- Studies suggest disposable, plastic water bottles can harbor hundreds of tiny bits of plastic, and we’re drinking them down with bottled H2O.
- Microplastics are all over the place: in our salt, contaminating our seas, and running out of our taps, too.
- But there are even more of them lurking in bottled water, and they’re trashing the planet.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
You’re drinking plastic, I’m drinking plastic, we’re all drinking plastic. Bottled water drinkers may be drinking the most plastic of all.
A 2018 study released by Orb Media estimated that on average, a liter of bottled water from big brands like Dasani, Aquafina, and Nestle, contains roughly 10.4 plastic particles.
The world drinks these plastics in swiftly, consuming roughly a million plastic bottles a minute, as the Guardian estimates. And researchers think there are probably even tinier plastic bits swimming in the bottles that are nearly untraceable. In our modern, plastic-brimming world, these little plastic bits – many thinner than a human hair – are ubiquitous.
But perhaps what is most concerning about these tiny plastic bits is not the consequences for human health, but the consequences for the planet.
“While we think that the risks to human health are low, this is based on a limited evidence base and we recognize that there is a need for more research,” Jennifer De France from the World Health Organization in Geneva said Wednesday on a call with reporters.
Microplastics from disposable water bottles may not be hurting our bodies, but they are trashing the planet
De France has co-authored a first-of-its kind report from the WHO, rounding up the scarce and inconsistent evidence about microplastics in drinking water to date. The good news is that so far, there’s no clear data that the microplastics we’re sipping are hurting our bodies.
“The larger particles are not likely going to be absorbed in the body and they’re going to be excreted out,” De France said.
Her colleague Bruce Gordon at the WHO agreed that “consumers shouldn’t be too worried” about health risks from microplastics. But that doesn’t mean they’re harmless.
“If you are a concerned citizen that is worried about plastic pollution, and you have access to a well-managed pipe supply, a water supply, why not drink from that? You know, why not reduce pollution,” Gordon said.
Recent studies have shown that much of the microplastic pollution in drinking water today comes from two key sources: the polypropylene that is a common bottle cap material, and the polyester and polyethylene terephthalate, which often make disposable water bottles. While studies of microplastics are still slim, the findings we have so far suggest that bottled water sippers are drinking more microplastics than tap guzzlers, and polluting more water, too.
When the 2018 Orb study was originally released, Aquafina and Dasani both told Business Insider their bottled waters are tested to strict standards and pass through high-quality filtration systems. Nestle said the company hasn’t found microplastics in its water bottles beyond a “trace level,” disputing the study numbers. Evian did not respond to a request for comment.
But studies suggest that particles in fact do exist in our bottles. They come out of our taps, too (though likely in smaller amounts than plastic bottle concentrations). The tiny plastics are also swimming in the seas and disrupting the way fish eat.
Swimmer Ben Lecomte, who is finishing up a 331 nautical mile paddle through the Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling vortex of garbage that sits in the ocean between Hawaii and California, recently told Business Insider “the most disgusting thing is the amount of microplastic that we capture in our nets every day.”
“Single-use plastic is something that we can stop using,” he said.
Even water bottler Dasani wrote in a statement: “It’s clear the world has a problem with plastic waste.”
Update: This story was originally published on March 16, 2018, when the Orb Media microplastic study was first released. It has been updated with new information from the World Health Organization (WHO).