There is a huge myth that most Americans believe, and it might be the marketing triumph of the 20th century. We pay an absurd markup (Zero Hedge says as much as 280,000% for "designer" water) on something we can get for free because most of us believe that bottled water is healthier than tap water. But is it? Here are 5 reasons why tap water is probably better than that bottled stuff you drink.
The water that flows from your tap, or municipal drinking water, is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It's tested rigorously for harmful microbiobes several times a day. The results of those tests are public.
Bottled water companies are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which only requires weekly testing. The results of those tests are not public. These FDA regulations are also only required if the water bottles pass state lines, which means that water bottled and sold within the same state might not have been tested at all.
According to Dr. Gina Solomon, a scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, "There is no reason to believe that bottled water is safer than tap water."
In the United States, which might have the cleanest tap water in the world, Food & Water Watch reports that almost half (47.8% in 2009) of the bottled water sold is purified municipal water. That means that you are paying a huge markup for the water that runs freely from your tap.
In 2007, Pepsi's Aquafina and Nestle Pure Life changed their labels to disclose the source of their water, which was public municipal water. If your bottles say "spring water," then they are not sourced from municipal water, but they are still not subjected to the same rigorous testing that tap water goes through.
If you ask most people why they drink bottled water, one of the reasons will probably be that they prefer the taste of bottled water to tap. But in blind taste tests, tap water beats bottled water.
In a blind taste test done by Good Morning America, New York City tap water received 45% of the vote for the best tasting water. Poland Spring got 24% of the vote, O-2 Water received 19% of the vote, and Evian came in dead last with 12% of the vote.
New York City is famous for its good water, but tap water consistently comes out on top in other places too. In a study done at Longwood University, tap water beat out popular bottled water brands in blind taste tests.
Even though most water bottles can be recycled, 86% of plastic water bottles are not recycled in the United States. Instead, they end up in landfills and each bottle takes over 700 years to decompose. Given that Americans drink about 60 million water bottles every day, the plastic waste is staggering.
Also, there are currently over 100 plants licensed to bottle water in California, which has been in a serious drought. Nestlé, the biggest of the bunch, has been drawing water from a California spring for its Arrowhead water brand for over 25 years with an expired permit and no official testing as to how it's affecting the environment. (They say there's no harm in it.)
The United States has one of the safest, cleanest public water systems in the world, so it shouldn't be that easy to sell water to the American public. But the American demand for bottled water grows every year, and we seem happy to pay for something we can get for free.
How did the beverage companies convince the public that bottled water is cleaner and healthier than tap water? The answer lies in the funds that it takes to launch such an aggressive marketing campaign. As Alternet puts it: "While Big Bev has lobbyists, industry organizations and public relations companies to boost its profile, this is not really an option for our nation's water utilities."
Disposable water bottles are convenient and portable, but it's easy to switch to a stainless steel or other reusable water bottle for when you're on the go. If you don't like the taste of your tap water, then invest in an inexpensive water filtering pitcher (like a Brita) or install a faucet filter in your sink. You can also try these hacks or these plastic-free methods for cleaning your water.