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You Paid $9.60 a Gallon for WHAT?!?

I’m just going to say it: Bottled water is a huge waste of money. I’ve heard every argument in the book for drinking it, and I’ve yet to be convinced that it makes any sense for a person living in America to drink it. I’m so fervent in my belief that I made a short video about it:

Although the video is pretty hokey and meant to be light-hearted, I made a great effort to fill it with actual facts about bottled water and tap water (my sources are listed at the end of this post). 24% of bottled water is just repackaged tap water, and the brands that actually come from a spring or a glacier or… whatever? They give you no guarantee of cleanliness or safety, since they’re so loosely regulated.

And the cost difference is just ridiculous. In a 1999 report on bottled water, the National Resources Defense Council found that:

A five-year supply of bottled water at the recommended intake of eight glasses a day can cost more than $1,000. An equivalent amount of tap water costs about $1.65.

My campus sells Aquafina at $1.50 for 20 ounces. That’s $9.60 a gallon, compared to just $0.002 for a gallon of tap water! And according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, the average American drank 29 gallons of bottled water in 2007. That’s $278.40! And how much would that much tap water cost you? Just under 6 cents. Seriously.

Bottled water certainly has a place in this world. There are 1 billion people in this world that do not have access to a reliable source of drinking water. But those aren’t the people that are getting bottled water. For Americans who have highly regulated public water readily available, bottled water is simply a choice.

And it should be an easy choice to make. Even if you went out and bought a nice $20-$30 stainless steel or aluminum water bottle to fill up every day, you’d come out way ahead of paying for bottled water. In addition to fattening up your wallet, you’d make a huge environmental impact, as well.

Americans went through about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year, 167 for each person. Durable, lightweight containers manufactured just to be discarded. Water bottles are made of totally recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, so we share responsibility for their impact: Our recycling rate for PET is only 23%, which means we pitch into landfills 38 billion water bottles a year–more than $1 billion worth of plastic.

- (Fast Company.com article, emphasis added)

The evidence against bottled water piles up as high as the empty bottles in the landfill: drinking bottled water when tap water is readily available doesn’t make any sense, no matter how you look at it.

The video in this post was made as an entry for the Take Back the Tap video scholarship contest. And now, it’s made me a finalist! The video was a lot of fun to make, and yes… I make a cameo at the end!

Sources:
Take Back the Tap” by Food & Water Watch
Bottled Water: Pure Drink or Pure Hype?” by the National Resources Defense Council
Message in a Bottle” by Charles Fishman on FastCompany.com
Bottled Water’s Success Story Continues” by the Beverage Marketing Corporation

26 responses to “You Paid $9.60 a Gallon for WHAT?!?”

  1. Gypsie

    I drink bottled water because the tap water where I live is gross. It is brownish, hard, and has a horrible taste! But we do have a reverse osmosis set up and only use bottled when at work (culligan, man) in my reusable cup. We have huge amounts of lime in our water too!

  2. Marie

    A very good purpose for bottled water, even if you live in a decent drinking water place, is emergencies. My sister lives in England where all the pipes burst and there was flooding. You couldn’t flush a toilet and there was nothing to drink until at least 72 hours had passed for the emergency vehicles and such to bring them drinkable water.

    I happened to love bottled water. I can taste the difference. Some people can’t and so by all means save your money that way but I won’t tell someone else not to drink coffee just because I think its a waste of money and I don’t like the styrofoam cup it comes in.

  3. Traciatim

    I drink tap water, mostly for the reasons in the video. My spouse however can’t stand our city water. It does have a slightly ‘sludgy’ taste, and if you run a bath with it the water isn’t even clear (it is in a glass, just not when you get a lot of it in one place). So unless we get some type of huge filtration system I think I’m stuck. Of course then she will still buy it out of the house anyway . . . so it’s lose-lose there.

