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A woman drinking out of a water bottle.

After carbonated soft drinks, bottled water is the most consumed beverage in the United States, according to International Bottled Water Association.

Water bottles: toss them or keep them?

From eNews, July 7, 2005

At work or at play, Americans are drinking bottled water in record numbers--6.8 billion gallons in 2004, according to the International Bottled Water Association. (That's more water than goes over Niagara Falls on the American side in two hours.) And they either recycle or discard the bottles once they've consumed the contents, or they reuse them--filling the bottles with water or another beverage. The latter habit is really a no-no, advises the University of Minnesota Extension Service. Once they're opened, commercial water bottles can become contaminated very quickly.

In a study at the University of Calgary, researchers found various types of bacteria in water samples taken from bottles that were refilled by elementary school students without being cleaned. Coliform bacteria, typically from fecal material, turned up in some of the bottles tested. Hetrotrophic bacteria, often present in the mouth, were found in 9 to 13 percent of the 75 samples.

Bottled water defined

Bottled water products are normally categorized according to the source of the water and the method the bottler uses to treat it.

Artesian: Water that originates from a confined aquifer, where the water level stands at some height above the top of the aquifer.

Fluoridated: Water that contains fluoride added within the limitations established by the Food and Drug Administration.

Mineral: Water that contains at least 250 parts per million total dissolved solids. It comes from a source tapped at one or more bore holes or a spring, and originates from a geologically and physically protected underground water source. Bottlers may not add minerals to this water.

Purified: Water that has been produced by distillation, deionization, reverse osmosis, or other suitable processes. Purified water may also be referred to as "demineralized water."

Sparkling: Water that contains the same amount of carbon dioxide that it had at emergence from the source. The carbon dioxide may be removed and replenished after treatment.

Spring: Water that flows naturally to the earth's surface from an underground formation.

Source: Enviromental Protection Agency

If you like the convenience of bottled water, consider buying a water bottle designed for extended reuse. Available at sporting good stores and in fashionable colors, these water bottles have wider openings that allow you to use cleaning instruments and easily dry them. They are also made from more durable plastic for longer use.

If you can't break the habit and insist on reusing a "one-time" water bottle:

In the United States, bottled water and tap water are regulated by two different agencies; the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates tap water. (Unopened bottled water can be stored indefinitely if it is kept in a dry place out of direct sunlight and stored at room temperature or cooler. The FDA has not established a shelf life for bottled water.)

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