Bottled vs. Tap
by Emi Yasuda
Fresh from Arctic glaciers! Untouched by man! The slogans of today’s bottled water companies would lead us to believe that bottled water is the epitome of refreshing beverages. After all, who doesn’t prefer the sound of “Purity you can taste” over “Fresh from the kitchen sink?” But is bottled water truly a better alternative to the water that flows from our taps?
In this day and age, bottled water purchases are on the rise. In fact, in the past 10 years sales have boomed over 10%. While you probably know already that bottled water is not a good choice for the environment, do you know if it is a good choice for you?
In recent years, it has become a common belief that tap water is impure and even unsafe to drink without a filter. Luckily, this could not be further from the truth. Tap water in the United States comes already treated for any potentially harmful impurities. While filters do remove parasites and bacteria from your beverage, tap water in the U.S. is always pre-processed to ensure these harmful contaminants do not reach your lips.
Where safety is concerned, the standards for bottled water and tap water are nearly identical. However, they are regulated through two different systems. Tap water is overseen by the EPA, otherwise known as the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Bottled water, on the other hand, is regulated by the FDA, or United States Food and Drug Administration. While many people today believe that tap water standards are much looser than the ones for bottled water, there are actually very few differences between the two, such that neither bottled water nor tap water is likely to pose any risk to your health (provided that all regulations are properly enforced). The FDA regularly adapts and reviews its standards based on new EPA regulations to ensure that any harmful contaminants discovered by the EPA are not found in your bottled water.
However, studies have shown that these standards are not always met. While municipal water reserves are regularly monitored, bottled water quality tends to be analyzed less frequently. This was brought to light in a study conducted by James Lalumandier, a professor at the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. In his research, Lalumandier found that 25% of the 57 samples of different brands of bottled water contained 10 times more bacteria than tap water, and worse, that 1 in 10 of these samples actually had bacteria levels 1000 times greater! Conversely, in a much larger study conducted by the DWI (Drinking Water Inspectorate), 99.96% of the 4 million tap water samples met or exceeded water safety standards!
Another difference you may want to note is that tap water contains added fluorine. This mineral is proven to help reduce cavities and maintain tooth health. A comprehensive review, averaging data from hundreds of studies, found that children drinking fluoridated water had 14.6% fewer cavities than children who did not. However, there is some controversy over the addition of fluorine to water. Excessive ingestion may lead to dental fluorosis, a condition in which your enamel mottles and leaves white streaks (or in severe cases, brown marks) on your teeth. Luckily, it is highly unlikely that you would consume so much fluoride in your water as to ever induce these side effects.
Despite minor discrepancies, you can see that the differences between tap water and bottled water are for the most part insignificant. In fact, bottled water often contains the same water that runs from your tap! Between 2006 and 2009, the amount of bottled tap water grew by 66%! In the same time frame, the amount of bottled spring water increased by only 9%.
Another unfortunate drawback of bottled water is its price. While it is often considered a more convenient option, it is frequently accompanied by a not-so-convenient price. The average cost of a bottle of water is $1.45. Though this may seem affordable, an entire gallon of tap water costs less than 1 cent! To put this in perspective, if your household water bill were based on bottled water prices, you’d have to pay around $9000 per month!
Choosing tap water is also better for the environment. The amount of oil required to manufacture, fill, label, and transport plastic water in the US is equivalent to the amount required to fuel 100,000 cars! Imagine how much oil we could preserve if we stopped using bottled water. Plus, data from the Pacific Institute of California shows that the making of bottled water requires 2000 times more energy than tap water.
So although bottled water may be convenient, tap water is an equally safe and in many ways superior alternative. Not only can it help you be more cost-effective, but it can also help you be more energy efficient. The next time you drop by the grocery store, be sure to pick up a reusable water bottle so you can drink smart!