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The Bottled Water Myth

by Ryan Guina

Last year Americans spent over $15 billion dollars on bottled water, up from $11 billion in 2006. Much of that is due to clever advertising which leads people to believe that bottled water is a healthier and better option than tap water. However, that is not always the case. In fact, most bottled water sold in the US is nothing more than repackaged tap water, bottled in an ergonomic container with a colorful label slapped on it. To put it simply, you are often paying for an image.

How much are you really paying for tap water?

Both Pepsi and Coke acknowledge that Aquafina and Dasani are tap water. Just read the label. An average 20oz. bottle of water will cost you around $1.39 at a convenience store, or over $8.50 per gallon. Many people will pay the $1.39 without thinking twice. But how much of a markup is that really? Let’s look at an example.

“You can buy a half-liter Evian for $1.35 — 17 ounces of water imported from France for pocket change. That water seems cheap, but only because we aren’t paying attention.

In San Francisco, the municipal water comes from Yosemite National Park. It’s so good the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t require San Francisco to filter it. If you bought and drank a bottle of Evian, you could refill that bottle once a day for 10 years, five months and 21 days with San Francisco tap water before that water would cost $1.35. Put another way, if the water we use at home cost what even cheap bottled water costs, our monthly water bills would run $9,000.” MSN.

Let’s do some quick math. 10 years, five months and 21 days is 3,825 days. That equates to almost 4,000 bottles for the price of one. That is a HUGE markup! Sure, there are many factors to consider, such as transportation, bottling, marketing costs, and a cut of the sale price to the vendor and distributor. But who is really paying for that – the manufacturer or the consumer?

Environmental impacts of bottled water

Americans throw away 30 million water bottles every day. That’s 11 billion bottles per year! The majority of plastic bottles go straight in the trash bin, even though they are recyclable. In addition to crowding our landfills, bottled water taxes local water supplies by taking water from municipal sources where it is needed, only to ship it across the country.

Bottled water requires massive amounts of raw materials to ship the final product, including plastic for the bottles, paper for labels, cardboard and plastic for cases, shipping crates, plastic shrink wrap etc. The finished product is extremely heavy and transporting water requires large quantities of fuel. Don’t forget to add fuel emissions to the list of environmental impacts.

Bottled water is not evil

While there are many reasons not to drink bottled water – cost and environmental impact being very good reasons – bottled water is not bad. There are many countries where bottled water is the only reliable source of safe drinking water. In the US, bottled water is a popular drink at sporting events, movies, and other locations where you cannot bring in your own refreshments.

But there are many alternatives that most people can and should embrace to diminish the impact bottled water has on their pocket book, and our earth. The biggest impact one can have is to drink less bottled water.

Use Reusable Water Bottles to Save Money and the Environment

The best thing you can do is limit the number of plastic and glass water bottles you use. My wife and I purchased reusable water bottles that we take with us when we leave home, preventing further waste. In addition to keeping the landfills cleaner, there are other benefits to reusable water bottles. Many plastic bottles leach chemicals into the water, which over time, can affect your health. There are many different safe reusable water bottle options.

One example is Klean Kanteen reusable water bottles, which is the brand of reusable water bottle my wife and I purchased. We have been very happy with the switch. I fill mine from the gallon of water in our fridge every morning before work, then refill it throughout the day with tap water from work. Sometimes I bring it home full and leave it in the fridge overnight so I can bring it back to work the next day. I’m not worried about the $.10 I might save by doing this, but rather the environmental impacts of purchasing fewer bottles of water.

Note: This may seem contradictory to this article, but my wife and I buy bottled water for drinking in our home. The water where we live is extremely hard and requires the use of a water softener to prevent calcification from forming in the pipes, which would eventually clog the pipes beyond repair. Our softened water does not taste as good as non-softened water and contains sodium left over from the softening process. We use softened water for cooking, but we buy bottled water for drinking. We do this as responsibly as possible and buy it in large recyclable containers, which we recycle weekly. We have looked into a reverse osmosis water filtration system for our drinking water needs, which uses a different filtration process than regular water softeners and removes sodium from the water, making it a healthier alternative for us.

I’ll leave you with this (note: this video some language not suitable for a workplace environment):

More articles about bottled water:


Published or updated March 1, 2011.
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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ryan

Miranda: I’m thinking about installing oen as well. I know it would pay for itself over time, but more importantly, it would produce less waste than bottled water, and be more convenient than me having to go to the store once per week to buy bottled water.

Eric: I used do the same thing with my bottles – I wash them and reuse them multiple times. Now I prefer the reusable water bottle because it is nicer, easier to clean, and a healthier option (most plastic water bottles will leach chemicals after multiple uses, or when exposed to heat).

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2 Miranda

Great post!

