Is Bottled Water Worth It?

With wholesale sales exceeding $10 billion dollars in 2005, the bottled water industry is booming. And it doesn't show signs of slowing down anytime soon. According to statistics released by the Beverage Marketing Corporation, production exceeded 7.5 billion gallons in 2005-up a whopping 10.7 % from 2004. That breaks down to 26.1 gallons of bottled water per person in the U.S each year. At an average cost of $5.00 per gallon bottled water is certainly convenient, but is it worth it the cost?


An Age Old Debate

Despite its classification by the beverage industry as a "new age" drink, water has been bottled and sold far from its source for thousands of years. On the environmental front, it seems like the debate over the true cost of bottled water has been going on almost as long. Conflicts over water ownership, regulations and safety, packaging materials and the impacts that bottling plants have on local communities are all issues central to the debate.

NRDC's Controversial Study

In 1999, the National Resources Defense Council released the results of a 4-year study it conducted that tested the effectiveness of bottled water regulations. Of 1,000 bottles tested from 103 different brands of bottled water, 1/3 of the bottles were found to contain levels of contamination that exceeded allowable limits under either state or bottled water industry standards and guidelines. At issue was the fact that industry regulations were not adequately protecting the safety of the consumers drinking bottled water.


Where Bottled Water Really Comes From

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies bottled water according to its origins. Artesian Well Water comes from a well that taps an underground aquifer. Mineral Water comes from an underground sources that contains at least 250 part per million total dissolved solids (naturally occurring minerals and trace elements). Spring Water is derived from underground formations where water naturally flows to the surface, and Well Water comes from a hole bored or drilled into the ground , which taps into an aquifer. According to the International Bottled Water Association (IWBA), approximately 25% of all bottled water also comes from municipal tap water sources. That's right, you may be paying $5.00 per gallon for bottled tap water. The bottled water industry has done a good job at selling consumers on the "pristine" origins of bottled water. But it's important to understand that "spring water" may in fact be taken from an underground spring, but that doesn't mean the spring isn't located next door to a hazardous waste site.


How Bottled Water Is Regulated

Like municipal tap water, regulations governing bottled water are multi-layered. Unlike tap water, however, the regulations governing bottled water are not nearly as strict. In general, testing for contaminants is done on a substantially less frequent basis, less filtering is required and certain contaminants are not tested for or are allowed to be present at higher levels. This doesn't necessarily mean that bottled water is unsafe, it just means that municipal tap water (which is regulated by the EPA under the Federal Drinking Water Act) has to meet more stringent standards.

Regulations at the Federal Level: Bottled water products are regulated by the FDA under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, an act that covers bottled water in interstate commerce (water that travels from state to state). The act requires manufacturers to produce bottled water products that are safe for consumer consumption. The FDA has also established a specific set of guidelines for bottled water, which defines standards for quality, production, labeling, record keeping and identity, and sets a maximum level for specific contaminants. Seltzer water, and carbonated waters are exempt from these standards, and so is water that is packaged and sold within the same state (roughly 60 to 70 % of all bottled water consumed).

Regulations at the State Level: Some states regulate bottled water products under guidelines similar to the Federal guidelines imposed on tap water. Other states are much less comprehensive, and still others impose no regulations at all.

Industry Standards: Another set of regulations governing bottled water come from the industry itself, the International Bottled Water Association (IWBA). It requires the voluntary self-regulation of its members, who must meet strict requirements including disinfection, filtration and distillation and reverse osmosis. Members are also subject to annual unannounced facility inspections conducted by third parties.

Tap Gets A Bad Wrap

Depending on where you live, your tap water may have an off taste, a funky smell, or be an odd color. But unless you've been notified otherwise, it's probably still the safest water to drink. Municipal tap water is strictly regulated by the EPA under the Federal Drinking Water Act. Under these regulations, your municipal water supply must adhere to strict standards and under go frequent testing to ensure it's safe for your consumption. Once your water leaves the local distribution system and enters the plumbing of your home, you are responsible for any contaminants entering your water supply. If you live in a house with older plumbing components (pre 1980s), it's probably wise to have your tap water tested for lead.

How To Bottle Your Water & Drink It Too (Safely and Cheaply)

Paying an average of $5.00 per gallon isn't exactly an exercise in being frugal. Still, drinking water is vital for good health, so if you want to get the convenience of bottled water without the constant expense of buying it, invest $20 to $30 dollars in a quality pitcher-type water filter and a few reusable (and washable) water bottles that you can take on the go. PUR makes a great pitcher that filters out most water-quality issues (off-tastes, lead, chlorine, copper, benzene, sediment and 99.95% of cystic parasites. Each filter lasts about two months (or up to 40 gallons) and costs only $9.00 to replace. At $9.00 a month for a filter and a one time investment of $30 for a large-sized pitcher, you're paying just $138 for a year's worth of bottled water (figuring 40 gallons per month - the cost of utilities). That averages out to $0.29 per gallon. Compare that to $5.00 per gallon X 40 gallons per month for a year = $2400.00. Now that's worth it!

water bottles

About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at

April 20, 20070 found this helpful

I never buy bottled water. We have water and ice through the door of our side x side. The water is filtered....and it tastes great! I just fill up my own cup or bottle and take out with me. Our filtered tap water is perfectly fine with me.

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April 22, 20070 found this helpful

i always knew bottled water was a rip off!

thank you for this proof!

i plan to go spread this around!

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April 23, 20070 found this helpful

Bottled water is not worth it at all. It tastes good because it is cool. Keep tap water in your fridge and get the same results.

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April 24, 20070 found this helpful

I heard on a segment about Earth Day last week that it takes over a thousand years for a plastic water bottle to decompose!

Save your money and save our earth.

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May 3, 20070 found this helpful

Lets look at this from a different angle, if your a busy sales person or your a builder, plumber etc and it's a really hot day and your throat is as a dry as a desert, and you can not be bothered making sandwiches and a drink in morning. Where do you go and what do you do. Well the first place I would go is a shop to buy the convenience so you can more money doing what you do best.

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