  4. anonchem

    I am a research chemist and I drink Evian. If you think that municipal water is clean and well-regulated, well, that is a matter of locality and possibly opinion. They test for the same compounds as they have for decades, conveniently leaving out dealing with the variety of endocrine disrupting compounds, trace pharmaceuticals, chlorination byproducts, and the millions of other things that are all at tiny levels and yet add to disturbing levels in total, not to mention the effects of synergy. This has been known for probably 15 years and yet is only now starting to gain public recognition. You are also relying on the accuracy of virtually untrained people who add qualitative amounts of things like chlorine and fluoride to municipal systems, and on the integrity of dirty, decaying pipe systems. If you read the fine print in the yearly report on many municipal water systems, they will actually say that their water is not recommended for babies or the immunocompromised.

    It is true that there is a wide range of bottled water qualities, that many of them also have bacterial level issues, and that the issue of bottled water as a whole has disturbing environmental consequences. Now there is also discussion about the bisphenol-A problem as well. This is all true. But correctly purified water or particular types of source water will generally have a higher quality than municipal water, especially in urban or arid areas. The decision is not as clear cut as you might think, and in my mind depends largely on where you live and the source of your local water, the competence of your local authorities, and the current state of your health.

  5. Peter Mottola

    I agree: bottled water is dumb.

  6. Meari

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I refill plastic bottles on a daily basis with tap water.

  7. RBC p2p

    Earth Day …

    As is the case with most other events which are not a holiday, Google reminded me this morning that today is Earth Day. Founded in 1970 by Gaylord Nelson, a democrat from Wisconsin, Earth Day was meant to be a……

  8. The Simple Dollar » The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Book Deal Edition

    [...] You Paid $9.60 a Gallon for What? The embedded video is a bit over the top, but the point is right – bottled water is drastically overpriced for what you get compared to what you get out of the tap. (@ poorer than you) [...]

  9. clevelis

    Awesome video! For more about those who really need water, check out http://www.charitywater.org. They have a great PSA video on the homepage.

  10. Lise

    Amen. Have you seen the Penn & Teller: BS episode on bottled water?

    I can taste a difference with some tap water, but not my own – but then, I have a well.

  11. Steve

    I drink nothing but tap water, and I feel terrific. I agree – bottled water is a big rip-off.

  12. Mary

    I completely agree that buying bottled water is stupid. However, I am one of the stupid people who buys two cases of it every week. Sam’s Choice brand, no less, so I’m sure it probably is just rebottled tap. I have only drank bottled water for the last 9 years and I am increasingly sickened at the thought of my environmental impact and the money out of my pocket for it when obviously I could just get it out of my faucet for much less. Anyway….any tips on how to “wean” off bottled water?? My city’s tap water isn’t that great tasting…a lot of times it tastes like chlorine. Do you think getting one of those faucet water filters would help? Thanks!

  13. Mary

    Thank you, Stephanie!

  14. bob

    There’s a lot of talk about bottled water these days but what about soda? Many of us can agree that soda isn’t healthy, especially w/ the corn syrup. Now I don’t drink soda but when I drink bottled (or well) water, I’ll drink @least 8 glasses a day. But the tapwater is terrible in my town. If I don’t let the water run at full blast for a min. it’s cloudy. But what ever is in the water slowly dissipates out like it’s a gas of some kind. In the last place I lived, my animals wouldn’t even drink the water! That’s when I really started going for bottled water. There have been parasite scares, etc. and the taste and cloudieness of the water really bothers me. So if you have quality tap water, don’t take it for granted and look down on those who choose bottled water.

  15. John Peden

    @Bob “it’s cloudy. But what ever is in the water slowly dissipates out like it’s a gas of some kind”

    That’s because it is a gas – its air dissolved in water. Bottled water is also a lesser evil than soda; very true.

    I read an article not so long ago regarding bottled water. The journalist said that he thought it was a joke when he first heard about it. The article also highlighted the fact that it was more expensive than fuel. Bottled water is extortionate, but though I tend to carry a flask with me I’ll happily buy it if I forget.

    I think the UK is pretty good in terms of drinking water tastes, I’ve tasted some pretty funky continental and American water!

