Tap, bottle, spring… Which kind of water should we drink?
Being able to drink high-quality water is a privilege that depends on the rigorous control systems we do not see. However, we would not be able to live without them. A reflection on the quality of drinking water raises our awareness of its vulnerability and of the high cost of wasting and polluting it.
Summer is the time of the year when we drink the most. It is also when we are more concerned about the quality of the water. Regardless of where we are, there are three types of water we are able to drink: tap water, bottled water and the one that flows from wells and springs. Now is the best time to find out about their features and their relation to health, to the economy and the environment.
In this video, Damià Barceló, director of the Catalan Institute for Water Research (ICRA), summarises the general situation we have in Spain in reference to drinking water:
We cannot turn aside from the vulnerability of the drinking water we have available. Let's take a look at the three main types of drinking water and at the pros and cons of each one of them.
Bottled natural mineral water
This water does not need any chemical or microbiological treatment, as it is fit for human consumption in its original state. In order to ensure this, the Spanish Agency for Consumer Affairs, Food Safety and Nutrition (AECOSAN) is the one who regulates and controls thoroughly its chemical composition, which is the one that appears on the labels. Spain is the sixth biggest consumer of bottled water in the world, with 137 litres per person and year.
When we drink bottled mineral water we know what we are drinking, although these waters can suffer accidents or human errors that may pollute them, as seen recently in some cases shown in the media.
Mass-market mineral water is entirely bottled in PET bottles (polyethylene terephthalate), which is the type of flexible plastic used by the members of the National Association of Bottled Water Companies (ANEABE- Asociación Nacional de Empresas de Aguas de Bebida Envasadas). No Bisphenol A is used in the manufacturing of this material, an additive that makes plastic used in food containers more rigid and whose toxicity, should it be transferred to the food, is being discussed by experts.
The international identification code of PET bottles
The current PET (or PETE) bottles are safe, although it is recommended not to reuse them many times in order to avoid their deterioration, which could affect the water by means of microbiological contamination. PET is a 100% recyclable plastic, and its main problem is our resistance to do so; if we recycle plastic we solve one of the environmental problems attributed to bottled water. In order to identify if a bottle has been manufactured with PET, look at the base of the bottle, there you will see the characteristic triangle inside which you may see the number one (see figure).
Another type of bottled water is treated water, Barceló points out. This is water with a guarantee for consumption that is distributed in many countries around the world, many of them Asian and African. In Spain there are several bottled waters with these features that are specified in the labels.