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Bottled Water Is a Big Drain

Most communities in the U.S. have safe tap water. Bottled H2O is a waste of money and resources. Pro or con?

Update! Hear a podcast in which our debaters address your reader comments.

Pro: Hello, You Have a Faucet

When you buy single-serve bottles of water, your money is actually purchasing water regulated less than tap, plus advertising. For that, you’ll pay more than three times for H2O what you pay for gasoline—$12 per gallon.

Single-serving bottled water costs up to 4,000 times as much as tap. It’s not only the cost, of course, that’s the problem. Cities must filter and disinfect tap, which comes from surface water. No federal filtration or disinfection requirements exist for bottled water.

City water systems must issue “right to know” reports about what’s in the water. Bottlers successfully killed this requirement for bottled water. Up to 70% of bottled water is unregulated by the Food & Drug Administration, because it never crosses state lines for sale, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. So there may be a health cost, too.

Tap water is a local product that needs no packaging. Globally, bottled water accounts for as many as 1.5 million tons of plastic waste annually, according to the Sierra Club. Making the plastic in the bottles requires 47 million gallons of oil annually. And that doesn’t include the jet fuel and gasoline required to transport the bottles—sometimes halfway around the world.

In addition, billions of bottles end up in the ground every year. Sadly, only 20% ever get recycled, according to the Container Recycling Institute. The other 80%? Besides landfills, many bottles end up in oceans, posing a risk to marine life. By purchasing bottled water, you’re indirectly raising the price of gasoline and contributing to global climate change.

In 2007, the manufacturers of plastic water bottles generated more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions and required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, according to the Pacific Institute.

Americans drank more than 30 billion single-serving bottles of water last year. Yet the vast majority of us have an unlimited source of clean, EPA-regulated tap water flowing from our faucets. The recent scare tactics—reports of pharmaceutical drug traces being found in tap water—from the $100 billion bottled water industry don’t ring true. Until recently, the only thing tap water was missing was cool marketing and an awesome image. Problem solved.

Con: It’s Not Either/Or

Bottled water is a healthful, convenient food product. Attempts to turn this matter into a “bottled water vs. tap water debate” misrepresent consumer lifestyle choices and buying motivations while oversimplifying the more complex issue of how Americans dispose of, and reduce, their waste.

Bottled water does not compete with tap water, and bottled water companies have no desire to displace strong municipal water systems. Both spring water and purified water categories of bottled water sales have grown rapidly, because consumers value the portability and consistency of fresh taste. Think of all the convenience stores, delis, and gas stations that offer no tap water but have plenty of healthful bottled water.

Most people drink both bottled water and tap water. Far from “competing,” many bottled water companies rely on safe, clean tap water for use in production facilities and as the source water for their purified bottled water.

Consumers need not choose between tap water and bottled water in order to be environmentally responsible. Bottled water packaging is 100% recyclable and among the most highly recycled consumer goods, according to the National Recycling Partnership.

The beverage bottle itself is prime recyclable material when one considers the current value of oil-based plastics as raw materials. Recycled plastic can become new textiles, furniture, or even a new plastic bottle. Plastic water bottles are growing increasingly lighter in weight. Most brands have reduced plastic by at least 40% over the past five years.

Because the FDA classifies it as a food product, bottled water is comprehensively regulated by the FDA and state regulatory agencies. Because the plastic bottle, bottle cap, and label inevitably come from various states, bottled water is subject to the FDA’s interstate jurisdiction, like most other packaged food products. Municipal water is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state agencies.

Under the Federal Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Act regulations, bottled water must conform to public health standards as strong as EPA rules for tap water. The current system of regulations for the safety and quality of both bottled water and tap water should provide consumers with the confidence to choose either option.

Any suggestion to the contrary is an attempt to create unnecessary paranoia and do a huge disservice to a thirsty public.

Opinions and conclusions expressed in the BusinessWeek Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of BusinessWeek, BusinessWeek.com, or The McGraw-Hill Companies. Opinions and conclusions expressed in the BusinessWeek Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of BusinessWeek, BusinessWeek.com, or The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Reader Comments

YinYang

Sorry, enviros, but your misinformed scare tactics don't hold water. People need to stand up and make their own informed decisions. Is bottled water better than soda? Do I want to choose among the cooler full of many bottled drinks that include bottled water, or is some third party going to mandate how I make decisions? Do I want to be convinced by loose facts that tap water is better? People can recycle and should, and there is no reason to ban one good drink when there are dozens more drinks in bottles and even more other commercial goods that use packaging.

