Health · Home life

Tap water and bottled water

Last week the Guardian ran an excellent series of articles, like this one, about plastic bottles. The numbers are staggering. As a species we currently produce a million plastic bottles a minute, heading towards 500 billion a year. I am part of the problem. Please accept my apologies.

Recently I wrote about drinking from the same Evian bottle as Ozzy Osbourne. It was one of the few times in the first 20 years of my life that I drank bottled water (assuming it really was Evian). Since the late 1980s however most of the water I have drunk has come from bottles and not from a tap. The reason was simple: tap water gave me headaches and upset my stomach. Maybe it was the volume (three or four pints a day) but the effect was clear, and always worse in the summer. For nearly 30 years I have contributed at least one large plastic bottle per day to the world’s mountain of them. Since 2002 at least 90% of these bottles have gone for recycling, one way or another, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about them.

Prompted by the figures in those Guardian articles I spent last Thursday on tap water. How bad could it be? I drank it at breakfast, lunch and dinner. On Friday morning I woke up with a headache and a feeling in my stomach that I have not had for many years. It set me back for much of the day. I returned to the bottled stuff and the effects have gone. My personal experiments with drinking water have repeatedly shown that tap water disagrees with me. I have spent many thousands of pounds on the bottled stuff to avoid feeling ill. Fortunately my wife, son and daughter are different: they can drink tap water without any adverse effects. Things would be better if I could too: better for me financially and better for our planet. I have contributed at least 10,000 bottles to the millions of tons of plastic waste out there.

At least it has become easier to recycle them. For the last eight years we have had kerbside collection of plastic waste from our local council, along with paper, cardboard, glass and so on. Before that I made specific trips to take them to a variety of recycling points. Our local Sainsbury’s had receptacles for household plastic waste but they would fill up quickly in those days. For a while the only place where I could take large quantities of bottles was a recycling point in Holland Park. I recall one trip (by car) with six bin-bags full of them. At that time the papers often reported that we didn’t have enough facilities for recycling plastic, so most of it was going to landfill instead. Maybe that’s where the contents of those six bin-bags ended up, even though I had dutifully removed the caps, the labels and even those harder bits near the mouth of each bottle, to ensure that only the recyclable material went into the container. At the very least they shouldn’t have ended up in the ocean or washed up on an uninhabited South Pacific island.

I was rather hoping that my constitution had changed, that I could drink from the tap and save myself the cost and the bother of consuming water from plastic bottles, and reduce my contribution to the planet’s mountains of plastic waste. Sadly it hasn’t, and I can’t.



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