Most bottled waters sold in France contains microplastics, report says

According to an investigation carried out by the non-profit association Agir pour l’Environment (Acting for the Environment), 78% of bottled water from the best-selling brands in France is contaminated with microplastics (fragments of less than 5 millimeters).    

For this study, Agir, in collaboration with the laboratory Labocéa, analyzed virgin and recycled plastic bottles and found polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE), and polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which mainly come from the bottle, cork and bottling process. The exposure to light and heat of the bottles, in the steps leading from production to sale can be also responsible. According to the study, the additives in the material of the plastic bottle also contribute to microplastics contamination.    

The association showed that the number of microplastics was between 1 and 121 microparticles per liter. The highest amount of microplastics per liter was found in a bottle meant for children (40 microplastics in 330 ml, equal to 121 per liter).  

Natural Mineral Waters Europe (NMWE) — the trade association representing the bottled water industry — questioned the results, suggesting the study refers to a small number of samples and the results have not been duplicated by other laboratories. Furthermore, NMWE stressed that there are still no reliable data on the effects of microplastics on health, as also stated by WHO in a report dated 2019. Since microplastics are everywhere, even in the air, NMWE argues that it is in fact impossible to avoid contamination.  

However, the concentrations present in the bottles are much higher than those found in environmental contaminations, and the investigation by the French association has confirmed other studies that have shown similar situations. One of the most important, published in 2018 by researchers at the State University of New York, revealed a truly worrying situation: bottled water analyzed (259 samples of 11 brands taken in 19 stores across nine states) contained twice as many microplastics as tap water, and 93% of the samples tested were contaminated, with an average of 10.4 microparticles per microliter.    

Microplastics in bottled water cannot be banned or regulated as there is no common detection standard, the study said.  

Based on these results, Agir has proposed an initiative for a total ban on water in plastic bottles by 2027. Agir is pushing for new solutions such as: enforcing transparency standards on manufacturers to reveal the composition of the plastic bottles, utilizing biodegradable materials on bottle designs, discontinuing the use of plastic with food that will be heated, and improving testing for microplastic detection.