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I Prefer My Water with the Plastic on the Outside, Not the Inside: Study Shows Most Bottled Water Contains Harmful Microplastics

Posted in Food Safety,Our Blog on March 5, 2024

Microplastics in bottled water? You heard that right. I, like most people, prefer my water with the plastic on the outside of the container – not inside it. However, studies show that about 93% of commercially available bottled water contains microplastics!

What Are These Microplastics in Bottled Water?

The short answer, teeny tiny pieces of plastic.

The long answer is a bit more complicated. It all comes down to the sheer amount of plastic produced each year, what we use the plastic for, and how long it takes for it to biodegrade.

Plastic is Everywhere!

Since the widespread manufacturing of plastics in the 1950s, this versatile product has made its way into every facet of our daily lives.

More than 320 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide each year. Most of which winds up in single-use packaging. Only a small fraction of this is recycled, so most plastic products are simply discarded.

Plastic is fairly durable. This is the characteristic that makes it a go-to packaging material. This durability comes, in part, because it is not easily biodegradable. Even when subject to UV radiation, winds, and physical abrasion from wave currents, plastics simply break down into smaller and smaller pieces.

At one point, microplastics were made on purpose and used in certain cosmetics, toothpaste, and exfoliant products. This became illegal after the U.S. Congress passed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 that prohibited the manufacture of “rinse-off” cosmetics containing microplastics.

Plastics that build up in landfills and other parts of the environment make their way into bodies of water. About 5 million tons of plastic are carried from rivers to oceans each year!

In fact, plastics can be found in every ocean on the planet, with a cumulation of about 50 trillion pieces of plastic present today.

It is not surprising that these tiny particles make their way into places we don’t expect them.

But how small are they?

How Small are Microplastics?

In most cases, microplastics are so small that they cannot be detected by the human eye or touch. However, there is a range of sizes that fit into this category.

Generally, plastic fragments measuring less than 5 millimeters in length are considered microplastics. When this size is broken down to under 1 micron, we call them nanoplastics.

Nanoplastics can only be identified by specialized microscopes. And they are EVERYWHERE!

How Do Microplastics Affect Humans?

Microplastics can enter the body through food, drinking water, or even from breathing in air contaminated with microplastics.

A good amount of microplastics end up in the human body by food and drink consumption. An estimated 52,000 microplastic fragments enter each of us every year through food alone.

They can also be inhaled or enter the body through the skin via sweat glands, hair follicles, or open wounds.

Microplastics Absorb Chemicals

Microplastics can be porous and absorb harmful chemicals. Heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and pesticides are just a few of the risky chemicals found in certain microplastics.

Ingesting these chemical-exposed microplastics may lead to poisonous effects in the unsuspecting consumer.

Potential Health Affects from Microplastic Consumption

Despite being so widespread throughout our environment, not a lot is known about how the body absorbs, metabolizes, or eliminates these tiny particles.

However, some studies suggest that microplastics can play a role in inflammation, affect cellular survival, and influence metabolism in humans.

Despite These Health Concerns, An Alarming Amount of Bottled Water Contains Microplastics

Despite these health concerns, an alarming amount of bottled water contains microplastics. Even those bottled in glass! A State University of New York at Fredonia study published in Frontiers in Chemistry analyzed bottled water.

A significant 93% of samples in this study showed microplastics in bottled water.

Globally Sourced Samples

These samples did not all come from the same supermarket shelf. Eleven globally sourced brands were selected and purchased from 19 locations across nine countries including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and the United States. These locations were chosen because of their high per capita consumption of packaged drinking water.

Brands selected included:

  • Aqua
  • Aquafina
  • Bisleri
  • Dasani
  • Epura
  • Evian
  • Gerolsteiner
  • Minalba
  • Nestle Pure Life
  • San Pellegrino
  • Wahaha

Do any of these sound familiar? Odds are, you have some in your home right now.

Significant Amounts of Microplastics Found in Bottled Water

The study found an average of 325 microplastic particles per lister of bottled water, however some bottles had up to 10,000 particles per liter. Most ranged in size from 6.5 to 100 microns in size.

Polypropylene and Industrial Lubricants Were Most Common Microplastics in Bottled Water

A variety of polymers were found in plastic samples, with polypropylene in the lead. Polypropylene was found in 54% of microplastic samples. This is not surprising, as this type of plastic is used in manufacturing bottle caps.

Industrial lubricants also made up a fraction of the particles. About 4%.

According to the study, this data suggests that at least some of the contamination may be caused from the packaging or bottling process itself.

Not all of it though.

Six samples were obtained from glass bottles. They did, however, use a plastic bottle cap.

Microplastics Were Even Found in Glass Water Bottles

The German brand, Gerolsteiner, was the only brand tested that was packaged in glass bottles. As a comparison, this same water was obtained in plastic bottles as well.

While samples showed lower levels of microplastic contamination in the glass bottles compared to the same water source packaged in a plastic bottle, microplastics were still found in both.

Microplastics Found in Tap Water Too!

Microplastic contamination was not limited to bottled water. While the study found more microplastics in bottled water, these contaminants were found in tap water too.

Most bottled water comes from tap water. Samples were obtained from municipalities where some of the bottled water came from.

While roughly twice as many microplastic particles were found in bottled water compared to tap water, more fibers were found in tap water. In fact, fibers accounted for 97% of the microplastics found in tap water.


According to these findings, the main source of microplastic contamination in bottled water versus tap water are different. Evidence suggests that some of the microplastics in bottled water come from the source water. But a significant amount of the contamination may come from either the packaging itself, how it is processed, or both.

There are currently no regulatory exposure limits for nanoplastics or microplastics.

So, what can you do to reduce your consumption of microplastics?

Prevention Tips

With microplastics in so many aspects of our environment, it is impossible to completely control our consumption of the contaminant. There are, however, some ways we can reduce it.

Avoid Using Single-Use Plastic Products

Takeout food containers, disposable utensils, and single use containers (such as bottled water) have more surface area for potential microplastic contamination.

Use Biodegradable Materials

Products made from paper, wood, and other biodegradable materials not only have an impact on your personal consumption of microplastics. They also help reduce microplastics in the environment.

Use a Water Filter

Filtering tap or even bottled water can help eliminate contaminants from drinking water. This includes not only microplastics, but other things that might be lurking in the water.

Want to Know More About Food Safety in the News?

If you’d like to know more about food safety in the news, like Microplastics in Bottled Water, check out the Make Food Safe Blog. We regularly update trending topics, foodborne infections in the news, recalls, and more! Stay tuned for quality information to help keep your family safe, while The Lange Law Firm, PLLC strives to Make Food Safe!

By: Heather Van Tassell (contributing writer, non-lawyer)