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Bottled Water Versus Tap

Bottled Water Versus Tap

October 3, 2007 —

Most people believe that tap water not only tastes bad, but is also harmful—and conversely, that bottled water is cleaner, safer, and healthier.  There’s strong evidence to suggest otherwise:

  • ABC Television’s 20/20 had a microbiologist test for harmful bacteria on five national brands of bottled water—as well as New York City tap water. There was no difference between the New York City tap water and the bottled waters.
  • The Natural Resources Defense Council carried out a four-year review of the bottled water industry and concluded: "While much tap water is indeed risky, having compared available data, we conclude that there is no assurance that bottled water is any safer than tap water.”

This evidence has been largely ignored by consumers. According to the Earth Policy Institute (EPI), between 1999 and 2004, the global consumption of bottled water increased 57 percent, from 92 billion liters to 154 billion liters (41 billion gallons). The U.S. is the leading consumer of bottled water in the world. Americans paid $7.7 billion for bottled water in 2002.

The Environmental Impact

Bottled water contains hidden environmental costs. According to the EPI, the most commonly used plastic for making water bottles is polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is derived from crude oil. Making bottles to meet Americans’ demand for bottled water requires more than 1.5 million barrels of oil annually.  In addition, the Container Recycling Institute (CRI) has stated that 86 percent of plastic water bottles used in the United States become garbage or litter.  By incinerating these bottles, harmful toxins are released into the air, whereas buried bottles will take 1,000 years to biodegrade.

Much of the bottled water is transported from ‘distant lands’ such as Fiji—exacting an additional energy cost. Even in areas where tap water is plentiful and safe, bottled water is widely available.  A number of these areas have suffered water shortages, after a bottling plant is established. The EPI reports that more than 50 villages in India have complained of water shortages after Dasani began extracting water from the region. 

Bottled water companies are not necessarily small companies that help local economies, but are rather run by large corporations that want to project an image through branding.  And while Evian actually comes from France, other brands like Aquafina (owned by Pepsi) and Dasani (owned by Coca Cola) are reprocessed water from U.S. cities.  For example, one of Aquafina’s water sources is the Detroit River.

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