Q: I don't want to drink from my taps. Any thoughts on bottled water? What about filters?
A: Funny how popular bottled water has become. It's the fastest growing beverage in Canada, up about 10 per cent a year. In fact, Canadians are buying three-quarters of a billion litres of the stuff annually. Yes, from a health perspective we should be happy it ain't sugar- and caffeine-laden colas. But from an environmental perspective, that's a hell of a lot of plastic for a liquid that once didn't come in any. Yes, the bottles are usually recyclable, but as we know, not everyone recycles. And though you may reuse yours, now they tell us we shouldn't do so without careful and regular cleansing because of bacteria build-up that could trigger gastrointestinal illness or even pneumonia.
But why are we sucking back so much bottled agua anyway when in some cases it's little more than tap water cleansed of off-putting odours and tastes from chemicals like chlorine? Take Dasani, for instance. Earlier this year, Coca Cola, its maker, made the shocking admission that the designer water is actually tap. Same goes for Aquafina and a quarter of all bottled waters out there. Why, then, you may ask, am I paying a buck 50 for it, especially when bottled water is less regulated than tap water? Well, people, we're all suckers for a pretty package and some good marketing. And many of us are willing to pay for portability and for the privilege of not having to use water fountains, which have at times been reported to have their own contamination issues.
But my water comes from some magical, pristine source where the air is still pure and the water still clean, you say. Maybe it's not just a pretty picture on the label and you're actually right. Just remember that by buying bottled water you're also encouraging industry to tap into and commodify that priceless public resource, draining underground aquifers and disrupting ecosystems.
Which brings us back to your filter and why using water from it when you can is a good thing if you're concerned about local water quality and taste. Just bottle it yourself if you need portability. The question is whether you're buying the right filter. Yes, Brita is great for taking that nasty chlorine flavour out of the water and, yes, it also removes lead, but very little else. And Brita was bought out by, of all companies, Clorox, the maker of cleaning products laden with the very chemical Britas filter out! The company also tests on animals, which was enough to convince Karma Co-op in the Annex to stop carrying Brita products.
There are plenty of alternatives. Out of the dizzying array out on the market, we suggest going with cheaper carbon filters or pricier distillers. Grassroots on Danforth or Bloor sells a carbon block unit ($149.99, with a filter that has to be replaced every nine months that costs $49.99). It weeds out chlorine, lead, pesticides, mercury and much more. And it attaches to your tap. The Big Carrot sells a distiller which takes everything out of water, but it will cost you $499 on sale. And note that distillers in general tend to use a fair amount of electricity. The Carrot also carries counter-top carbon systems ($89.99).
It's important to know that filters aren't regulated in Canada, and some make claims that haven't been substantiated by research. There are three main certifying bodies to look for on filter labels: the CSA, the Underwriters Laboratory and the NSF (National Sanitation Foundation), the best known of the three. Not all certified filters are of equal quality, but these bodies do make sure that any claims made by a filter are accurate, and NSF-certified filters have to meet particularly stringent standards.
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