When you’re thirsty for some water, do you reach for a plastic bottle or a tap? Is there a difference?
There has been some controversy over the last few years around whether or not there is a major benefit in choosing bottled water over tap water, especially when the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released its report on bottled water products in 2009 that revealed some ugly truths about the bottled water industry, such as the fact that some companies were simply bottling municipal water and selling it as “spring water” or the like.
Many people found this to be misleading, since the original selling point of bottled water was how it is purer and safer than your tap water because of its source and treatment. However, bottled water companies do not always disclose the treatment method or water source on the bottle, so it can actually be hard to determine whether or not this is true.
Health & Safety
When it comes down to drinking water safety in North America, tap water is almost always safe to drink, barring the rare accident in which a water source or line is contaminated (for example, the recent situation in Flint, Michigan).
However, it’s important to note that municipal water is usually regulated and monitored to a very high standard, ensuring that there are no contaminants (or at least not high enough levels of contaminants) that would pose a health risk.
The water at treatment plants is tested regularly, and there are entire agencies and organizations whose major responsibility is to enforce strict safety standards both as the water leaves the plant and as it runs through the pipes and into your home.
However, if you every have doubt about the quality of your tap water, you can also use an in-home testing kit for extra piece of mind.
Suffice to say, if you are getting your tap water from a municipal water treatment plant then you should be in the clear in terms of health and safety.
Is Bottled Water Better?
On that note, is it true that bottled water is even safer and better for you than your tap water?
Are the vague claims of exotic and pure water sources and high end treatment methods valid? The short answer is: probably not. The EWG asks three main questions when examining the safety and marketing claims of bottled water companies:
- Where does the water come from?
- Is it purified? How?
- Have tests found any contaminants?
In their latest 2011 Bottled Water Scorecard, EWG found that most of the bottled water industry continues to fail to provide answers to the above three questions.
When contacted, company representatives have not been able to procure any water test reports or information on the treatment methods or water sources. Given that this information is readily available for tap water, it is worrisome that the same information is so difficult to obtain for most bottled water.
It is tempting to assume that companies are choosing not to provide this information because they have something to hide (i.e. their water is not from the antarctic rainwater source that they brag about on their label).
The fact of the matter is that even with organizations like the EWG pressuring these companies to have the same level of transparency as municipal tap water, the strict standards are not there, and they are not governed by the same agencies that tap water is.
This means that your bottled water quality is actually far less guaranteed than your tap water quality. While some of the more transparent brands may have better water quality and taste than your tap water, that is not likely the case with companies not willing to disclose that information.
In conclusion, from a drinking water safety perspective, tap water is usually a safer bet. In addition, the fluoride (a naturally occurring mineral in water) in tap water is good for your dental health, and the treatment method of some bottled water may remove this healthy mineral in some cases.
Since it already comes in a plastic bottle, it is obvious that bottled water is more portable than tap water.
However, there isn’t much stopping you from bottling your own tap water for the same effect. Further, it is possible that the plastic in those bottles (and in some reusable water bottles) can actually leak into the water you are drinking, which can have negative long-term health effects. Here is a simple guide to the different plastics in food and water containers.
If you are going to be drinking from water bottles, make sure you check what kind of plastic it is made out of so you can make sure you are making the best choice for your health, while still having a portable drinking water source.
Some people prefer the taste of bottled water over tap water. This is likely due to a residual chlorine taste from the treatment method in tap water that may not be used in bottled water.
Refrigerating your tap water for a while or using an at-home filter should remove most of that chlorine taste if it bothers you but you still want the health and safety benefits of tap water.
In most circumstances bottled water ends up costing far more than tap water.
In fact, depending on where you live and what bottled water you are buying, it can cost anywhere from 240-10,000 times more than tap water, even after it’s filtered. The EWG has this number pegged at 1,900 times the cost of tap water.
In the end it is a personal choice: some prefer the convenience and portability of bottled water, other prefer to stick to the basics and choose tap water.
Only 23% of plastic water bottles are recycled every year, which leaves the other 77% in landfills and other places they shouldn’t be. Tap water simply uses the energy to treat the water at the plant. Bottled water requires much more processing and handling, and has a more negative impact to the environment.
In North America tap water seem to be the clear winner, especially if you use a water filter system on your tap water at home and BPA-free water bottles to carry your water with you.
If you are still convinced that bottled water is a better option, make sure you test each batch for contaminants since it is usually unclear whether or not the company has done any testing themselves. Also be sure to recycle all of your water bottles, and buy from a reputable brand.