Bottled water was all the rage for a while.  Many people thought it was safer or better tasting.  Health conscious people were sure bottled water was an improvement over what comes out of the tap. 

Now the tide seems to be turning.  People accuse bottled water fans of not caring about the environment!  Though all water bottles are recyclable, the majority of water bottles end up in the trash instead of the recycle box.  Shipping the water uses tons of energy.  And guess what–about 25% of bottled water is really just municipal drinking water, treated and bottled.  Even some brands with fancy names like Dasani and Aquafina. 

Plus, there’s the issue of cost.  You can get a thousand gallons of tap water for the same amount you pay for a pint of bottled water. 

I admit to having a couple cases of bottled water in the pantry.  It’s convenient, and I’m sure not going to fill up a bunch of bottles from the tap to get ready for hurricane season.  And it does taste good.

But is bottled water really healthier than tap water?  Is it worth the extra cost? And what is the effect on the environment?

According to the International Bottled Water Association, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and state agencies regulate bottled water.  FDA’s standards are just as stringent and protective as the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) are for public drinking water supply. 

The National Resources Defense Council(NRDC) conducted a four-year review of the bottled water industry including a comparison of national bottled water rules with national tap water rules, and independent testing of over 1,000 bottles of water.  They concluded that bottled water is not necessarily safer than tap water.  About 22% of the brands tested contined chemical contaminants at levels greater than state standards.

According to NRDC, in 2006 the equivalent of 2 billion half-liter bottles were shipped to the U.S., a big hit to the carbon footprint.  Yet only about 13% of those empty bottles were recycled, meaning millions of them ended up in landfills.

So now, bottled water is the “bad guy.” 

In reality, we’re fortunate to have both.  Having worked in the public supply area for many years, I have to agree with the American Water Works Association‘s (AWWA’s) campaign, Only Tap Water Delivers.  For pennies a gallon, public suppliers provide safe drinking water to protect the public health,  enough volume and pressure for fire protection, and support for the economy right to the doorstep.  AWWA has some great consumer information on their DrinkTap website as well.

But it’s great to have bottled water available for our convenience–and for natural disasters or other times when the public supply might not be available or might be susceptible to contamination.