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Bottled Water: Why Pay More for Less?

bottled water stockOne thing you don’t need to stock up on during the COVID crisis is bottled water. The multi-step treatment process used to treat drinking water for the City removes and kills viruses, including coronaviruses, through filtration and disinfection, using ozone and chlorine. So, rest assured, your drinking water is closely monitored, tested, and safe. Also, because water is an essential service, during this emergency no-one’s water will be shut-off except in cases where maintenance is needed. So, with a guaranteed safe supply of tap water, why do so many Americans turn to bottled water?

Did you know 64% of bottled water is sourced from municipal water systems? Yes, that means most of the bottled water bought and sold in the United States is essentially bottled tap water. This is even more startling when you compare their cost to consumers. In Thousand Oaks, tap water costs about two-thirds of a cent per gallon. Single-serve bottled water (16 oz) averages $1.00 - $1.50 per bottle, or $8 - $12 per gallon! Even when bought in bulk, at a supermarket for example, bottled water costs three hundred times as much as tap water. When looked at another way: bottled water is more expensive than gasoline.

Perhaps this massive price markup could be justified if bottled water was actually “better” or safer than tap water. However, this is simply not the case. Tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) whereas bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The EPA has much stronger restrictions on water quality and requires regular testing and inspections. Water agencies must also provide an annual water quality report their residents. On the contrary, purveyors of bottled water are not required to disclose its source, nor its treatment, and bottled water is not subject to the same stringent quality reporting requirements.

Perhaps the most significant concern resulting from bottled water is the impact of plastic water bottles on the environment. A million plastic beverage bottles were purchased each minute of 2017. At their end of life, most plastic water bottles end up in landfills, or the ocean. Between 1960 and 2015, 18 billion pounds of plastic were produced globally, with 79% of that ending up in landfills or the natural environment, much of it ending up in the ocean. This plastic debris has catastrophic effects on the world’s ocean ecosystems, killing all manner of fish, birds, and other forms of sea life.

Add to that the huge amount of energy taken to produce plastic. It takes 2000 times as much energy to produce bottled water as tap water.

Even the plastic (polyethylene terephthalate or PET) that is used to package much of the bottled water raises concerns for both human health and the environment. This plastic can leach harmful toxins into the water they encase, toxins which are known to cause cancer, disrupt endocrine systems, and damage chromosomes. When exposed to sun, at the beach or left in your car, high temperatures increase the amount of leaching that occurs.

So – think twice – maybe you should make the switch! It’s your choice – tap water at a fraction of a cent a gallon, delivered directly to your house, sourced from snow melt in the Sierra Nevada mountains or bottled water, at hundreds of time the cost, encased in plastic, used once and contributing to environmental and ocean pollution.

For more information, read National Geographic’s 2019 report and one from Food and Water Watch.               

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