We drink millions of bottles of water every year. However, in some countries, including mine the UK, our tap water is perfectly safe! We don’t really need to buy bottled water! There are environmental, financial, and health costs connected to bottled water. Should bottled water be banned?

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Optician (n) – Someone whose job is examining people’s eyes and selling glasses or contact lenses to correct sight problems

The optician recommended I choose a different pair of glasses!

Beverage (n) – a drink of any type

Hot beverages include tea, coffee, and hot chocolate 

Roughly (adv) – approximately or about

We have roughly similar tastes!

Source (n) – the place something comes from or starts at, or the cause of something

Experts are trying to track down the source of the contamination in the water supply

Stringently (adv) – in a way that is strict, severe, or limiting

Fire regulations are stringently enforced in all our factories

Defect (n) – a physical condition in which something is wrong with a part of someone’s body

The drug has been shown to cause birth defects

Consumption (n) – the act of using, eating, or drinking something:

This programme is designed to increase the consumption of vegetables by children!

Carbonated (adj) – a carbonated drink is fizzy because it contains bubbles of carbon dioxide

Although I love carbonated sodas, I really dislike carbonated water!

Over the last year, my life, and I’m sure most of your lives, has changed significantly! The way I work, the way I socialise, the plans I had so carefully made; they have all been impacted by the global pandemic. While we often think about the major changes with the largest effect, if you really think about how you live, you will probably notice smaller, less significant, things that are different. Let me give you an example; I recently had an eyesight test, and during my appointment the optician mentioned that many people’s eyesight has become worse in the last 12 months. We are spending a lot more time looking at TVs, laptops, computers, tablets, and smartphones due lockdowns and restrictions which is really bad for the health of your eyes!  

Another change I have noticed is that I am buying and using a lot less plastic! As I’m working at home most of the time, there is less chance for me to pick things up at a convenience store or cafe, and therefore less opportunity to buy snacks wrapped in plastic, or bottles of soda! While I used to buy bottled water all the time, I now can’t remember the last time I did so! In fact, this got me thinking; do we really need bottled water? I know in some countries it is not safe to drink tap water, and of course there are more reasons to have bottled water in that situation, but in a country like the UK where it is completely fine, should bottled water be banned? 

The rest of the episode will be similar to the previous ones on binge watching or zoos. I’ll introduce the debate, and look at the two sides of the argument! I want you to consider what I’m saying, and make your own opinion on the question and issue! Don’t just listen to English, I want you all to start thinking in English! 

First, let me give you some background information. Bottled water is incredibly popular. Americans drank over 62 billion litres of bottled water in 2017 which is more than any other beverage. More than soda, more than beer, more than milk! And that’s just bottled water, not tap water or anything else! Around the world, about 20,000 plastic bottles are bought every second, the majority of these contain drinking water. In the US, the bottled water industry is worth $18.5 billion. 67.3% of bottled water sold in the United States is in single-serve plastic bottles, meaning that the bottles are only designed to be used once, while 70% of them are not recycled. A number of places around the world have already decided to ban bottles, or at least ban single-serve plastic bottles! The city of Concord, Massachusetts was the first city in the USA to ban them due to concerns about environmental and waste problems! Other cities, colleges, parks, and entertainment venues have also done so!

Should everywhere ban bottled water? It’s not actually as simple as it seems at first sight! There are a number of different arguments on both sides. I’ll introduce a few of them to you now, and I want you to decide your own opinion on the issue. 

On the one hand, supporters of a ban argue that banning bottled water would reduce waste and protect the environment. As I mentioned earlier, roughly 70% of plastic water bottles bought in America are not recycled, meaning most of them end up in landfills or in the oceans, which can damage our natural environment and harm animals! In fact, according to the Ocean Conservancy, plastic water bottles were the third most collected type of trash during the International Coastal Cleanup. Only cigarette butts and plastic food wrappers are more common in the Ocean! By 2050 there may even be more plastic in the Ocean than fish! In addition, almost all plastic bottles are made from oil or natural gas. A report by the Pacific Institute claims that it took about 17 million barrels of oil to produce enough plastic for the bottles of water consumed by Americans in 2006! 17 million barrels of oil! Banning bottled water would reduce this significantly! 

Another environmental benefit of banning bottled water is that it would help protect local water supplies. The major bottled water producers take water from public sources and then sell it to customers! By taking water from public sources, this can be quite damaging for the communities who need that water! 

One benefit that people don’t always think about is that banning bottled water is good for your health. Wait, banning water is good for your health? How can that be? In countries with safe drinking water like the UK, tap water is tested for safety more often and more stringently than bottled water. Tap water also tends to contain half the amount of plastic than bottled water! Other chemicals can also leak from the plastic bottle into the water; these chemicals have been known to cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, higher blood cholesterol, and low blood sugar. Banning bottled water would also reduce the amount of plastic bottles being manufactured – a process that can produce harmful chemicals. Some studies suggest that communities living close to plastic factories suffer from higher levels of illness and birth defects.

The final benefit of banning bottled water that i’ll mention today is that it would save money. Bottled water is ridiculously expensive. It can be anywhere from 400 to 2,000 times more expensive than tap water. It can cost even more per litre than fuel for your car!  Buying a reusable bottle, and refilling it everyday with water would save potentially hundreds of dollars every year. It would also save the local governments and organisations who need to dispose of waste money! According to Food & Water Watch, US cities can spend over $100 million a year getting rid of plastic waste. While countries bordering major oceans can spend even more cleaning up their coastlines! 

Now, let’s think about the other side of the argument. Why should we keep plastic bottles? Let’s start with thinking about health. While it’s true that bottled water is less healthy than tap water, bottled water is still a very healthy choice! If bottled water is no longer an option, more people will pick up high calorie sodas and fruit juices instead. Banning bottled water removes a healthy choice and leads to increased consumption of unhealthy sugary drinks. The cities and areas that have banned bottled water, normally have not banned other plastic bottled drinks. It seems a little confusing to remove the healthiest option, but allow people to still buy high sugar drinks. The International Bottled Water Association has stated that, “research shows that if bottled water isn’t available, 63 percent of people will choose soda or another sugared drink – not tap water.” 

Moreover, while it is true that bottled water uses plastic, they actually contain a lot less plastic than other types of soft drink. Carbonated, or fizzy, drinks need much thicker plastic bottles, and therefore use a lot more plastic! In fact, banning bottled water might not even reduce waste significantly. Soft drink bottles and metal cans make up a much larger percentage of waste! If we are thinking about the environment, we should ban them instead. 

Bottled water is also a useful emergency water supply. It is essential for public health. If the public water supply is damaged, and tap water becomes undrinkable, then we will need bottled water. Occasionally the water supply in my village will be cut off if there is damage in the local area, and in those situations we need bottled water to drink and wash with! 

Final Thought!

So, should bottled water be banned? Supporters of banning bottled water argue that it would reduce waste and protect the environment by preventing the manufacture, purchase, use, and disposal of up to 68 billion plastic water bottles a year. They also say that banning bottled water is good for our health, and that it would save consumers and local governments money. On the other hand, opponents of the ban on bottled water say that it would remove a healthy choice for the public, and make more people choose unhealthy sugary drinks. They also say that the ban is not a waste-saving measure as other drinks are sold in containers that are more harmful than plastic water bottles. A ban would remove an essential item when other water supplies are damaged!

Now you have heard the arguments, what do you think? Should bottled water be banned? Is it common for people to drink bottled water in your country? How often do you buy single-use plastic? 

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

One thought on “49. Should bottled water be banned? (English Vocabulary Lesson)”

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