As Americans have become more health-conscious, the water bottle has become a kind of status symbol.
Carrying a bottle of water—typically embellished with an idyllic scene of nature—sends a message: I care about my health and I care about the environment.
When it comes to beverages, I’m practicing a mindful austerity, deliberately sacrificing flavor and calories for the greater good.
It’s high time water drinkers faced the music. Bottled water isn’t particularly good for the health, it isn’t good for the environment, and it has almost nothing to do with the greater good.
It’s time for water drinkers to face the facts. If you’ve been subjected to the bottled water industry’s marketing campaigns, you have been exposed to some very questionable ideas. Here are some myths about bottled water and the truth behind each one.
#1 Bottled Water Comes From Unpolluted Natural Springs
There is no relationship between the image on your water bottle and the source of the water. While some companies make an effort to provide water from natural springs and wells, about 25 percent of the bottled water sold in the U.S. comes from municipal water supplies.
That means it’s tap water—the same water you get at home.
The bottled water industry is loosely regulated, and water sources are not clearly or consistently revealed on product labels. Don’t be taken in by the pretty pictures: Bottled water isn’t special. It’s just water.
#2 Bottled Water Is an Affordable Beverage
In the U.S., a bottle of water can cost $3 or more. The equivalent amount of tap water costs less than a cent. And remember—odds are good that the bottled water and the tap water come from the same source.
Consumers are willing to pay more for bottled water because it is conveniently packaged and because it may carry a prestige label. But that’s the bottle. The water itself is drastically overpriced.
If you must have the packaging, refill a used water bottle from your kitchen tap—preferably a glass bottle, just in case rumors of chemical leaching from plastic containers are correct. No one will know the difference.
#3 Bottled Water Is Better For You Than Tap Water
For most Americans, tap water is plenty healthy. Nonetheless, there is a booming market in filters and other technology for ensuring water is pure.
Municipal water supplies undergo daily testing to ensure quality and lack of contamination. Bottled water is tested too, but only once a week. So if there’s a problem with the water, inspectors will find it and correct it more quickly at home.
Testing standards are stricter for city water supplies than they are for water bottlers.
Moreover, bottled water is packaged in plastic bottles that are made from petroleum and other nasty chemicals. The government says that contamination from these bottles falls within safe levels, but who wants any contamination at all?
#4 Water Bottles Are Recycled
While the plastics used in water bottles could be recycled, the plain truth is that recycling doesn’t work.
Water bottles make up a growing percentage of the 4 billion plastic bottles that wind up in American dumps every year.
Some bottles go into landfill, where they will spend hundreds of years without degrading or decomposing. Others go into incinerators, where they release deadly cancer-causing gases into the atmosphere.
Even if you’re careful to discard your water bottles in bins marked “Recycling,” there’s a good chance they’ll wind up in a landfill somewhere.
#5 Bottled Water Tastes Better
A research firm called Corporate Accountability International has conducted bottled water taste tests across the United States for the past several years.
The tests have revealed that blindfolded tasters generally can’t tell the difference between bottled water and tap water. If they report a preference, they generally prefer tap water.
In a separate test, researchers offered New York City residents bottled water and tap water from the local supply. Get this: 75 percent preferred tap water.
#6 At Least Water Bottling Creates Jobs
In 2008, an organization called Food & Water Watch reported on the bottled water industry’s dismal employment record.
The organization’s researchers discovered that water bottling plants require few workers—typically only a couple dozen.
Most of these workers come from the home office. As a result, each plant employs somewhere between two and 10 local workers.
Food & Water Watch says that while the average American manufacturing worker was paid $51,428 in 2006, the average worker in a water bottling plant made 19.8 percent less, or $41,236.
Moreover, bottled water workers sustained more work-related injuries than workers in other kinds of manufacturing jobs.
The Bottom Line
There is no benefit to drinking bottled, supposedly-better-than-tap-water water compared to drinking from your faucet at home.
If you’re concerned about the purity of your home water supply, buy an inexpensive filter and invest the money you save in eating healthier, being more active, or buying yourself a gift to reward yourself for resisting the weight of a demanding, capitalist ploy to milk your pocket.