Bob

I used to work for a state agency that regulates public water systems (PWS), and I appreciate and support the need for maintaining an infrastructure that provides our citizens with safe drinking water. But I abhor activists who turn bottled water into a tabloid issue with nonfactual information and sensationalized frenzies. Where do the folks at tappening.com shop for bottled water? Anyone can buy a case of 24 0.5 L bottles for the equivalent of $1.58 per gallon or less--one third the price of gasoline. Mr. Doss is also correct about FDA jurisdiction. The bottle of water is a unit, and the entire unit is regulated. So, unless the container, closure, label, and the water itself all come from the same state, it is regulated by the FDA. Regarding filtration, NYC and many other cities are not required to filter their municipal water. Bottled water uses a multi-barrier process that ensures proper filtration and disinfection. Should we talk about the bottle? OK, the bottle keeps the outside environment out of the product, protecting it from contamination and preserving the clean room conditions it was bottled in. Try ensuring a clean room quality product with any PWS distribution system, old or new. OK, next, bottle disposal. Recycling is a necessity, and it's readily available in most parts of the country. Consumers need more education. But bottled water containers constitute 0.3% of the municipal waste stream in the U.S. Have the tappening.com folks looked in their refrigerators, pantries, bathrooms, and laundry rooms lately? How many food and consumer products are packaged in something other than plastic? Plastic recycling is much bigger than bottled water can ever be primarily responsible for. And finally, I'm a free citizen of this country, and I maintain a good diet by choice. And I have the freedom to choose what I will ingest into my body. Perhaps tappening.com would like a ride to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, or Montgomery County, Md., to fill their stainless steel canteens. Guess what they're drinking? Uh-huh, bottled water. That's right, without availability of bottled water, people in disaster areas have few or no options for clean, safe drinking water.

Let's get off the bottle and move on to the real issues: an improved PWS infrastructure and consumer education about recycling that involves all consumer products manufacturers.

Brian Grant

How can we expect that municipal water sources will treat every drop of water used on landscaping, cleaning, etc., just like the extremely small percentage of tap water we ingest?

Bottom line, bottled water is a safe, clean non-sugared, nonfat hydrator with better taste and no chlorine or chloramines added. The larger sizes of bottled water are a great value and cost only about $1.80 per gallon delivered to your home or office.

When was the last time you purchased a tank of gas at that price? The FDA does regulate bottled water. It shows how little some people know and how little they want to work to get to the truth that they would just parrot the standard position of the NRDC. Bottled water provides a healthy, intelligent choice for the consumer. Many consumers choose intelligently and are drinking more bottled water than ever.

Bottled Water Drinker

I always thought journalists were suppose to check their facts--guess that went down the drain too.

I drink bottled water, because I like the taste and it is much better for me than soda or even tap water--yes, better than tap. Mark DiMassimo and Eric Yaverbaum must not ever drink tap water themselves; otherwise they would smell the chlorine that public systems have to use to kill the bacteria.

I agree that it is a shame we don't recycle our bottles. But hey, bottled water containers make up a minor part of that bigger problem. It's soft drinks and beer and mayo jars and everything else that we love to buy that happens to come in plastic bottles. I sure hope someone has checked up on Mark and Eric to be sure they put out their recycling bins each week (if they even have the option, since 50% of the U.S. has no curbside recycling).

I think somebody should also check on Mark and Eric's math skills. The last time I bought a case of bottled water (which has 3 gallons of water) at Home Depot, it cost $4. That makes water $1.33 per gallon vs. the $4 per gallon I pay for gas.

Maybe Mark and Eric should do a little fact checking before they try to push people away from one of the most healthy habits they can have--drinking bottled water instead of sugar- or chemical-laden beverages.

Either way--wether you support choice and believe bottled water is a nice alternative or you actually fill up your reusable bottle with tap water, you, not anyone else, should have the choice.

The Ancient Mariner

I would like to invite Messrs. Mark DiMassimo and Eric Yaverbaum to my home in Spring, Texas, and have them try the tap water. Although the local health department issues an annual testing report saying how safe our drinking water is, one only has to observe all the plumbing fittings and hose attachments to see an incrediblle amount of corrosion--to the point of welding all fittings useless. The amount of CaCl2 added practically makes a syrup of the water.

Tap Water Drinker

Amazing misinformation by people reading this debate. I checked out the Tappening Web site again today, and right on the homepage is a link to see the quality of your local tap water? They don't hide that? Sometimes it's good. Sometimes it's bad. I've seen them on TV, and they basically have said if you have access to all the information, you can decide for yourself. These two guys and their national movement have captured mass attention and certainly educated many of us. I had my tap water tested at home with a free kit. Installed a filter and monitor our local water. These guys are heroes to me and many in my local community. They got people talking. They will leave the planet a better place. They won't fix it, but will do more than make a wonderful contribution. Certainly beats the efforts of us who take five minutes out of our day to comment. Anyone ever hear of global warming? Been to a landfill? Keep up the great work at Tappening. You have a lot of fans.

