Bottled Water Revisited

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If you don’t buy it, how best to contain it? According to Beverage Marketing Corporation, Americans drink, on average, 192 gallons of liquid a year. Of that total, water represents about 11 percent of our consumption, about the same amount as milk, and about the same amount as coffee and tea combined. The lead category of liquid consumption is carbonated beverages, at 28 percent.

Water consumption seems to be gaining on the carbonated beverages, which is generally a good trend. The market for bottled water expanded nearly 100% percent between 1999 and 2006, with a combined annual growth rate approaching 10 percent.

But the increase in water consumption is not without controversy – mostly related to the bottled water industry.  

The marketing appeals for bottled water – purer, safer, healthier – are fundamentally inaccurate. The reality is that public tap water is remarkably safe – it’s regularly tested in the United States for 103 contaminants and 80 microbes and industrial agents. More than 90 percent of those tests reveal water that exceeds EPA and FDA standards. In fact, our everyday water is more tightly regulated and more frequently tested, by far, compared to the bottled variety.   

Yet bottled-water marketers have convinced the public that their product is essential, charging them relatively steep prices in the process. Ounce for ounce, bottled water is more expensive than gasoline. One study in Massachusetts showed that the full cost of bottled water was $6.82 a gallon, more than 3,000 times the cost of regular water.  

It’s ironic that consumers feel safer drinking bottled water, when studies show that it is not as vigorously tested as regular tap water. Beyond the sheer waste of money in purchasing water that you could “bottle” yourself from your own tap, consider the environmental impact: All that packaging, including a remarkable 1.5 million tons per year of plastic, must find its way into U.S. landfills. There’s also the cost of shipping, packaging, labeling.  

Considering all of the above, it is not surprising that there is a major push underway to purchase reusable water bottles, and to bottle your own from the tap. Owning the bottle and filling from the tap does seem to make good sense. The only problem: Is the plastic safe? As it turns out, this is a remarkably complex question, and science still lacks a complete answer. Some plastic bottles are apparently safer than others, but we’re still learning. To find out more about the safety of refilling water bottles – as well as other details about bottled water — be sure to watch this week’s video, embedded with this blog post, and read the full transcript, below. Then let us know how you feel. Are you comfortable drinking from the tap or from one of the many styles of plastic bottles?

 

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