Becoming Water Wise
Paranoia about possible contamination in tap water has led many people to become ever more reliant on bottled water. But like many impulsive decisions made out of fear, this may not be the wisest choice.
What’s in bottled water?
There are two things you need to understand about bottled water:
- Bottled water and tap water are almost always the same thing. That picture of a clear mountain spring on the bottle is just for show. Between 25% and 45% of bottled water sold in the S. originates as ordinary tap water. The two best-selling bottled waters in the world are nothing more than filtered and repackaged tap water. Another loophole in FDA labeling policy allows bottled water companies to engage in misleading advertising to claim that normal well water is actually “natural spring” water. The bottom line: bottled water companies get their water from all the same sources you do. So unless the water source you rely on is really polluted, buying bottled water doesn’t actually buy you any improvement.
- The bottle itself is a potent source of chemical contamination. So after being bottled, packaged, and sitting around in hot warehouses for weeks and months, the water contained in bottled water is often more polluted than tap water.
Which is better: Bottled water or tap water?
Liter for liter, bottled water costs thousands of times what tap water does, and is usually subject to less monitoring and regulation than what comes out of your faucet. Much of the world (which includes Europe and the U.S.) have stronger regulations governing the quality of tap water than they do bottled water.
Contaminants found in bottled water
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) ran tests on 1,000-plus bottles of water across 103 different brands in 1999 and found 33% contained bacterial and chemical contaminants. Meanwhile, tests run by the Environmental Working Group on 10 popular brands of bottled water found 38 different pollutants, everything from fertilizer contamination to industrial solvents. There have also been 100 bottled water recalls between 1990 and 2010 for things like mold, coliforms, benzane, and even crickets.
The cost of bottled water
Bottled water can cost up to 10,000-times more than tap water, making it far more expensive than gasoline. Here is how some of the more popular water brands stack up to tap water, based on EPA estimates of 0.002 cents per gallon for tap water:
- Penta (Reverse osmosis): $12.46 per gallon, 6,200-times the cost of tap water.
- Mountain Valley (Spring water): $10.94 per gallon, 5,400 times the cost of tap water.
- Essentia (Reverse osmosis): $9.54 per gallon, 4,700 times the cost of tap water
- Function: water (Distilled): $7.54 per gallon, 3,700 times the cost of tap water
- Smartwater (Distilled): $6.78 per gallon, 3,300 times the cost of tap water
- Fiji (Artesian): $6.54 per gallon, 3,200 times the cost of tap water
- Iceland (Spring): $6.02 per gallon, 3,000 times the cost of tap water
- Dasani (Reverse osmosis): $6.02 per gallon, 3,000 times the cost of tap water
- Aquifina (Reverse osmosis): $5.28 per gallon, 2,600 times the cost of tap water.
(Barber, 2014; based on Feb. 2012 prices; all brand names restricted)
Do these exorbitant prices buy you any more taste? Unlikely. In blind taste tests, New Yorkers preferred the taste of Manhattan tap water to the outrageously priced ($40/bottle) “Bling H20.” (ibid)
Are there any benefits to bottled water over tap water?
The only possible advantage bottled water might have over ordinary tap water is that most companies apply an additional filtration process. Yet the contaminants added in through the bottling process pretty much erases any benefit from what might have been taken out. If you’re worried about your water, a basic carbon filter can remove common contaminants and improve taste. For those who are really paranoid, a whole house filtration system can cost several hundred to several thousand dollars, but it will still be cheaper over the long run than continually buying bottled water. Buy a stainless-steel water bottle to drink out of and fill it with tap water, and you’ll enjoy much cleaner water than you’d get with bottled water at a tiny fraction of the cost.
Misleading claims by bottled water manufacturers
Bottled water companies make all sorts of outrageous claims about their water. Get our e-book Toxic Childhood to find out what these are and learn the truth behind each one, so that you can point out all these ridiculous scams to your friends.