors and reduces the likelihood of beating breast cancer for good.

To some degree, exposure to BPA also affects prostate cells and cancer development. Even fleeting environmental exposure to low doses of BPA makes the prostate gland more likely to have precancerous lesions and experience hormonal cancer growth.

2. BPA and PET Are Known Endocrine Disruptors

The human body’s endocrine system is made up of glands that secrete hormones that are used as messengers to regulate things like growth, metabolism, and reproductive function and development. Both types of popular water bottle plastics are well-documented disruptors of your endocrine system. PET plastics leach phthalates into water and food.

These phthalates are linked with lower amounts of sex hormones, obesity, insulin resistance, and other effects on the reproductive system in all genders. There is considerable evidence that these phthalates leach from PET plastics into water. This leaching is more common in sodas because of their lower pH, but it can also happen with water. Extended exposure to PET plastic is correlated with phthalate leaching. Higher elevations and warmer temperatures also encourage this leaching.

Although there are some creative ideas out there about adding an interior treatment or layer to bottles to prevent leaching, such technology is not in use or at least not widespread. For that reason, alternative bottle materials are the best bet. Avoiding any type of plastic and opting for materials like glass or stainless steel is the wisest course of action.

bottled water

3. The Source May Be Different Than Advertised

Water companies are always pairing their products with images of pristine lakes or rivers under blue skies, but the fact is that many of them are actually selling basic tap water. Sometimes they treat the tap water and other times they sell it as-is. When the company’s water supply does come from a natural source, there’s still no guarantee that it isn’t rife with contaminants from trash or industrial pollution.

If the water is coming from an artesian well or a natural spring, there could be harmful substances from the source. It could also receive some harmful chemicals from plastic leaching as we’ve already illustrated. In most cases, the water is tested and treated to make sure that it doesn’t have tons of contaminants. The FDA does regulate bottled drinking water from private companies. But even then, there’s little point in paying for the water if it’s essentially the same quality as the tap water at home.

Distilled water is collected from steam created by boiling water, which is a nice way to get drinking water that is free of microbes and minerals. Some water companies may add minerals back in before selling the product. Another common type of bottled water is purified water, which can come from any source but must be treated without chemicals. 

The federal government in most cases requires much more stringent safety and quality rules for public water sources than for private sources. So even if it is distilled or purified water, it may not be as clean as water from your kitchen sink, especially if you treat it with the right filter.

4.Water Regulations Can Be Foggy

One bizarre aspect of water regulation is that it isn’t uniform across entire countries the way public water is. In the United States, for instance, municipal and other public water sources are regulated by the EPA and private water companies have their products regulated by the FDA. The FDA has made some moves in the right direction, like when it banned BPA from being used in the production of baby bottles.

But since it is a federal agency, the administration’s authority only applies to water bottles that cross state lines. Locally bottled water may seem like the wiser choice, but depending on the state it could face much more lax regulations. Most municipal water sources test their water far more often than private water companies. They have systems in place to test their water constantly, sometimes hundreds of times per day. Private water companies are not held to the same standard. 

One of the worst parts about all the jurisdictions and differing standards is that your bottled water could be significantly less regulated than you think. When comparatively clean tap water is available, going out to buy plastic water bottles doesn’t make much sense. Speaking of which…

5. It’s Probably Just Tap Water

By some estimations, up to 64% percent of private water companies are just reselling tap water from municipal sources. Like spring water, distilled water, and purified water, these water companies may be putting the tap water through additional treatment, but it doesn’t change the water much more than having your own water filter would. How can these large companies get away with selling you something you already have easy access to at home?

Large corporations spend money funding industry lobbying groups and creating ad campaigns and other promotional materials that are meant to convince people that bottled water is somehow cleaner, safer, and even tastier than water from other sources. These ad campaigns can be in the billions of dollars. When large companies are using municipal water sources, they can create or contribute to water shortages, as has happened before in states like California. 

In one notable case, the National Park Service banned plastic water bottles from its parks, only to see its decision reversed by the presidential administration later, most likely the result of years of intense lobbying. Of all the health risks and other dangers of bottled water, the notion that it is most likely to be the same tap water that’s widely available is particularly insulting.