We recently switched to a reverse osmosis system. It’s already paid for itself in savings from what we used to spend on bottled water. We love it. We have reusable water bottles that we just refill from our drinking water tap.

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3 eric

My wife and I have extremely hard water at our home as well. I also enjoy the convenience of the water bottle, I can just grab it and go without worry about breaking a glass, spilling it, or the awkwardness of a big plastic reusable bottle. Another benefit is when the cap is on, I can’t spill water on my keyboard. I’ve blown 2 laptops from water in a glass before!

I pay $4.50 every two weeks for a case of water. I open a bottle first thing in the morning and drive into work with it. I grab it out of the car and refill it at the company water cooler 9 times throughout the day. Then I take it to the gym where I refill it twice there. I’m economical with my water bottles!

I was also not aware of the aquifina tap water thing. I was told once that aquifina is the best bottled water you can get. Had some people come over to do their magic trick with water colors trying to sell us a water purifier and they tested my aquifina water, it came back pretty pure.

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4 Randy L

You should check out Tappening.com. Great information on this issue/debate.

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5 Looby

Read the UK section of the Dasani page on Wikipedia and you’ll understand why I don’t drink bottled water. (Actually I never did before that fiasco but still…)
I really don’t understand why so many people need to tote water about with them at all, I drink at meal times and after exercising, but at least reusing bottles is less wasteful.

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6 David

Evian spelled backwards is Naive. Coincidence?

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7 Glblguy

I bought my RO filter on eBay for less than $200.00. We use that to make our own bottled water and use the waste water for our pond, fresh water fish tanks and to water our plants.

I know Dasani is from the Catawba River in Charlotte, NC. A neighbor of mine worked for Coke and confirmed this. It is just filtered river water.

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8 Andrew

A couple comments.

First, we are on well water, so regular softened water does not taste good. The previous owners of our home installed a reverse osmosis filter by the kitchen sink and that water is great. Note that most bottled water is just tap that has gone through a similar (or same) filtration process.

Second, my in-laws are also on well water and do not have a reverse osmosis filtration system. They’ve been big believers in bottled water, but I recently (as in 4 months ago) convinced them to go with gallon jugs due to lower cost and less waste. I’m still trying to get them to move toward those large refillable 2.5 gallon containers – you know, the ones you can refill at the grocery store with RO tap water for like 50 cents/gallon? Up front cost for the container, but much cheaper in the long run.

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9 David

Hundreds of houses here where I live drink only water that falls from the sky. It gets collected in cisterns, filtered, and passed through the house like a regular system. And they swear it tastes better than anything else. I hope so, as we are looking at several of these houses!

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10 Ryan

Looby: I drink water throughout the day – usually a gallon or more per day. Part of it is that I love water, and it is very healthy to drink a lot of water. The other issue is that I don’t always breathe well through my nose, so I think my throat gets dried out easily. So I tend to carry a bottle of water with me just about everywhere I go to work, meetings, in the car, around the house, etc.

David: I think you’re on to something!

Andrew: You’re right, much of the bottled water is just tap water that has been processed – some through reverse osmosis, and some just through filters at the bottling plant. Good job convincing your in laws that there are more efficient ways to meet their water needs! :)

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11 deepali

I disagree. Bottled water is evil. :)

Just a couple of other points – bottled water is not regulated. Which means, frankly, who knows what you are getting. At least municipal water has very strict standards for treatment.

Plastic is a petroleum by-product.

A good amount of that plastic waste doesn’t end up in the trash. It ends up in rivers and oceans and marshes and lakes. 7% of coastal cleanup debris is plastic bottles.

And I have yet to understand why bottled water manufacturers can’t use recycled plastic…

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12 Amber Jones

I used to be guilty of purchasing bottle way waaay too often. I’ve gone back to drinking my tap water with no problem. :)

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13 No Debt Plan

There is absolutely nothing that ticks me off more than bottled water. Seriously. Get a stainless steel or hard plastic bottle and refill it yourself. Saves a TON of money.

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14 Ryan

DGI, The nation’s health would be just as much improved if they drank tap water, but their financial health would also improve, which can have a direct correlation to physical health. ;-)

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15 Dividend Growth Investor

Oh come on, bottled water is good for Coca Cola and Pepsi, which is good for the economy.
Seriously though from a health perspective I think it would be better if people drank bottled water than bottled soda drinks. The nation’s health would be greatly improved..

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16 Matt

I guess the water bottle myth is the fact that a good marketer can create an industry out of thin air. I do understand the benefits of having bottled water but for the majority of people and uses its a pointless waste of resources. Unfortunately it is convenient which is why it remains incredibly popular.

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17 SavingDiva

I don’t think I can afford bottled water any more! :)

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18 fathersez

Chalk up another one to the evils of marketing. Deteriorating municipality services and astute marketing just converged to create this industry.

We use filters at home and just drink the filtered tap water.

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