PNW Trojan

Bob says paying a $1.58 per gallon of tap water, if you buy 24 half-liter bottles, that the bottling company pays maybe .005 cents for, makes good sense? If you go to a convenience store or gas station, that half-liter bottle will be $1-plus. W. C. Fields said it better: "There's a sucker born every minute."

waterman

I think bottled water should be easily available but expensive (to discourage waste). I always use bottled water when I am on the road but have installed a reverse osmosis system in my kitchen. So, most of the time, I drink tap water. All in all, water (bottled or otherwise) is a thousand times better for your health than soda and sports drinks.

Rachel Arianna

What a bunch of grumpy baseless one-liners hurled at DiMassimo and Yaverbaum. I also have read an enormous amount about this movement in the media, and I even bought some of the bottles they sell on their site (they're very cool). Besides deciding what was best for my family and our environment, I checked those two guys out. Yaverbaum seems to have had many interests through the years. One seems more high profile than the other. He also writes books, although I was very disappointed to see none about this issue or our precious environment. DiMassimo was a little tougher to find, although he seems to have a thriving ad agency. I'm with the tap water drinker before me. These guys should be praised and applauded. Wouldn't it be great if more people that had their skills cared enough to help? I'm just another big fan of what they are doing. Although because they're New York City agency guys, I assume they have thick skin and don't need anyone lavishing praise and thanks on them. But frankly, it's guys like this who inspire the rest of us to pitch in and make some little changes. Amen for their example.

Bob

There was obviously a misunderstanding about the $1.58 figure in my response above. The common price for a 24-bottle case of half-liter bottles converts to paying approximately $1.58 per gallon for bottled water, not tap water. That's about $0.21 per half-liter bottle. I'm challenging the claim made by tappening that "you'll pay more than three times for H2O what you pay for gasoline—$12 per gallon." That's extreme and misleading. If you do pay that much, then maybe you need to shop elsewhere. Likewise, Brian presents a similar cost figure--$1.80 per gallon, delivered to your home. Once again, it's a choice, to buy in a C-store or buy by the case, which is cheaper. It makes no sense to generalize that most Americans pay $12 per gallon--you'll only find that in expensive restaurants. I give most American consumers more credit than that. By the way, how much do the same places mark up wine?

Interconnect

Bottled water industry, brands, consumer loyalties, lifestyles, advertising, trends, etc.--all settled. International brands such as Nestle's drinking water--after the merger of several international brands, including leading French brands--commands major market share in the developing countries' bottled water under licensing to local franchisees. There are catchy advertising slogans in countries with no code of conduct for advertising. Many developing countries are dependent on aid assistance of international DFIs, with countries in heavy debt, borrowing. There are state programs funded by DFIs for drinkable tap water for the masses, whereby desalination, chlorine, and drinkable water is funded for millions, in aid assistance, upsetting the balance sheet of the governments that will pay the funding. Hence the crooked marketing of bottled mineral water, which is just processed water, taking advantage of improper regulation for advertising "with no code of conduct" of ethics for advertising claims.

Barbara Holtzman

The one big thing that you are all missing that makes tap water so much better is the transportation costs. Bottled water is so heavy, you can't even pack a truck full of it, so there's waste in having more trucks needed to ship the stuff. If you consider all the time, effort, money, and gasoline it costs to move water all over the world, most of it to places with safe and clean tap water, you'd be amazed.Yeah, you can get bottled water cheap, and when you're out and about, it's a great alternative, healthful, safe, all of that. Very few are suggesting we ban bottled water outright. Even the most strident of advocates just want to cut down on the massive waste. Get a filter, get a water bottle, or make your own, rather than supporting a seriously flawed supply system.

Kathie Taylor

Last time I checked, this was America, and we pride ourselves on freedom of choice. I live on the coastline of Florida, and our drinking water is full of chlorine, which has been proven harmful. I have filters on my tap and refrigerator. I use bottled and also refill. We keep bottled on hand in case of hurricanes. We eventually use it and buy more. The key here is that we recycle big time. If it isn't available in your area, bug your local authorities. As far as that goes, most recycling centers are privately owned, and they make lots of money from people who recycle. Our community no longer recycles glass. That means choosing more and more plastic instead of glass, which is filling up our landfills.

We also have been on a mandatory water ban since the 1980s. Sometimes it is stricter than others. All drought-prone areas need to learn to conserve or pay the price (a very large fine).

Eddie

I am not going to let the enviro wackos make me feel guilty for drinking bottled water. That's just wrong.

darvo

Hey, here are some water facts for consideration. In parts of the Midwest, there are so many farm chemicals in the water table and animal-excrement-related private water well impurities--not to mention many local small community water systems that are dense with concentrations of minerals that tap water is frequently not recommended for either infants or people who have had kidney stones or other identified health risks. I love my bottled water. Depending upon what time of the year it is, the local tap water actually smells. I purchase my consumable water by the gallon and my bottles at the grocery store in easy to carry plastics. The plastic is curb-side recyclable, and the jugs are reusable until they spring a leak.

