Until now, I called it a tie between coffee and water. I mean, really, how did coffee end up costing $4 a cup and water $2 a bottle? New data though ends the tie. It’s over. The winner is water.
Compared to tap water, it’s 2,000 times more expensive, less environmentally friendly, and experts question whether there’s any health benefit of bottled water over tap. Still…
“Bottled water is the marketing trick of the century” — John Jewell
Bottled water passed a major milestone in 2016, when it surpassed carbonated soft drinks to become the largest beverage category by volume in the United States, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation. Total bottled water volume grew from 11.8 billion gallons in 2015 to 12.8 billion gallons in 2016, an increase of nearly 9%, which marked the third year in a row of accelerating growth.
“Bottled water effectively reshaped the beverage marketplace,” said Michael C. Bellas, chairman and CEO, Beverage Marketing Corporation. “When Perrier first entered the country in the 1970s, few would have predicted the heights to which bottled water would eventually climb. Where once it would have been unimaginable to see Americans walking down the street carrying plastic bottles of water, or driving around with them in their cars’ cup holders, now that’s the norm.”
Per capita consumption exceeded 39 gallons in 2016, while average intake of carbonated soft drinks slipped to about 38.5 gallons. Around the turn of the century, per capita soft drink consumption regularly exceeded 50 gallons, and Beverage Marketing expects bottled water to reach that level by the middle of the next decade.
Single–serving sizes of those bottles became the most popular option, driving overall growth of the category and accounting for the majority of its volume. In 2016, the single–serve segment enlarged by more than 9% to reach 8.6 billion gallons.
Despite this surge, experts often say the difference between drinking tap water and bottled water in the United States is personal preference. Mayo Clinic says there’s no health advantage of one over the other. National Geographic and Scientific American suggest tap water is a better alternative. Google it yourself and you’ll find article after article on it.
“Bottled water may be no safer or healthier than tap water…” — World Wildlife Fund International
The EPA regulates tap water. The FDA regulated bottled water. EPA regulations are more strenuous and require annual reporting. Bottled water doesn’t always meet EPA standards, state regulations, and can have higher bacteria counts. As an example, a study reported by the National Institute of Health showed that only five percent of the bottled water purchased in Cleveland, Ohio had the required fluoride recommended by the state of Ohio. The tap water met 100% of the state’s requirements. The same experiment also did bacteria counts and the better choice, again, was tap water. Bottled water typically doesn’t contain chlorine — which can help disinfect bacteria. Tap water does, and it doesn’t sit on the shelf for months giving bacteria a chance to grow.
Want to do something for the environment?
Research shows most plastic bottles don’t get recycled. Some bottles still contain BPA and, even though they aren’t supposed to be re-used, some are.
We may have this romantic notion about mountain streams and cool, crisp, clean waters, but roughly 45% of all the bottled water comes from the same place as the tap water where it’s bottled. Two of the world’s top brands — Aquafina and Dasani — take tap water, filter it and bottle it.
And for those really concerned about the environment, here’s a fun fact from Mother Jones: “Coca-Cola bottling plants, which produce Dasani, use 1.63 liters of water for every liter of beverage produced in California, according to Coca-Cola representative Dora Wong”
People think it’s healthier and better for the environment to drink bottled water. It may be healthier than other beverage choices, specifically soft drinks, but it may not be better than what comes out of your tap and it certainly isn’t more environmentally friendly.