A new study in Barcelona suggests that bottled water is thousands of times worse for the environment than tap water.
Researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) compared bottled water against tap water using a life cycle assessment model which examines the environmental impact of both over their entire lifespan including such things as health risks, manufacturing process, distribution and disposal.
The report suggests that if every resident of Barcelona switched to bottled water the cost of raw material extraction would increase by $83.9 million, with approximately 1400 times more species lost per year and 3500 times more resource use (in USD).
The higher environmental impact of bottled water was attributed to the high input of materials (i.e. packaging) and the energy needed for bottled water production compared with tap water. The raw materials and energy required for bottle manufacturing accounted for the majority of the impact of bottled water use (up to 90% of the impact in all indicators), consistent with previous studies.
But the report also found that there were tradeoffs. A complete shift to tap water would result in higher loss of life from such things as bladder problems and other health issues, and that in-house water treatment systems such as those coming onto the market more recently might be a viable option for consumers in regions where tap water quality is low.