Tree Hugger

Barbara and the guys at Tappening are absolutely correct. Besides a massive amount of flawed data being shoveled to us by multinational corporations that sell bottles water, those Tappening guys have everyone talking. That's what's most important. And they seem to be pretty good at keeping the conversation alive. I keep bumping into their information every where I look. Bet they're not getting an invite to this year's summer outing at Coke.

Although I believe the debate should be about the environment, if saving money helps the debate, I'm all for it. Measured in 700-milliliter bottles of Poland Spring, a daily intake of water would cost $4.41, based on prices at a CVS drugstore in New York City. Or $6.36 in 20-ounce bottles of Dasani. In half-liters of Evian, that'll be $6.76. All of which adds up to thousands a year.

Even a 24-pack of half-liter bottles at Costco Wholesale, a bargain at $6.97, would be consumed by one person in six days. That's more than $400 a year.

Compared to water from the tap? A little more than 0.001 cent for a day's worth of water. Based on averages from an American Water Works Association survey, that's just about 51 cents a year.

random

If you get a filter like Brita, use it to filter tap water, and refill a plastic bottle with the filtered tap, you've just created Dasani or Evian for pennies on the dollar. Just like stated in the con essay, many bottled water plants simply filter tap water and pour it into bottles, so if you think that your tap is tainted and buying bottled water will make it better, you're in for a shocker. It's probably the same exact stuff run through an industrial filter.

I also never cease to be amazed by how many people act as if their rights as American citizens are under assault during a discussion of the pros and cons of their consumption habits. ("Last time I checked this is America and we pride ourselves on freedom of choice.") No one is trying to take the choice away. They just want you to think whether you've made a good one on a macro scale.

Trina

It's true that much of the packaging of our household products is made from plastic, but that's the equivalent of saying that one person cannot make a difference, or "everybody else does it." Every change must begin somewhere. Global complacency has led us into an environmental mess. Individual choices will lead us out. If you feel strongly about holding onto your bottled water, fine, eliminate the use of plastic elsewhere in your everyday life. Personally, changing from bottled water to refillable bottles is an easy way to cut down on plastic consumption. Furthermore, it has me feeling great every time I take a drink. How's that for added benefit? If the idea of municipal water leaves you unsettled, put it through your own filtration system at home.

Part of the problem for many is that curbside recycling programs do not exist in their area. I, too, once lived in one of these places. I still gathered the recycling and brought it to a facility periodically. Unfortunately, a lot of people feel this is too much of a bother. People, its time to bother. We can no longer sit back and watch how our actions are destroying our planet. We are already experiencing the effects of that mode of being. Bravo for Tappening to open up this conversation. People are complaining about the price of gas, but at least it's getting us to reexamine our usage and consumption, whereas before we were on autopilot.

I agree that people in disaster areas may need bottled water out of necessity. However, we currently have the privilege and good fortune to live in a place where we do have access to clean running water. The question is, for how long? If consumers continue to make choices based on convenience rather than responsibility, our planet as we know it will cease to exist. What was once considered the "long term effect" of our actions on the planet has now become a fast approaching reality. Tappening has had the courage and foresight to step up in order to create awareness and education about the urgency of this issue, while providing simple solutions that we can all easily accommodate.

Joseph

I can't do math, but I am into business as well as the environment. Companies make a profit, or they wouldn't sell bottled water. Therefore, no matter how you try to look at it, bottled water costs up to 80% less or more of purchased price to produce.

Tree huggers and health nuts and everyone in general should use common sense when it comes to such misinformation. Bottled water companies probably care about their product over many others. I know as I had an experience with taste. They were quick to send out a prepaid UPS label and everything I needed to send the product back. Sure enough, the ph was a little off, which they said should not have been the case.

The EPA, USDA, and other agencies are a joke. They do not care about your health "only their paycheck," and that includes those who may pay them off to look the other way. On the other hand, major water brands are very concerned about reputation of the brand. If word were to get out of a problem, what would happen? No one would, of course, buy from them again. This alone proves that bottled water is safer.

Last, I mentioned about companies making a profit. This again proves that any scenario of math used to substantiate higher cost is false. Education about recycling is important but not always practical, because of local resources. Regardless, many landfills separate items, and this again refutes the "waste and environmental issues."

Yummm... Tap water

I know plenty of people who work for water districts. Trust me, you do not want to drink what comes out of those pipes. In some cases, the pipes have been completely disintegrated for years. There are more than 400,000 miles of asbestos water pipes in the U.S., and many older cities still have lots of lead pipe. Hmmm... maybe that is why some people are so stupid.

cool drink of water

The bottled water industry has huge monies set aside for public relations. I betcha that Nestle and Crystal Geyser had their PR people from all across the country write half of these responses. Two can play at that game. They are paying for their comments to be submitted. No one is paying me.

MisInformed

Drink tap water by all means. Drink bottled water only when absolutely needed. Bottled water wastes energy and cash.

