At about $100 billion in 2010 global sales, projected to rise to $125 billion by 2015, bottled water is big business. The average American consumed over 28 gallons of the stuff in 2010, which starts looking low compared to an average German (34 gallons) or an average Mexican (64 gallons). But is that H2O in a bottle any better than what comes out of the tap? Well, first there’s the fact that you’re paying between 240 and 10,000 times the price you’d pay for the same quantity of tap water, despite the fact that over 25% of bottled water is actually just repackaged tap, and the bottled stuff is less regulated (and therefore often more contaminated) than fluid that flows out of your kitchen sink.
Then there’s the environmental footprint of making a bottle plus trucking that bottle around for your consumptive convenience. A 2006 Pacific Institute study estimated that just producing the bottles for water sold in the US consumed the equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil, emitted more than 2.5 million tons of greenhouse gas, and wasted 2 liters of water in the production process for every one liter that ended up on store shelves (and that’s NOT counting refrigeration and transportation energy). Of course these bottles can be recycled, but about 75% of them still end up in a landfill, and (as any enviro-hip elementary school student will tell you) it’s better to reduce and reuse to render that third “R” unnecessary. Adding it all up, the environmental footprint of bottled water is over 1000 times greater than running the tap.
But that refreshing bottled stuff tastes better, right? According to a highly unscientific televised study by renowned investigators (Penn & Teller), over 75% of people in a blind taste test preferred New York tap water (out of a hose) over “premium” bottled brands. So better taste is probably more in your head than on your tongue, and brands that claim otherwise are likely selling a load of BS (which, given the lax FDA oversight of the bottled water industry, bacteria from that BS may even end up in your cup). So forgo the bottles of blues, and equip yourself with a groovy green refillable canteen.