6. The Environment Suffers

There’s more than just a theoretical or moral reason we should be taking strides to eliminate our plastic water bottle dependency. The huge presence of plastic in the environment as the result of waste and litter won’t begin to disappear for hundreds of years, and that’s if we were to stop all plastic production immediately. 

Since that’s not even an option, the likelihood that people will consume microplastics in their water and food is always present. Microplastics are very small pieces of plastic that are created when plastic products break down or are slowly destroyed. They enter the ocean, rivers, and soil. As we continue to use plastic products, the likelihood that we are consuming microplastics only increases. 

Another environmental impact of plastic water bottles is that they require lots of additional freshwater to create. They also use oil, as do all plastic products. So not only do you risk having adverse health effects from drinking out of plastic water bottles, but you’re likely to consume more microplastics from other sources as a result and you’re wasting perfectly good drinking water in the process.

7. Plastic Water Bottles Cost Too Much

Go into the supermarket and find a bottle of water for pocket change or a 12-pack for only a couple of dollars and it might not seem like plastic water bottles are all that expensive. But if you think about water usage by the gallon, you’re actually overpaying by a considerable degree. Estimates vary based on location, but municipal water is usually measured in fractions of a cent while a gallon of water at the store can cost close to a dollar.

Brands purporting to be fancier charge as much as 8 or 9 dollars a gallon. The markup on plastic water bottles is huge, which should illustrate why private water companies view all their lobbying and advertising spending as being completely worthwhile. The more people are using reusable water bottles rather than spending money on their products, the greater impact on these large water companies’ profits.

Is it Safe to Reuse Plastic Water Bottles?

Manufacturers design plastic water bottles to be used one time only. Although you can refill them or wash them, you only increase the likelihood of chemical leaching each time you do. Washing liquid can break down the plastic, as can hot water. Although they are somewhat better than single-use plastic water bottles, reusable bottles still have the same risk of leaching.

You might use them for a longer period, but all those plastics still end up in the landfill eventually. Plus, leaching becomes more likely if a plastic product is damaged or scratched, so the lifespan of a reusable plastic bottle could be cut short. Stainless steel and glass are much better and easier to recycle.

plastic being recycled

A 2017 study into the recyclability of plastic waste concluded that a third of it was not recyclable.

Recycling Plastic Water Bottles

Water companies use recycling as an excuse to continue selling single-use plastics. Although some are claimed to be 100% recyclable and may actually be, a disappointing number of people recycle. Plus, the results of recycling are often lackluster.  Frequently, these recyclable water bottles are not upcycled or turned into more water bottles.

They’re converted into other plastic products that are viewed as a downcycle. Besides that, the United States only recycles about 25 – 30% of its plastic water bottles anyway. Even assuming we recycled every plastic water bottle completely, the production of the plastic in the first place consumes water and oil. A 100% recyclable water bottle may be significantly less recyclable in its second life span. When tap water is widely available, plastic bottles just don’t make sense even if you reuse them. 

Alternative Water Bottle Materials

There are no materials that require no materials to make. Even comparatively environmentally-friendly materials like stainless steel, glass, or paper take some resources. But since a stainless steel or glass water bottle will last so much longer, they are a better investment for the environment and health outcomes. Stainless steel and glass don’t leach when exposed to heat. They are far more durable and reasonably inexpensive.

If you’re worried about the cleanliness of your drinking water, choosing the best water filter for your home will remove elements of chlorine, fluoride, and unwanted minerals from your water. Standard tap water that has been properly filtered and drunk from a reusable and recyclable material like glass is the healthiest and most environmentally friendly way to get your drinking water. 

Conclusion:

Plastic water bottles are known to leach chemicals that affect health and wellness and are linked with cancer. Plastic products are also terrible for the environment and incredibly expensive for the consumer when compared with municipal water sources. 

You can reduce your health risks and get clean drinking water with the right water filter system. Invest in a high-quality water bottle made from stainless steel or glass and you’ll be able to ditch plastic water bottles for good without sacrificing taste or convenience.

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Joshua Perkins

Joshua spent ten years as a water systems technician in California before settling down with his wife and two young children in Nashville in 2018. Through all of his experience, he learned the benefits and shortfalls of so many different types of water filtration systems, from pitchers to whole-house installations. He started Water Filter Authority in 2019 to empower other families to make the right decision for their long-term health and wellness.