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For water, the tap sure is tops

The 2007 Oregon Legislature’s updating of the bottle bill to include bottled-water containers was prompted by the need to curb environmental damage from millions of plastic bottles being discarded each year. But we think there is an even better environmental solution closer at hand for nearly every resident of Oregon. Flowing from every tap — or from every drinking fountain in downtown Portland — is water that’s cheaper to consume and more environmentally friendly than water bottled in plastic containers. And given that the Bull Run Reservoir is one of the purest drinking-water sources in the world, its water is probably of better quality than most of what comes in plastic bottles. Worldwide, bottled-water consumption is growing rapidly. According to the Earth Policy Institute, it had reached more than 150 billion liters a year in 2004. Even with revisions to Oregon’s bottle bill and efforts by other states to prompt more water-container recycling, a vast amount of petroleum still will be required to manufacture plastic water bottles and recycle them. Perhaps this thirst for prepackaged water could be justified if there were real health risks from drinking tap water — but there aren’t in this country. To the contrary, a study from the Archives of Family Medicine found that some bottled water can contain bacterial counts far in excess of ordinary tap water. When you consider that an estimated 25 percent of bottled water originates from municipal water sources, it’s easy to understand why consumers — when they take part in blind taste tests — have a hard time distinguishing bottled water from tap water. We do understand there are times when convenience necessitates the purchase of an occasional bottle of water. But even with the upcoming requirement for a deposit on water bottles, Oregonians can do more to help the planet by turning away from water in plastic containers and moving back to the tap.