Nick

It is a fallacy unworthy of print for the bottled water industry to continue claiming that they are not building a market for bottled water by disparaging the tap. Just a couple examples:

Prior even to launching its Dasani bottled water brand, Coke launched an H20NO campaign with Olive Garden to train waiters to steer patrons away from the tap and to Coke products. After the campaign's early success, Coke announced, "The Olive Garden Targets Tap Water & WINS" on its Web site.

In 2000, the CEO of Quaker Oats (which was soon to merge with PepsiCo) told a reporter that, "[t]he biggest enemy is tap water." Susan D. Wellington, vice-president of marketing for Pepsi-owned Gatorade, once told a group of New York analysts that, "[w]hen we're done, tap water will be relegated to showers and washing dishes."

Lord knows a $15 billion market doesn't emerge from industry players singing Kum Bah Ya around the campfire with their friends at the public water utilities.

Cities need an additional $22 billion for maintenance, improvement, and expansion of public water systems, that they won't see if 1 in 5 people continues to think the only place to get water is from a bottle. City water systems are in fact much more highly regulated than bottled water. The marketing won't tell you that.

Ken Mitchell

I'm fortunate. In Citrus Heights, Calif., our tap water tastes very good. I've been other places where the tap water is atrocious. I would never purchase bottled water for our home, but on the road is sometimes a different story. I'd rather drink soda, but some folks would rather purchase water.

I think the thing that really angers me is that a can of soda costs about 65 cents, but a bottle of water can be far more expensive.

And if you're buying bottled water, you're buying the bottle; don't pay extra for "name brand" water. It is no coincidence that "Evian" spelled backward is "naive."

Racer

The correct answer is: "Neither."

Tap water has added chlorine and fluoride. And depending on your locality, contains a host of other chemical and organic pollutants. Bottled water, aside from the environmental issues, leaches plasticizers. Plus it has been proven to have high bacteria counts--from sitting on the shelf, in sunlight, at room temp, etc.

Confused No More

Who in the world knows what to believe or to make of this argument? It seems like one day something is good for you, the next day it is bad? How are we supposed to figure this out?

What I do know is that Tappening group did inspire me to try and figure it out for myself. After taking responsibility for my own decision based on all sorts of conflicting information, I've made a choice.

And I do believe from everything I have read about those guys from Tappening, that was what they wanted me to do. Make an educated decision. I'm going to save some money. Buy a filter. And do a little something for the environment.

So I suppose that Tappening convinced me more than a lifetime of big bucks in advertising targeting me?

Cryptosporidium

I don't think some people have heard of the problems with the tap. You should read up on it. Set up a Google alert for "tap water contamination," "boil water order," etc., and you will get information about where the problems are every day. Worse than that, most problems are under-reported or not reported at all. Take, for instance, Chula Vista, California, where some people's taps were hooked up to recycled water (only supposed to be for landscaping) for many years before it was discovered.

http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20070822-9999-1n22otay.html
The folks from Tappening failed to mention the plethora of problems with tap water, and that is very irresponsible of them.

How about pharmaceuticals in tap water? http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/20080310/tap-water-prescription-drugs.htm. I guess free drugs are okay with Tappening?

Ever heard of trihalomethane? http://www.answers.com/topic/trihalomethane?cat=technology. It's a chemical added to the tap in order to kill bacteria. Do you wonder what it might do to people? Read on at http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/kwj009v1.

I challenge Tappening to tell the whole truth.

Naura Hayman

Silly debate. But thanks to it, I have been to the Tappening Web site. Got to love the guy "challenging" Tappening "to tell the whole truth." That's kind of their point: to tell you what they know and have found and let you decide for yourselves. I found some videos of some TV appearances they have made, and one of those guys goes out of his way to say exactly that. There's even a link on their homepage that won't tell you rosy facts about the quality of your tap water, depending on where you live. Three cheers for Tappening. They have started a very healthy debate, and by the sound of it, it has made a major impact in a short period of time.

Bob

Paying for bottled water is just plain silly. You can get it from the faucet for free, almost.

sue

Bottled water tastes better than tap water, and it's portable. If it didn't and wasn't, people wouldn't buy it. What we need are biodegradable bottles for it.

jc

Amazingly provincial debate focused mostly on what a country like the U.S. thinks/feels/acts. And this is a country with decent public facilities although it is estimated it will take a trillion dollars to bring it up to snuff.

No, the issue is worldwide, and the U.S. is one of the lucky ones, since, with Canada and Alaska added to the mix, they do have plenty of water. The bottled vs. tap controversy is but a joke in most of Europe, where it's part of the culture; in Mexico, where not drinking water bottled ensures you many trips to a bathroom (if you can find one handy, not always a certainty); in Bermuda, where having water at all is a daily survival event; let alone China and India, where 90% of all water is putrid and t'wont be long where there will simply not be enough; finally, and not to be forgotten, desalinization, which is seen as the panacea by many if not most, has amazingly negative effects on plant and human health in the long run, and, in the short run, it even "pollutes" real water when mixed since it has so many "unique" particles, many of them heavy metals.

