Thirty years ago the idea of paying for bottled water was laughable. I personally laughed at the prospect. Today bottled water is HUGE business. Many people believe today it to be safer than municipally treated water. So what changed? First were a series of failures in the public water supply. Some caused by equipment, some caused by people and some caused by microorganisms evolving. Clever and opportunistic marketing kicked in and business grew. Like the title suggests, I rarely drink bottled water for the following reasons.
Price. People complain about gasoline at $3.60/gallon bottled water can be 8 times that price per gallon. I am already paying for municipal water. I don’t need to and don’t want to pay twice for my water.
The source of bottled water. There is only one water cycle, and the sources for tap and bottled water are the same. The same lakes, rivers and aquifers are used by both.
Upgrades in municipal water treatment. I work in water treatment. I have seen how the industry has changed. The improvements from each system failure have greatly improved processes and strict monitoring of the system help prevent failures and correct them sooner. This includes stricter laws and regulations.
Low quality plastic. The bottles are very cheap, not in terms of price, but the plastic is typically the minimum quality allowed. This means I pay a lot for a bottle of water that I can’t reuse because the plastic will leach into the water.
Less strict standards. Bottled water has been monitored much less. The drinking water regulations for municipalities are much stricter (there are exceptions) then the ones for bottled water. A city of 2.5 million people with test their water hundreds of thousands of times a year. The bottled water industry doesn’t come close to that number. If there is a quality problem it is less likely to be identified in bottled water. There is also no requirement to leave a disinfectant residual in the bottle. Limiting the shelf life of the water.
Clear plastic and how stores display the water. Clear containers are not a good thing to store water in. Sunlight promotes bacterial growth. It raises the temperature and can encourages algae growth and can turn water stagnant. It is true in lakes and it is true in bottles. How often is bottled water displayed in the front window of a grocery store? How long has it been there? Sunlight also breaks down any residual disinfectants that might have been in the water. If the water was safe before the window, it might not be afterwards.
Finally what I feel is the most important reason, bottled water is frequently just bottled municipally treated tap water. Look at the label, where does the water come from? Usually it is a town somewhere. Often that town is named after a natural water feature. It is easier and much cheaper to use the municipal water for bottling because like I said before it will be the same aquifer and will need less treatment (if any). It makes too much economic sense to use the municipal water, and that’s how successful businesses operate. The other thing on the label to look for are the minerals and other elements in the water. If you see a Cl with a percentage greater the zero, that’s chlorine, it probably came from the municipality. So if you drink bottled water because you feel it is safer, you may have just added another step for contamination to occur.
Now the title is why I RARELY drink bottled water, there are sometimes when I DO buy and drink bottled water. With the water system I operate, when service is shut off, like during a watermain break, I tell people to buy bottled water. I also buy them when I am travelling, to freeze and put in the cooler, it is convenient and easier to clean up than loose ice. I also would buy it and drink it if my well was contaminated (I am not on a well now, but have been on one for 18 years). In an emergency situation, in an emergency always drink the safest water you can. Bottles are less susceptible to some types of emergencies and are more portable. Both are very good reasons to drink bottled water.
I purposely haven’t talked about the environmental impact of the bottles because I feel that the problem there lies with the person who drank the water, not the bottle itself, especially if there is a recycling program available.
So there you have it. My thoughts on bottled water. What are yours?