Bottled Water: One of the Largest Scams in History?

bottled water

If you drink water (and odds are good that you do) at some point you’ve probably considered whether you should settle for tap water, or spring for bottled water instead. There’s a lot of information in favor and against both ways to hydrate, but where do you stand? If you’re not sure, here are some things you should consider.

Perhaps the most important thing to consider is that bottled water costs more. It costs a lot, even though it may not seem like it. If you’re paying for bottled water, chances are good that you are paying significantly more (easily up to hundreds of times more) for bottled water than you would for water out of the tap. Ouch. Well, what about buying in bulk? While it’s true that buying single bottles is easily the most expensive way to go, buying in bulk does not significantly reduce the costs compared to tap water.

There are, of course, other costs to buying bottled water. For example, consider the packaging. Bottled water comes with incredibly large amounts of plastic. The bottles are made of plastic, and the caps are made of plastic. Bottles come in small and large sizes, which varies the plastic to water ratio, which makes it easier to get less than your money’s worth. Some bottles have secondary caps or individual layers of plastic wrap. In bulk, consider the additional plastic that holds the bottles together, with or without cardboard for support. The cardboard is biodegradable and will return to the earth soon enough. The plastic on the other hand? Not so much. At minimum, it will last hundreds of years in a landfill.

So, right off the bat, it’s pretty obvious that bottled water isn’t super great for your wallet, and it’s definitely not great for the environment. But is there any advantage to choosing bottled water over tap water?

Most people buy bottled water for the convenience. It’s something you can pick up on the go, or if you buy it in advance, you can just take it with you. This can come in handy because you don’t have to plan too far ahead, and you can drink your water throughout the day instead of all at once like you would have to from a cup with no lid. When you’re done, you can throw it away (better yet, you can recycle it- see the above point).

But is this convenience really significant? Sure, grab and go is nice, but you could do the same with a reusable container. In fact, a reusable container can be refilled throughout the day (with less awkwardness, mind you). Typically, they are sturdier than disposable plastic or Styrofoam cups. They also tend to be more stylish, too. Even a reusable plastic container is better for the environment than a single use water bottle, although they also come in glass and other environmentally friendly materials. Arguably the only advantage a plastic water bottle has over a reusable bottle is that it comes filled- but after that initial purchase, the reusable bottle outshines it in every single way.

At this point, you’re probably thinking “Well, what about the water quality? We buy bottled water because it is a higher quality than tap water.” We’ve all seen the adds. ‘Fresh mountain spring water’, ‘straight from the source’, ‘purified aquifers’ etc. We’re paying not for simply the convenience, but the simple convenience of having high-quality water at our fingertips, and to protect ourselves from the dangers of tap water.

However, unless you live in a place like Flint Michigan (sorry) chances are, there’s no significant difference in quality between your tap water and bottled water. Tap water gets a bad rap. It’s often thought of as unsanitary with all sorts of harmful chemicals and mineral deposits in it the truth is, tap water may actually be cleaner than bottled water; according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, this is because the EPA checks for dangerous substances in tap water more often than in bottled water.

Another concern when it comes to bottled water quality is the plastic (again.) Plastic containers can sometimes splinter and fragment, getting imperceptible pieces of plastic mixed in with your water. Now, you likely will never notice those tiny, tiny pieces of plastic, but it’s not entirely unreasonable to have concerns about consuming them.

Water Well

That being said, in all fairness, where you live determines your water quality. This is true for both tap water and other non-bottled water sources. Wells, for example, aren’t regulated at all. Are you shocked yet?  A lack of regulation is one thing that could play into an aversion to tap water, and therefore an increase in bottled water consumption. Fortunately, there is a report called the Consumer Confidence Report you can read to find out about the drinking water in your area.

So even assuming that the water quality is about the same, there’s still something to be said for taste, right? Fresh, crisp spring water from frosty mountaintops surely tastes much better than the water coming out of your kitchen sink. Unfortunately for those of you who swear by the bottle, this is very rarely the case; surveys conducted have indicated that most people (about two-thirds of people, in fact) can’t even tell the difference between tap water and bottled water.

Well, it turns out there might be a good reason for that. About half of all bottled water is actually sourced from tap water. That’s right. If you regularly buy bottled water, there’s a good chance that half the time, all you’re really paying for is someone else to turn on the tap and fill up a bottle for you. The differences in taste and quality are minimal. The only real difference? The price. Are you shocked yet? It gets better.

The next time you reach for a bottle of water, think twice. You’ll want to make sure you’re not just paying for a fancy label on standard tap water. Better yet, buy a reusable glass water bottle. It’s more convenient than disposable plastic. It pollutes the environment less, and it will last you a good long time, giving you a massive return on your investment. If you absolutely have to go plastic, you and your wallet are still better off with a reusable bottle. Don’t be shy about filling up at water fountains.

Remember, tap water is safe enough to drink, safer even than bottled water. If your tap water tastes funny, that’s not necessarily an indication of contamination. Still, you can purchase a filtered water pitcher, or even a filter for your sink if you’re concerned- another item with a significantly better return on investment than disposable plastic bottles.

Related: 9 Ways Your Life Changes When You Drink Only Water

The choice is yours. Cheers.