Okay, so what is the issue? Clearly moving water from the few places that have it in massive amounts to places that desperately need it is a must and is now possible. A startup in Chile, South America, Waters of Paragon, is taking unlimited glacier melt runoff and is ready to ship around the world in regular containers fitted with a patented inner-pack, and this can be done in billions of liters/gallons to anywhere. Better still, this water does not affect any aquifer or groundwater levels, so there is no impact to neighbors or to the environment (no power needed to load anything since it is either done with alternative energy--solar/wind/mini-hydro/gravity--and the ships are on their way to wherever and can pick up this cargo just to fill up.)

As to pricing, the supposedly killer question, basically it is already proved that people will pay, and if you don't believe that, ask the bottling companies and study the bottled water business (to add insult to injury, think of some of the idiotic brands like, say, Bling-Bling, at more than $50 for a sip or two). Moreover, the issue of pricing is inherently ridiculous since sans water, you die, so of course money will talk very loudly in the end.

Where is the water? is the real question, and the BusinessWeek writer didn't even approach that one--you've all seen what OPEC has done, so be prepared for the next one, which is OWEC. The difference is that this is the "organization of water exporting companies," an interesting oligopoly of all new players.

Once this new "commodity" type reality sets in, the issue of public vs. private won't hold water anymore.

Optimist

People drink both tap water and bottled water. But to say they are competing is crap. Bottled water competes with sodas (Coke, Pepsi, etc.). And to me, a bottle of water is much healthier than a bottle of Coke. It is as simple as that.

Jessica Gottlieb

This is laughable.

When people ask me what kind of water I prefer, my standard answer is DWP. First of all I'm unwilling to pay more for my water than my gasoline. Second, it's just gross to think that we need to create that much waste. I don't care if you can recycle it or not, the truck has to come and get the bottles to bring them to the plant, where many more engines work to bring it all full circle.

It's unnecessary.

Oh, and you won't die by walking around town without a water bottle. Really. Promise!

I get that people enjoy water bottles for convenience and whatnot, but please don't insult my intelligence by stating:

"Bottled water [sic] among the most highly recycled consumer goods..."

That's because there's so farking many of them.

And with the exception of my earthquake/emergency kit, none of them are necessary.

Bottled water will be as embarrassing as a Styrofoam cups in a few short years.


Brian H

The real danger of bottled water is cigarette lips.

Tammy

I think I'll stick with the bottled water. There are always things on the news about boiling your water because of some contamination or other. And then there was that time when the government was fearful of a terrorist attack on the major cities' water supply. Then there are the natural disasters. I live in a hurricane-prone area, where if a hurricane strikes, there is an automatic boiler water alert.

Personally, I think it should be a choice if one wants to drink tap or bottled water. Backing people into a corner and trying to force them to drink tap water when there was once bottled water and forcing millions of people out of work because of bottled water factories being shut down will do far more harm than good.

Kai

Hey, guess what people, the choice for between either tap or bottled water is yours for all eternity. What people want is for the negatives of bottled water to be exposed just like those from the tap. Some places have better tap water than others, but basically the high quality of tap water in the U.S. is amazing and cannot be refuted. How many people out of 300 million are dropping dead of tap water each year? Getting sick? Ya'll get my point.

The fact is that 40% of bottled water is filtered tap water, many times using the same reverse osmosis filters that can be used at home (there are industrial UV filters that are even more effective). Even if all of the U.S. bureaucracies are a joke, the biggest joke is that the FDA checks bottled water on average two times/week, while municipal water systems are checked hundreds if not thousands of times per week.

Finally, the cost of bottled water is excessive. Most people buy their bottled water in individual units, not by the boatload, so the markup is more than comparable to the cost of gas. Imagine all those urban cowboys without cars going to their far-flung Costcos and carrying a case home. That doesn't happen in the real world.

Buy whatever you want, but get it straight: Those comments at the top by the International Bottled Water Assn. boys are just trying to get their 2 cents--I mean 2 dollars--into the debate. Kudos.

Betsy Phair

Regardless of the pros and cons, we're talking about a commodity. Don't you think that the bottled water industry and those who profit from it would be writing most of the "pro" pieces? Anyone can say "anything."

Neil

Pro: bottled water. If you do a cradle to grave analysis of tap water consumption, you might find some people use disposable cups, which are of course added to the waste stream. Goodness forbid someone uses a glass to drink tap water; now you have energy costs (dishwashers/heated water) and chemicals (soaps) to consider. By the way: How did those glasses, plastic cups, and soap get to the consumers' home? Yes, more energy and effect on the environment to consider. Before you go off on bottled water, better think it all the way through.

