Just one liter of bottled water can contain galaxies of plastic


Plastic is virtually ubiquitous. Researchers have found it just about everywhere they’ve looked. The popular and persistent design flaw is forever hidden in plain sight, smothering life in the oceans and contaminating the food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink. This isn’t news. In September 2017, Orb Media shared exclusive research findings from the first global tap water survey in which 83% of tap water samples were found to contain microplastics

Now we know plastic is lurking in bottled water, too. The latest report from Orb Media finds a single liter of bottled water can contain thousands of microplastic particles, or entire “galaxies” of pollutants.




The first-of-its-kind study tested 259 bottles from 11 leading brands worldwide. Six sampled bottles were glass, the rest were packaged in plastic. All bottles had plastic bottle caps. Plastic debris contamination was widespread throughout, with 93% of sampled bottles containing microplastic particles and a global average of 325 particles per liter of bottled water. One bottle showed an excess of 10,000 microplastic particles per liter — twice what was found in samples from the earlier tap water study. 

The research was led by Dr. Sherri A. Mason, Victoria Welch and Joseph Neratko from the Department of Geology & Environmental Sciences at the State University of New York at Fredonia. To ensure geographic diversity among samples, the 259 bottles were processed across 27 different lots (an identification number assigned by a manufacturer to a particular production unit) purchased from 17 locations in 8 countries.



Sample processing methodology utilized Nile Red (NR) tagging and FTIR spectroscopic analysis to confirm the presence of microplastics in two size fractions: ‘NR+FTIR particles’, which are > 100 um and visible to the naked eye; and the smaller ‘NR tagged particles’, which are 6.5-100 um. To quantify the latter size fraction, after removing particles >100 um from the filter, remaining fluorescing particles were photographed in quadrants and analyzed using a software program developed by a former astrophysicist entitled ‘Galaxy Count’. Plastics appear as white spots against a dark background, or 'stars' against 'the night sky'. The smallest size NR-tagged particles able to be visualized using this software was 6.5 um, therefore it is likely that the microplastics quantities in this report — alarming as they may be — are still underestimated. You can read more in-depth about the sample processing at the report link below.

Microplastic particles photograhed in 'Galaxy Count'. Photo credit: Orb Media/Chris Tyree

Microplastic particles photograhed in 'Galaxy Count'. Photo credit: Orb Media/Chris Tyree

The impact of microplastic-contaminated bottled water on human health is unknown. What is known: this report sounds the alarm on yet another disturbing reality that will persist unless we band together and create change.




Key findings:

  • 259 individual bottles were collected and sampled from 27 different lots across 11 brand. These bottles were purchased from 17 locations in 8 countries.

  • 93% of bottled water showed some sign of microplastic contamination. This was after accounting for possible background (lab) contamination.

  • Samples contained an average of 10.4 microplastic particles >100 um per liter of bottled water. That’s twice the amount reported in a previous study on tap water samples.

  • Analyses including smaller particles (6.5-100 um) found an average of 325 microplastic particles per liter.

  • For larger particles >100 um:
    Fragments were the most common morphology (66%) followed by finders
    Polypropylene was the most common polymer (54%), which matches a common plastic used in the bottle cap.
    4% of particles showed presence of industrial lubricants.

  • Data suggests contamination is at least partially coming from the packaging and/or bottling process itself.


Three things you can do right now:


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