Study: Microplastics Common in Bottled Water

plastic bottles of water on a factory conveyor belt
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For most of us, plastic is not a welcome dietary supplement. But if you drink bottled water, chances are good that you’re consuming tiny pieces of plastic while you quench your thirst. 

What the Research Found

According to a recent study at the State University of New York, tiny pieces of plastic, or microplastics, are present in most of the bottled water on the market. Researchers analyzed 259 bottles of water from 11 different brands and nine countries, finding tiny pieces of plastic in more than 90 percent of them.

The bottles studied came from China, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Lebanon, Kenya, Thailand and the United States. Microplastics, like nylon and polypropylene, were found in all but 17 bottles and are thought to be introduced during the packaging process.

Nestlé Pure Life came out with the highest concentration of microplastics among the brands tested. Popular U.S. brands like Aquafina and Dasani also made the list but were found to have significantly fewer microplastics compared with Nestlé.

The results of this research are alarming, especially due to the lack of research about how microplastic consumption impacts human health. Now, the World Health Organization has expressed concern and has announced their full review of the risks of microplastics in drinking water. Stay tuned for their findings.

Plastic Bottles’ Carbon Footprint

Not only do manufactured water bottles contain pesky microplastics, they almost always end up as litter or garbage. America’s plastic recycling rate is a lowly 23 percent, resulting in billions of plastic water bottles ending up in landfills, rivers, oceans and neighborhood streets each year.

Plastic water bottles have a sizable carbon footprint, too. More than 17 million barrels of oil are used to produce bottled water in the U.S. every year. And even more fossil fuels are burned when it’s time for them to be shipped by truck, train or air freight from the factory.

What You Can Do

You may avoid consuming potentially dangerous microplastics by drinking tap water from a reusable water bottle instead of buying single-use plastic bottles; however, most public water systems have been shown to be contaminated by microplastics. Using a water filter significantly reduces the amount of microplastics in tap water. By shifting from plastic bottles to alternatives, you can significantly shrink your carbon footprint, divert tons of plastic from landfills and even save money in the long run by investing in a reusable bottle. They can be recycled when you’re done with them, too.

Stainless steel and glass bottles are popular, eco-friendly hydration choices on the market; each has its strengths and weaknesses. For example, stainless steel bottles are durable and keep water cool for longer, but they can be expensive. Glass is fragile and weighs more, but it’s more easily recycled. Weigh the pros and cons and consider your personal needs while picking out your new reusable water container.

Forget potentially putting your health at risk by consuming microplastics and go with filtered water in reusable bottles — it’s one of the easiest ways to go green.

Editor’s Note: The original version of this story suggested that tap water is safer than bottled water. The International Bottled Water Association called this to our attention, saying microplastics are ubiquitous, and we have corrected that statement. However, the overwhelming presence of microplastics in the environment does not suggest that drinking water containing microplastics is safe. Only 111 years after plastic was first produced using a commercially viable method, microplastics are everywhere. Microplastics’ impact on human health requires more study, just as other human-made pollutants do, such as carbon dioxide emissions, cigarette smoke and pharmaceuticals that reach the sea. British medical journal The Lancet points to the need for greater funding of microplastics research. We urge the IBWA and other companies that use plastic packaging to support microplastics research in pursuit of cleaner, provably safe packaging.

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Lauren Murphy

Lauren Murphy

Lauren has a B.S. in environmental science, a crafting addiction, and a love for all things Pacific Northwest. She writes from her cozy downtown apartment tucked in the very northwestern corner of the continental U.S. Lauren spends her time writing and focusing on a healthy, simple and sustainable lifestyle.
Lauren Murphy