Why do people pay for something they can pretty much get for free? Convenience. Bottled water continues to be one of the fastest growing beverages, with sales of bottled water growing nearly 7 percent between 2011 and 2012. Sales of bottled water account to roughly $12 billion annually, and only 60 to 70% of all the plastic bottles sold are recycled. The continued preference for convenience over ecological efficiency has us continuing to pollute our land and oceans.
Surprisingly, the consumers are opting for bottled water over tap water, instead of the bottled water sales having come from declining purchase in soft drinks. This supports the notion that consumers prefer bottled water because of taste, convenience and perceived dangers associated with regular tap drinking water.
Depending on where you live, tap water is likely not doing you more harm than bottled water. Many reports have found that there was almost no difference between the two at all. And despite the popular belief that tap water is inferior, supported for instance by grounded fears about chlorine use, bottled water has been found to contain thousands of chemicals, including endocrine disruptors. These chemicals mimic molecules that are normally used in cell signaling, and confuse your cells by giving them false information. In one study, tests were conducted on 18 different bottled water products to look for the presence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). The team identified roughly 24,520 different chemicals present in the tested water, by using an advanced combination of bioassay work and high-resolution mass spectrometry. Shockingly, 16 of the 18 samples were found to inhibit the body’s androgen receptors by 90 percent.
The U.S. bacterial limit is no more than 500 colony-forming units of bacteria per millilitre of water. Canadian tests on their bottled water samples showed alarmingly high results of more than 80,000 heterotrophic units, hundreds of times more than the permitted limit. Drinking from bottled water is also dangerous if it contains any number of plastics, but most famously Bisphenol A (BPA), which has been linked to breast cancer, prostate cancer, and early onset of puberty.
It is also a common claim that bottled water tastes better than tap water. However, many taste tests find that participants cannot detect any definitive taste difference. One study found that only a third of the participants were able to identity the tap water correctly. Perhaps they cannot tell the difference because in most cases there is none, literally.
Buying bottled water is a not a long term solution to securing access to clean water. Over 1 million tons of plastic are used each year to meet the demands of the bottled water market. If you are worried about the fluoride or chlorine in your drinking water, three of the most simple methods of removing it are Reverse Osmosis, Distillation and Activated Alumina Defluoridation. Bottled water that has been treated by distillation, reverse osmosis, or another suitable process is labelled as “purified water”, however some purified water still contains fluoride as the filters used don’t remove fluoride or because the company adds fluoride to the water after filtering it. Many people are purchasing bottled water because they assume that it comes from some exotic, or cleaner location. And maybe they would be surprised to find out that Everest Water is not from Mount Everest: it’s from Corpus Christi, Texas. And Glacier Clear Water is not from a glacier in Alaska, it’s just simple tap water from Greeneville, Tenn. Dasani and Aquafina are also just reprocessed tap water from cities around the U.S. One of Aquafina’s sources is the Detroit River. It is estimated that between 25-40% or more of bottled water in the United States comes from tap water.
When you demand your tap water is clean, and you achieve it, then you have helped everyone and fulfilled a daily need. Buying bottled water, or privatizing it, is trying to treat the symptom of a problem, more cheaply and efficiently solved directly. There are many who also insist that access to clean water is a human right, so should it really be sold for profit on the global market? Worst of all, your money is a form of democracy and it would be insane to finance people who waste resources and ruthlessly deplete aquifiers.