Abs

Yes, we clean our reusable glasses, but the energy used to clean and reuse a drinking vessel is far less than the amount of oil used to create bottled water each year. Not to mention the amount of unrecycled plastic that sits in out earth.

As far as soap goes, there are many eco-friendly soaps and cleaners that can be used.

Obviously, tap water is the better option. Many people are against it because of the way it tastes. All I can say is get a filter, and stop being ignorant.

Neil

The only thing that is obvious is you did not address or understand my comments and feel the need to resort to name-calling. The topic is actually quite controversial, and there are many ways to analyze the situation and reach divergent conclusions.

Not everyone agrees with you or me; get over it.

Bruno

Let's see...Bottled Water costs $1.33 to $1.80 per gallon, there are approximately 325,851 gallons in an acre foot so we pay between $433,381 and $586,531 per acre foot. Experts estimate we use one acre foot per year per family of 5. Seems to me we could rebuild our entire water infrastructure to current environmental standards and then some at these prices.
Are you willing to give your money to this kind of venture for a better water system?

Another Neil

You want to know what's worse than this nonsense debate? How about this? If I asked three people I know if they're concerned about the environment, they'd each sincerely say "yes" and doubtless go on about how bad it is with pollution, blah, blah.

They all drive monster SUVs.

Americans are unreal. If you people were so concerned, you would not have taken that job 25 miles from your house and not have bought that idiotic waste of space, the SUV, to lug your 1.8 children around.

I don't give a fig what you say--you are what you drive. You already pay to get your tap water safe, but you're also apparently okay with the stuff being laced with fluoride and chlorine, so you buy bottled water and pay twice. Land of the free, home of the dim.

jgwiss

I eat at home with lots of food from the garden and drink filtered stream water most of the time. Sometimes I splurge and pretend I'm wealthy and eat out with my wife and pay lots for a good meal and perhaps a bottled water that came all the way from some spring in Europe--so what?

As far as tap, my pathologist brother-in-law years ago said that the Philadelphia tap water had something like 200 carcinogens in it as the water is taken from the Schuylkil and the Delaware rivers. He also said Philadelphia has a higher soft tissue cancer rate than Portland, Oregon, where the water comes from reservoirs. San Francisco's and New York's waters also come from high reservoirs, and the water tastes better than Philadelphia's, let me tell you. One year in my neighborhood it even tasted of diesel for a bit from a spill that drained into the river.

I will drink city tap water if it tastes okay, and I am sensitive to and hate chlorine, i.e., so not too often. Also I wouldn't make a habit either of drinking fluorinated water as I believe those who say it is a poison.

Couple of interesting ideas I ran across in California was--first--that the water coming to San Francisco starts out so pure that they have to add minerals--maybe limestone--to prevent the water from corroding copper pipes and solder joints. I guess there is a danger of copper poisoning and could be some old lead solder, maybe?

Second, that when extending the aqueduct to the reservoir above Santa Barbara '93ish, the construction folks would have had to have stirred a lot of sediment from serpentine rock, which would have contained asbestos. And I don't think there is data on ingested asbestos if any, indeed, can become suspended.

If I were really paranoid, I'd insist on fossil water or 'old' glacier ice to avoid any-is it tritium or deuterium?--that has entered the water cycle since the air atomic tests of yore, just to be safe from taking any radioactive molecules into my body tissues.

At this point--pre the next big nuclear mistake or on purpose preemptive thingy--I can't be bothered to take the trouble. I am old enough though to remember worrying when the Three Mile Island clouds blew over Philadelphia and also when they said to stay indoors in Oakland when the Chernobyl cloud/dust thing finally circled around to California and blew by.

Two last points: Why purify water to a reasonable drinking quality just to crap and dump chemicals in it and throw it downstream?

Also why does corporate agriculture (as I recall,the 85% portion of Santa Barbara Co.'s water) get to buy drinking-quality water by the acre foot and the majority of voters by the gallon?

jon

Apparently tap water suddenly became unsafe right around the time that marketing companies started pushing bottled water. Nonsense.

Barring a few rare exceptions, tap water in almost any developed country is perfectly safe, safer than bottled water.

As far as taste goes, there are taste differences between different water systems. But in general, once you get used to the taste, no big deal. It is highly subjective to claim that bottled water tastes better (although it might be more consistent in taste for a particular brand).

"The topic is actually quite controversial, and there are many ways to analyze the situation and reach divergent conclusions."

No, there is no controversy. Bottled water, when you include the impact of transporting it, etc. is orders of magnitude more wasteful in terms of resources than tap water.

You've got to hand it to Coke, Nestle, etc. (and I say this out of honest admiration): They've created a market for a product that is (in developed countries) wasteful and environmentally unfriendly.

MH

If consumers would allow their local water companies to spend even 2% of their water bill on "marketing" about tap water quality, we wouldn't be having this debate. Tap water is well regulated and perfectly safe.