  16. Diane

    First, let me mention something that happened to me. I ignored the need to drink good water – we lived in California, and I was used to my good old Michigan well-water which was good; clear, and full of minerals.

    It cost me over $3,000 for one hospital stay; the doctors had to run tests to determine what had put me there – it was ‘bad water’.

    I started buying bottled water; hated the cost.

    I didn’t like tossing those bottles – that bothered me a lot.

    We invested into a reverse-osmosis system; now we have the clean drinking water we need.

    We do keep 24 bottles of bottled water ‘on hand’, as emergency if anything goes wrong (as it has this week for the 3rd time in 2 years). The water is off; we can’t wash our clothes; last year, it was a water-main break as the year before.

    We do keep large gallons of water (4) in our car when we travel in case the car over-heats and/or we need water. We pay 25 cents to fill those bottles at our local market (we walk there).

    My dear friend of 50 years is now suffering kidney problems (life-threatening); thousands are being spent to treat her, and since she’s never had a drop of alcohol, they had to ‘trace it down’ – conclusion: Bad tap water.

    My mother suffers from repeated bladder infections; the doctors keep recommending ‘bottled water’ – this past month, she relented because it was more costly to pay the doctor bills, than to drink the bottled water (she buys in gallon sizes for 99 cents on sale; $1.59 when it’s not).

    All-in-all, each has to decide what is right; various geographical locations suggest bottled water is mandatory – learn to know if you’re in that high-risk are because illness and doctor bills/hospital bills turn that choice of bottled water into a viable one.

    Thank you.

  17. Patrick

    I’ve always been BIG about drinking water and for years, I have been changing and looking for better water filters til I finally settled for a table top water distiller and a reverse osmosis water filter. If you are still not aware, your body consists primarily of 70% water so it is important to care about what you drink everyday!

  18. Mike

    I drink tap water, mostly for the reasons in the video. My spouse however can’t stand our city water. It does have a slightly ’sludgy’ taste, and if you run a bath with it the water isn’t even clear (it is in a glass, just not when you get a lot of it in one place). So unless we get some type of huge filtration system I think I’m stuck. Of course then she will still buy it out of the house anyway . . . so it’s lose-lose there.

  19. Amos

    I had been to middle east recently…and you know bottled water is cheaper than gas. yeah trust me. but best part , people over there value for water because its costly. even i love tap water, water from my water purifier. i hardly buy bottled water except when i am travelling or i when i forget to carry water from home.

  20. Michelle

    yeah so true….if ones worried about the quality of the tap water , then its an good idea to invest in water purifier , because in long term its going to really cheap compared to buying bottled water.

  21. Amber

    Up to 40 percent of the bottled water Americans consume is simply ordinary tap water that’s been run through a filter and then marked up as much as 1,900 percent above the price of water available by a quick turn of the handle at your kitchen sink.

    The sting being perpetrated on the American people, while despicable, is a textbook example of brilliant marketing. The bottled water industry has conned millions of customers into plopping down billions of dollars for – in some cases – the very same water they get at home.

    To quickly re-cap: Bottled water is often tap water, sold at an enormous mark-up, likely carrying various contaminants while wasting petroleum and littering the planet with billions of trashed empty bottles.

    Use Berkey Water Purification for filter bottles and home systems no power.

  22. What

    Up to 40 percent of the bottled water Americans consume is simply ordinary tap water that’s been run through a filter and then marked up as much as 1,900 percent above the price of water available by a quick turn of the handle at your kitchen sink.

    The sting being perpetrated on the American people, while despicable, is a textbook example of brilliant marketing. The bottled water industry has conned millions of customers into plopping down billions of dollars for – in some cases – the very same water they get at home.

    To quickly re-cap: Bottled water is often tap water, sold at an enormous mark-up, likely carrying various contaminants while wasting petroleum and littering the planet with billions of trashed empty bottles.

    Use Berkey Water Purification for filter bottles and home systems no power.