Plastic waste is the devil. It's one of the biggest environmental scourges of the 21st century, as a recent underwater viral video laid bare, and thankfully moves are being made to reduce human consumption.
Plastic-free supermarket aisles and zero-waste shops are springing up with increased frequency, bans on common single-use plastic items like bags, straws and microbeads are being implemented, and campaigners are lobbying to discourage coffee chains from using disposable cups. But – and it's a big 'but' – disposable plastic is convenient and we've gotten used to it. In particular, in the Western world we've become attached to carrying and consuming water in plastic bottles.
However, you may want to seriously reconsider buying bottled water again – for the sake of your health as well as the environment. Small plastic particles – aka microplastics – have been found in bottled water around the world, meaning we've been ingesting plastic as well as throwing it away.
Which brands should you be wary of?
An investigation led by Orb Media found that 250 bottles bought in nine different countries, including from big-name brands like Evian, San Pellegrino, Aquafina and Nestle Pure Life, contained an average of 10 plastic particles per litre. All of which were larger than the width of a human hair. Let that sink in.
The full research report, provided to the BBC, makes for worrying reading and also names the international brand Dasani, as well as leading national brands including Aqua (Indonesia), Bisleri (India), Epura (Mexico), Gerolsteiner (Germany), Minalba (Brazil) and Wahaha (China).
The tests involved adding a dye to each bottle, filtering the dyed water and then counting the largest plastic particles (bigger than 100 microns). These were then analysed and confirmed as a particular type of plastic. There were even more smaller plastic particles found – an average of 314 per litre.
What's it doing to our health?
Frankly, we don't know yet, but the World Health Organization is launching a review into the potential health risks of drinking microplastics in light of the findings.
"When we think about the composition of the plastic, whether there might be toxins in it, to what extent they might carry harmful constituents, what actually the particles might do in the body – there's just not the research there to tell us," Bruce Gordon, coordinator of the WHO’s global work on water and sanitation, told BBC News.
In order to be able to define a 'safe' limit of plastic to be consumed, Gordon continued, "we need to understand if these things are dangerous, and if they occur in water at concentrations that are dangerous."
So while the risk of getting ill from water is greatest in countries where the supply can be contaminated by sewage, and the companies named in the study have stood by the quality of their products, it's time to really rethink the way we use plastic and consume water. We're starting by making an extra effort to remember to pack a reusable bottle before leaving the house.
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