We have been sold a line, and it is costing billions. And, what about the myth that we need to drink water all day long?

That money would be better spent fixing the infrastructure for water and wastewater systems.

David

This article is full of misinformation and flat out lies that can be seen by just applying some common sense and logic.

First, most bottled water is regulated, and even if it is not, they can't sell you something that will make you sick, and therefore will make it safe so they do not get sued.

Second, plastic containers are the safest cheapest way to bottle anything. On a side note, plastic recycling (along with paper and glass) actually wastes more energy and resources than just making new plastic bottles. The only resource worth the energy of renewing is aluminum. That is why they pay for recycled cans and not plastic and paper products. Most recycling projects are just feel-good make-work government programs that waste recourses and tax dollars.

Third, if tap water is so safe, then why do so many people still die from drinking tap water every year? It is because, even though it is well regulated, you cannot stop accidents from happening in such a large system of old decaying pipes.

Fourth, I drink bottled water when I travel, because otherwise I get a sick stomach. If I drink bottled water, this does not happen, because it is cleaner with no chemicals.

Emmett

I'd drink from the tap in a flat second, exclusively, if they would just stop dumping fluoride into the supply. It's an incredibly toxic substance, with no safe threshold. Topical application to the enamel from toothpaste is one thing (and risky enough). But medicating the water for systemic introduction is ridiculous.

Gimme a BREAK

If it's a "convenience" thing or a "health-issue" thing and, since it is public water supply (tap water), why do the big bottlers go to enormous lengths to mislead people by showing "pure" mountain springs? It's groundwater, with all sorts of toxins and crap in it. And the toxic, cancer-causing chemicals in the "cheap" plastic bottles, are a danger to the beverage inside and to landfills, where this toxin leaches out, back into groundwater. You bottled water drinkers are really drinking the advertisers' Kool-Aide, like those fools in Jonestown, Guyana. And besides, why don't you choose something truly healthy like apple or orange juice or tea?

sam

I only trust water I see come out of a good filter.

Rain Water

Rain water is better than bottled water. When rain comes, please fill up your bottles. It's free and is less polluting than tap water.

Ed Anger

All I remember is when I could drink water out of a damn faucet and bottled water was for those countries where you couldn't drink water because it wasn't safe. It's just another way for Corporate America to find a useless product for consumers to waste their money on.

Jon

The best alternative to bottled water I have found is to use a Brita pitcher or filter. I fill up several Nalgene water containers and leave them in the refrigerator till I need them. It's cheaper than buying bottled water and safer than bottled or tap.

Actually, Pepsi went on record saying that its product Aquafina is nothing more than tap water. Plus, if the water sits a while (like most do), chemicals from the plastic mix with your beverage.

Anyone who is interested in the bottled water debate should watch the documentary Flow, or can check out the 09/12/08 show of Democracy Now (www.democracynow.org).

There is also more to this debate than your health, but I won't discuss that here.

brandon

David (Aug 28th), who has died from drinking tap water each year?

Ken Mitchell

I'm fortunate in that our tap water (in Citrus Heights, Calif.) is excellent. So the only time I ever buy bottled water is when we're someplace like the fair when my wife doesn't want to drink soda. (Pepsi or Coke is generally cheaper than single-serving water, which really angers me.)

But in places like Los Angeles, the water is simply unpalatable: nasty-tasting and foul-smelling. For people who detest the taste of the local water, bottled water is a tolerable alternative.

shania

I think that it would be bad to drain the water, because the water that you drain is only going to be 2% renewable, and the water will be dried out by 2010.

Delaney Baez

I'm 15, strong-willed, and a very opinionated girl. I stumbled across this information doing a science paper on how industries affect the water table. Bottled water companies hurt the environment. The plastic bottles may be recyclable, but people don't care enough about the environment to actually recycle. Bottling companies take too much groundwater, and it doesn't replace itself (doo di doo). Anyway, I think it honestly wouldn't hurt anyone to fill up their water bottles from their faucets--that's what I do. If you're so scared of city water (I'll admit, I live off well water, and city water is disgusting), then boil it. It's that easy.

David Wooten

Bottled water may be a waste of money in most places, but I challenge any of its critics to drink the tap water available to us in the Phoenix area. Even my dog won't drink it.

rey armora

There are so many reasons that there should be no more bottled water. The first is that it pollutes our environment; the second is that there is good tap water to drink. Other countries wish they had tap water when we take it for granted.

Living La Vida Verde

I personally stopped using bottled water when I found out that it is less regulated than tap water and its exposure to heat during transport, which may or may not release chemicals from the plastic. I do not like plastic and metal water bottles, so I started using glass. The one I found I like so much that I sell them on my green Instead of arguing with each other, let's work together to create a solution. The money spent annually on bottled water could instead be used to provide clean drinking water for the entire planet.

Jenny

I think bottled water's okay as long as we recycle the bottle it comes in.

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