top of page

What's wrong with tap? Perceptions that fuel plastic pollution

Single-use plastic is a real problem worldwide. It has been for decades and is likely to remain a problem for years to come. Unless of course, we do something to drive change. Bottled water is a good place to start.

My fierce defense for tap water has gotten me into a little trouble sometimes. Like when I was at a grocery store last summer and my son asked to use the restroom. While I was still busy in my stall, he headed over to the sink. Minutes later, I caught him leaned over with his mouth wide open and happily quenching his thirst. I quickly drew him back as I imagined a nasty strain of E.Coli and explosive diarrhea coming our way. He was confused and annoyed, but overall just very thirsty. Gross, I thought. Potable water was very likely running through that faucet, but perception can be misleading. Frankly, my son has probably ingested gallons of water from our bathroom sink at home. That's because it has the same quality as other sources of tap water around us (yes, we tested it).

Americans alone purchase about 50 billion water bottles per year. We are talking about a country where nearly everywhere, you can drink clean tap water.

In the United States, there's clean, safe, drinkable water all around us. Maybe not public bathroom tap water, but that's because of its surroundings and not necessarily the water itself. Humans buy an estimated 1,000,000 plastic bottles per minutemostly because we think its healthier. Americans alone purchase about 50 billion water bottles per year. We are talking about a country where nearly everywhere, you can drink clean tap water. Yes, some cities have serious lead (Pb) and other contaminant issues. I am a mother who found out she was pregnant at the height of the Flint water crisis. Trust me, I understand skepticism and safety concerns. But generally speaking, it is mind-boggling that water marketers, using labels such as "alkaline and Ph balanced" or "natural spring" have successfully sold us on their claims when the difference can be minimal to none. Our perceptions of safety and sanitary conditions highly influence our choice to buy or drink tap.

Personally, most of the time I've bought bottled water is because either I, unfortunately, forgot my water bottle or I can't find a place to refill it. America is thirsty for more conveniently located water fountains. It's funny, but my kids don't drink much water at home, yet the minute we step outside their little bodies become instantly dehydrated as if they've been stranded on a deserted island for days. I am sure parents can relate.

We made sure to pack our water bottles for our Eurotrip adventure this summer. Tap water in the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands is as tasty as it gets since they rarely use chlorine to treat groundwater. Not only that, but it was so uplifting to find these funky looking drinking fountains all over Amsterdam. You can even search for them on a map.

America's obsession with bottled water, however, has more to do with perception than with accessibility. Many people across the states simply perceive tap water to be unsafe and dirty. Since the Flint water crisis, other cities like Newark, New Jersey have gotten under the national spotlight for their aged and lead‐laden system. Both cities have raised serious concerns, yet still, nearly 85% of the country has tap water that meets or exceeds the EPA's safety standards (Natural Resources Defense Council). Despite this, bottled water continues to be effectively marketed as crispier and healthier and is projected to continue growing all over the world.

Although most plastic water bottles are recyclable, it still takes a ton of energy to make them. And unfortunately, about three-quarters of the water bottles produced in the United States are discarded and not recycled.

Some argue that the chemical taste of municipal water is off-putting. But advancements in water filtration technologies readily available in the market can significantly improve taste. Filtration systems vary in cost, but a good rule of thumb is to find a water filter that is National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) Certified. The bottom line is, why pay for a resource that is free? Purchasing bottled water only relieves pressure in government agencies to provide clean and safe water for all.

Our hometown (Hoboken, New Jersey) launched an interesting initiative that is yet to prove itself successful. The Hydration Station Program attempts to reduce the amount of single-use plastic by partnering with a local business (i.e restaurants, cafes, bars) that allow residents and visitors to refill their water bottles at no cost. The biggest challenge I perceive is the lack of public awareness of such a program. Nonetheless, it seems like a step in the right direction to begin building confidence in our city's safe and clean tap water.

bottom of page