My Bottled Water Tastes Like Plastic
Have you ever opened a brand of bottled water that you normally drink and found on a particular occasion that it tasted like plastic?
This most often occurs when you leave plastic bottled water in the car for long periods of time during hot summer days and decide to drink it one day. The water tastes like plastic. Or more accurately, what you are tasting is the chemicals that have leached into the water as the plasic “degrades“. When subjected to high heat, plastic breaks down and melts - especially the kinds used in bottled water. Besides the sun, another extreme temperature factor can influence bottled water. One can sometimes taste plastic in the water after you freeze the water bottle to a point where its shape is deformed. If you drink the water later, after the ice has melted, you may taste the chemicals as well. This is due to the physical strain that has been placed on the plastic causing structural weakness and making plastic chemicals seep into the water. In a related example, have you ever tried to destroy your credit card by bending it back and forth and noticed plastic residues scent on your hand afterwards? This is further proof that physical stress on plastics will weaken its bonding structure.
You may say to yourself that your plastic tasting bottled water has never been sitting in the hot car or in the sun. It has only been either sitting on the kitchen counter top or in the fridge. Well, plastic tasting water can also naturally occur when the water has been in the plastic container for years and even for months. Have you ever noticed that sometimes the water in a plastic container has the stamp “best used by” and a given date? Most of the time there is a stamped date when the water bottle was produced. Despite the recent date stamp, the water still may taste like plastic. What also isn’t accounted for is this: During shipment, the pallets of water may have been left out in the extreme heat awaiting shipment during the distribution processes from the water company to their ultimate destination in a retail store.
Is “plastic tasting water” safe to drink? The Food and Drug Administration has given its green light on bottled-water safeness as has the International Life Sciences Institute. However the American Chemistry Council has cautioned that products made with PET be used only as indicated by the manufacturer.
With this said, if the consumer had a choice between pure drinking water versus drinking water contaminated with plastic chemicals (which is still tested “safe” to drink), which water would you drink? Or the more pressing issue for parents of young children is whether you would use the “safe” but plastic-tasting water in your baby’s formula.
Remember that this is the same FDA which only banned BPA from baby bottles and “sippy” cups in the summer of 2012 – a little late in the game perhaps – to err on the side of caution. So which side are we talking about? (Pardon the small personal rant.)
The unfortunate truth is that despite complaints of bottled-water-tasting plastic, as long as there are no studies showing toxicity from those plastics used in bottling drinks, plastic-bottled water is here to stay for many years to come.
As consumers what can we do? First of all, we should become more educated on our use of plastics, and we should try to minimize our consumption of water bottled in plastic. Obtaining a water purifier is an excellent choice, however it is important to buy one from a company who is well known and has “legitimate” water-purification certificates. Meanwhile, glass-bottled water is indeed an expensive option. And what can we say about tap water? Tap water may be a good choice economically, but there are some concerns over its flouride and chlorine treatments. Also, the regulations for water treatment facilities may be different for each state and even among different counties, which explains the discrepancy in water quality from region to region. Furthermore, the infrastructure of water pipes is another concern. A little footnote is that the EPA regulates tap water while the FDA regulates bottled water – and both agencies are underfunded but doing their best with what they have.
If plastic bottled water is the only reasonable and viable choice, one should choose water that has the latest manufacturing date to reduce environmental exposure. And if one is able to find water still left on the pallet (ie. Costco & Sam’s Club), it is wise to avoid packaged water that is located on the top of the pallet and the sides. Another telltale sign that your water may be compromised is the deformity in the shape of the bottled water due to extreme heat or physical means. Lastly, purchase water in places where the turnover of “new” water is high.
Fortunately water has no flavorings to mask the plastic taste that sometimes affects bottled drinking water. On the other hand it is more difficult to find out whether or not other flavored soda drinks have this plastic taste. So to protect yourself from plastic chemicals in flavored sodas, purchase them in glass bottles whenever possible or buy sodas with the latest manufacturing date.
Here are other random thoughts about plastic.
Plastic is indeed convenient. It is widely used in our society. Some people say that milk in glass bottles taste better than milk stored in plastic. Others say that sparkiling water in a glass bottle taste better than sparkling water in a plastic one. Some even say that sodas in a glass bottle tastes the best. (Check out the article on Are Colas Safe to Drink?) Watch out for restaurants that place hot foods in styrofoam or plastic containers – when you see deformity in the plastic container, 10 out of 10 times plastic chemicals will be part of the food whether you taste it or not. A solution – ask the restaurant to place a foil or parchment paper between the hot food and the styrofoam. This is specially seen in Thai and Chinese restaurants where food is served very hot. Also, try to store food in glass or stainless steel containers and use stainless-steel water bottles. And please don’t reuse plastic water bottles. It is difficult to clean them, and it is more likely bacterial growth will occur in them. In addition, bottled water may be just filtered tap water and not the beautiful mountain-stream water as pictured on the label. If not for yourself, think about your baby’s health since he or she is much less capable of handling toxic substances versus adults. And please recycle!
All in all, trust your palate. If something doesn’t taste like it normally does, you may say to yourself, “My bottled water tastes like plastic.” In such cases, when in doubt always err on the side of caution and avoid drinking it.
References and Additional Readings:
1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. February/March 2002 Ask the Regulators — Bottled Water Regulation and the FDA. http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/BuyStoreServeSafeFood/ucm077079.htm
2. International Life Sciences Institute. Packaging Materials 1. PET for Food Packaging Applications. http://www.ilsi.org/europe/publications/r2000pac_mat1.pdf
3. New York Times. F.D.A. Makes it Official: BPA Can’t Be Used in Baby Bottles and Cups. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/18/science/fda-bans-bpa-from-baby-bottles-and-sippy-cups.html?_r=0