Throughout modern history water has been relatively inexpensive, so it was quite a surprise to many when it became trendy in the 1990s for people to pay premium prices for bottled water. Today, bottled water has become a multi-billion dollar industry, as people drink it for convenience, taste and even glamour. Many people just feel bottled water is purer and healthier than tap water. Unfortunately, the evidence does not support the prevailing wisdom. Here are five strange but true facts about bottled drinking water.
5. Bottled Water is More Expensive Than You Think
According to the Environmental Working Group, the average cost for a gallon of bottled water is $3.79. That is almost 1,900 times the cost of public tap water, which is practically free at $.002 per gallon. And the cost of bottled water can be much higher when purchasing from a convenience store, as a 20-ounce bottle priced at $1.69, with 6 percent tax added, works out to almost $11.50 per gallon. This astounding price difference adds up over time, especially for individuals who frequently purchase bottled water. In 2006, Americans spent an estimated $15 billion on bottled water. The high cost of water, on the other hand, is not always evident at the cash register. Increased plastic usage has led to an increase in prices for garbage and recycling services in many areas, prompting cities such as San Francisco and Seattle to ban the purchase of individual water bottles at events occurring on city property.
4. Tap Water is Just as Pure as Bottled Water
Critics have often pointed out that some bottled water actually comes directly from municipal water sources, where it then undergoes further treatment before being bottled. That might explain why many people cannot detect a difference in taste. A famous 2005 study performed by ABC’s news magazine program 20/20 pitted five national water brands against water collected from a New York City drinking fountain. The samples were submitted to University of New Hampshire microbiologist Aaron Margolin, who found no difference in bacteria content. 20/20 also conducted a blind taste test with six different water products: Aquafina, K-mart’s American Fare, Evian, Poland Springs, Iceland Spring and the New York City tap water. The tap water finished in the middle of the pack, tied for third place with Poland Springs. The cheapest bottled water, American Fare, won the competition, while Evian, the most expensive water tested, finished last.
3. Water Companies Use Dangerous Plastic Packaging
The majority of bottled water companies use polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or polycarbonate to manufacture their plastic bottles. In polycarbonate plastic, Bishenol A (BPA) is used as the main hardening substance; BPA is a synthetic estrogen that has been conclusively linked to increased cancer risk by numerous independent and government agencies. According to Michael Selby, a representative for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, almost all human contact with BPA occurs via plastic containers or linings. A 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association also implicated BPA in cases of heart disease and diabetes. British scientist David Melzer tested urine of nearly 1,500 adults and found that BPA measurements were higher in participants with diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
2. Some Bottled Water Contains Toxic Chemicals
The Environmental Working Group conducted tests on ten different bottled waters at the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory, and the group found a litany of impurities and contaminants. Shockingly, the tests came back positive for fluoride, arsenic, fertilizer, prescription drugs and radioactive isotopes. This is not to say that impurities of this nature do not occur in tap water, because they sometimes do. In 1993, for example, 104 Milwaukee residents died, and 400,000 people became ill, after drinking tap water infected with cryptosporidium, a water-borne protozoan. But unlike bottled water companies, tap water providers dispense information regarding filtration methods and possible contamination. The EWG recommends drinking tap water that is purified through a home filtration system.
1. Bottled Water Takes a Heavy Environmental and Geopolitical Toll
Even though many consumers make efforts to recycle plastic bottles, most end up being discarded. The plastic that makes it to landfills then just sits there, taking hundreds of years to decompose. Other bottles make their way into waterways and disrupt marine ecosystems. The growth of the bottled water industry has also dramatically increased oil usage. The United States Conference of Mayors estimates that it requires 17 million barrels of oil per year to satiate America’s thirst for bottled water. So not only does the plastic waste from bottled water directly harm the environment, purchasing bottled water subsidizes unstable political regimes in oil-producing countries.