There’s a common misconception that bottled water is healthier than tap water and the beverage industry has been making a killing off of it for years now. That’s why I was so glad to see this article by Tom Standage of the New York Times.
In 2004, Americans, on average, drank 24 gallons of bottled water, making it second only to carbonated soft drinks in popularity. Furthermore, consumption of bottled water is growing more quickly than that of soft drinks and has more than doubled in the past decade. This year, Americans will spend around $9.8 billion on bottled water, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation.
Ounce for ounce, it costs more than gasoline, even at today’s high gasoline prices; depending on the brand, it costs 250 to 10,000 times more than tap water. Globally, bottled water is now a $46 billion industry. Why has it become so popular?
It cannot be the taste, since most people cannot tell the difference in a blind tasting. Much bottled water is, in any case, derived from municipal water supplies, though it is sometimes filtered, or has additional minerals added to it.
Nor is there any health or nutritional benefit to drinking bottled water over tap water. In one study, published in The Archives of Family Medicine, researchers compared bottled water with tap water from Cleveland, and found that nearly a quarter of the samples of bottled water had significantly higher levels of bacteria. The scientists concluded that “use of bottled water on the assumption of purity can be misguided.” Another study carried out at the University of Geneva found that bottled water was no better from a nutritional point of view than ordinary tap water.
Admittedly, both kinds of water suffer from occasional contamination problems, but tap water is more stringently monitored and tightly regulated than bottled water. New York City tap water, for example, was tested 430,600 times during 2004 alone.
Tom goes on to point out that in developing countries where access to clean drinking water is minimal bottled water makes a lot of sense, but in a country with one of the safest and most readily available water supplies it’s just a monumental waste of money and may even be doing more harm than good.