Americans buy 8.6 billion gallons of bottled water every year. That’s 21 gallons per capita per year (Beverage Marketing). This results in the use of 47 million gallons of oil per year just to supply the plastic bottles (Real Cost). These bottles then become garbage that fill our landfills and pollute our environment. The worst part is that we have clean, pristine tap water pumped into our homes and businesses every second of the day. Bottled water can cost 240 to 10,000 times more than tap water. For example, a San Franciscan can buy one bottle of Evian or 1000 gallons of tap water (Real Cost).
So why do people buy bottled water? The taste? The convenience? Health reasons? Is bottled water actually better for you?
The U.S. is, unsurprisingly, the world’s largest producer and consumer of bottled water, trailed by Mexico, China, and Brazil* (Ibis). The last three should come as no surprise as these are all massive countries whose water quality is dubious. Our drinking water supply is for the most part completely safe to drink. Bottled water is regulated by the FDA, whereas the EPA controls tap water. This results in tap water generally having stricter regulations with regard to contaminants – lead being a major exception (Associated Content). Dasani and Aquafina, Coca –Cola and Pepsi’s bottled water brands, whose sales exceed 1.15 billion gallons annually, are simply filtered municipal water (Beverage Marketing). Salts and minerals are then added back in to make it more palatable. New York City tap water has long been hailed as the best tasting, and cleanest water around. Pizza and bagel makers credit it as their secret ingredient. Sadly, it is so good that entrepreneurs like this guy have begun bottling it and selling it across the country.
As for convenience? It really matters how you measure what’s convenient. Is it more convenient to buy dozens of bottles at the store every week or to fill a home water filter once a day? Clearly grabbing a bottle out of the fridge before hitting the gym is marginally easier than filling a reusable bottle but this ignores the inconvenience of having a bottle in a landfill for thousands of years or the petroleum used to make the bottle. Like many of the problems with regard to energy and the environment the inconveniences due to bottled water are long term. We’re enjoying the benefits now but will pay for them later.
*When you look at the per capita consumption Italy takes the lead, followed by Mexico, United Arab Emirates, Belgium, Luxembourg then France. The U.S was only 11th as of 2004 (World Water Data).