Tap water vs. bottled water – which is better?

10 06 2009

I apologize for not having updated my blog in a long time. I moved back to my native country, I started working full time, I’m studying as well, and right now I have a nasty Rottweiler bite wound on my throat, so, in short – I’ve been busy. Being back in Finland has made me realize, among other things, how many people drink bottled water. And I know it’s even worse in Canada, not to mention in the U.S. Nothing bad against specifically those countries, obviously – they just happen to be countries that I’ve visited and where I’ve seen this behavior. I’m sure the same goes for a bunch of other countries as well! So, in order to have a good argument ready for when trying to make someone stop drinking bottled water I decided I needed to look up some facts. This is what I found:

Why you should drink tap water (a.k.a. why bottled water is bad):

1. It creates an enormous amount of plastic waste, and leaves an incredibly big environmental footprint.

Annual production of the plastic (PET or polyethylene) bottles to meet U.S. consumer demand for bottled water takes the equivalent of about 17.6 million barrels of oil, not including the cost of transporting the bottled water to consumers. That more or less equals the amount of oil required to fuel more than one million vehicles on U.S. roads each year. Worldwide bottling of water uses about 2.7 million tons of plastic each year. And in the end, about 86 percent of the empty plastic water bottles in the United States land in the garbage instead of being recycled. (Source: Food and water watch – Take back the tap)


2. It’s expensive.

Last year Americans spent nearly $11 billion on over 8 billion gallons of bottled water. $11 billion!!! That’s A LOT! And I just can’t grasp the fact that so many students, who supposedly are “poor” and living on loans, still find excuses to buy bottled water. And how many families have extra money to spend on bottled water? They could just as well drink tap water, which can be up to a 1000 times cheaper. Tap water costs about $0.002 per gallon compared to the $0.89 to $8.26 per gallon charge for bottled water.

3. Tap water may be safer, cleaner and healthier than bottled water.

Companies that sell bottled water spend millions of dollars every year to promote their own product. They make you, the consumer, think that their water is extra healthy, and absolutely cleaner than the water that comes out your tap. This is usually not true. Tap water is regularly checked by the EPA as well as state and local governments, when bottled water is only checked by the FDA. And FDA standards are way behind EPA standards – a few examples (borrowed from Bottled water – Illusions of Purity):
– Municipal water is not permitted to contain E. coli or fecal coliform bacteria. FDA rules for bottled water include no such prohibitions.
– Municipal water from surface sources must be filtered and disinfected, or it must have strict pollution controls. There are no filtration or disinfection requirements for bottled water at the federal level. The only source-water protection, filtration or disinfection provisions for bottled water are delegated to the states, and many states have adopted no meaningful programs.
– Cities must have their water tested by government-certified labs. No certification requirement exists for bottlers.
– Municipal tap water must be tested for coliform bacteria 100 or more times a month. New York City takes 500,000 samples of its water per year. That’s nearly once a minute all year long. Bottled water plants only have to test once a week.

On that same page you can also read:
“Bottled water likes to sell itself as being pure in its little clear bottles, but the fact is nearly 40 percent of bottled water is tap water with added minerals or filtration and there’s no guaranteed safety just because it’s wrapped in plastic – and in fact there’s some risk. Municipal water has an advantage in that it is constantly moving, keeping fresh and avoiding stagnancy. Water bottles, though cleaned, are not sterilized. Relatively low amounts of bacteria at bottling can multiply to a much larger problem by the time bottles hit store shelves. Bottled water frequently is not chlorinated, allowing bacterial and fungal growth within the bottle.”


4. The plastic used in the bottles can leak dangerous chemicals.

Among the risks with bottled water is the fact that plastics used to make the bottles is not safe, since it may leak hazardous chemicals into the water. Phthalate is a chemical often used in water bottles since it makes the plastic softer and less brittle. But when heated they begin to leach into the contents of the bottle – even the heat from leaving the bottle in a car a hot day may be enough. Most water bottles

are made from the resin #1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) (a safe plastic if used only once). However, when reused, as they commonly are, they can leach chemicals such as DEHA, a possible human carcinogen, and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), a potential hormone disruptor. Phthalates can cause reproductive difficulties, liver problems and increased risk of cancer. While phthalates are regulated in tap water, the FDA maintains an exemption for bottled water. Also, because the plastic is porous you’ll likely get a swill of harmful bacteria with each gulp if you reuse #1 plastic bottles.
To read more about hazardous plastics, see my earlier blog post: “How safe is Tupperware?…”

Hazards with tap water:

Fluoride in tap water a health hazard

Is tap water a health hazard?

What to do:

Buy a good water filter.
Read more about water filtration here.
Water Filtration Guide

Buy a stainless steel reusable water bottle. kleankanteen.com – The original, eco-friendly, bpa-free, reusable stainless steel water bottles

Take the pledge to break the bottled water habit. Take back the Tap Pledge

Support funding for public drinking water and water treatment.



Common questions and answers about tap water.

Natural Resources Defense Council – “What’s on Tap? Grading drinking water in U.S. Cities”

The definitive bottled water site

Environmentalist study says tap water superior to bottled


naturalpath.com – “Tap water vs. bottled water – which is better?”

Food and water watch

The Green Guide – Tapped out