Bottled water is worse than I thought.

I’ve always thought that bottled water is bullshit. Lord knows I’m offending 75% of my readers in writing this, but if you’re buying bottled water, you’ve got more money than sense. Get yourself a bottle. Fill it with water. Repeat this every day for the next decade and then, finally, the cost of that water will be as much as buying it at the store. In a blind test, there is absolutely no chance that you can tell the difference. That Aquafina and Dasani you drink? It’s bottled in your town, with your town’s water, sold to you at a 3,650% markup.

Now Charles Fishman’s exposé on bottled water for Fast Company has given me even more reasons to despise bottled water. That Fiji Water you drink? Well, half of Fiji doesn’t even have access to clean water. Its manufacturer ships raw plastic to Fiji and runs three enormous diesel generators to run a bottle-making plant. Then the bottles are filled, and it’s all shipped halfway across the planet for you to drink. And then you don’t even recycle the bottle. It’s (metaphorically) drenched in oil, all subsidized by tax dollars.

It’s good that you’re drinking water, and not soda. But bring a bottle to work and fill it up at the fountain. If you save and invest that $1/day for the next 25 years, you’ll have an extra $15,000 to your name.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

18 replies on “Bottled water is worse than I thought.”

  1. ‘you’ve got more money than sense.’

    Saith the man with a $600 phone. ;-)

    I agree with you to some extent. Choosing bottled water over *some* tap water is nuts. Some people’s water just tastes nasty, though. I have encouraged my family to fill those sturdy plastic bottles with the handled lids to carry around, and that seems to work.

    If/when you travel in a less-than-modern place, though — say, rural China, India, Africa — that bottle of Dasani available at the corner street market will be your best friend. Either that, or take plenty of Zithromax along.

  2. I don’t really like soda very much and I rarely drink it. All I really drink is water, plus a cup of coffee in the morning and sometimes a beer after work. So what should I do when I am out and about and I am thirsty? Drink sugar water because the identical cost is somehow more justified even though I don’t like it? Carry a little man purse everywhere with a canteen in it?

    When I buy a bottle of water at a convenience store or whatever, it’s just water. I’m not expecting to be soothed by the gentle waves of Fiji or miraculously healed by the waters of Evian. Yes, it’s over-priced for what it is. But I’d rather get what I want than pay the same amount of money for something I don’t want.

  3. My defense of my bottled water purchases, as opposed to just using the tap?

    Well, if used water straight from the tap, my fish would die from all the iron they’re breathing and beer I brew would have a surprisingly unpleasant metallic taste (assuming I got rid of the chlorine so it didn’t kill the yeast).

    I could run it through charcoal filters, but I’d then have to sterilize it as well. Between the cost of the charcoal filter set-up and the cost of my time running 5-7 gallons of water through my britta, and then boiling it all, I’d rather just spend the extra 15 minutes of overtime one day at work, and buy 5 gallons of “spring water” at the store.

    Arlington water sucks, and the economics of bottled water makes it make sense for me. As for the “drenched in oil” part, give me a pigouvian tax on carbon emissions, and that should fix that. In the mean time, using less oil simply means the price of oil will go down, so people who are acting in their own economic interests will use more oil.

  4. Saith the man with a $600 phone.

    That hurts. It hurts…because it’s true. :)

    So what should I do when I am out and about and I am thirsty?

    Oh, certainly, there are instances where it is logical to buy bottled water. I’ve probably bought a half dozen bottles in my life. Hot day, strange town, no apparent source of free water — I buy a bottle. That’s certainly better than drinking a soda or something. And if I’m visiting Mexico, ain’t no way that I’m drinking anything other than bottled water. That’s just common sense.

    It’s the routine consumption of bottled water that I find so illogical.

  5. Arlington water sucks, and the economics of bottled water makes it make sense for me.

    Then you may well be one of the very few people in the country without access to clean, tasty drinking water. When I lived in downtown Charlottesville, I didn’t drink the tap water. I don’t know if it was the city’s water, or just the crappy old pipes in the building, but our water just tasted bad.I don’t know if it was the city’s water, or just the crappy old pipes in the building, but our water just tasted bad. My roommate brought in five gallon jugs from Free Union every couple of weeks, and we drank that.

    In retrospect, I have to wonder if I simply assumed that the water would taste bad, and thus I thought it did. Perhaps a blind taste test would have been in order.

    Fun fact: In a thrice-repeated single-sip taste test, only a small fraction of Americans are capable of discriminating between Coke and Pepsi every time.

  6. To be clear, for most drinking water, I just use a charcoal filter with tap water, or if I’m desperate, just tap water. Still, Arlington County water is chock full of iron, and I’m guessing my apartment’s pipes compound that problem.

    I was just pointing out that at least for me, there are situations in which I need water that falls within some reasonably small tolerances, and while I can use various in-home systems to get there myself, it economically makes much more sense to just buy a couple gallons.

    Anyone averaging one or more 16oz bottles a day is probably getting ripped off, though I’d venture a guess that there are some exceptions there as well.

  7. “It’s the routine consumption of bottled water that I find so illogical.”

    Waldo is really talking about people like my family, folks. We buy those bulk packs of botteled water to drink AT HOME when we could simply buy a Brita pitcher.

  8. If the water you drink, be it tap or bottled, is filtered and devoid of minerals, you could be putting yourself at risk of health consequences. And if you’re paying for bottled water that is devoid of minerals, and what comes out of your tap has minerals such as magnesium, you’re wasting your money and possibly jeopardizing your health, if you don’t supplement in some other way.

    If you’re interested, here’s some more information:
    “Scientists have observed that people in areas with higher levels of magnesium in their drinking water exhibit rates of sudden cardiac death that are three to four times lower than those of people living in municipalities with the lowest magnesium levels in drinking water. This has drawn the attention of national and international public health officials. For example, a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report on the quality of drinking water cited 80 studies that have examined the relationship between cardiovascular death and water “hardness” (measured principally by magnesium and calcium content). The WHO concluded that the magnesium content of water is indeed a cardiovascular risk factor and that supplementing drinking water with magnesium should be a priority[…]”

  9. I don’t generally drink bottled water, although when I do I prefer it carbonated. Perrier, S. Pellegrino, or just that 55 cent 2 liter bottle of Food lion brand.

  10. Maybe my tastebuds are more sensitive than average… but I sense stark differences in the taste of water. The local tap water tastes bland to me. As do products like Smart Water that claim to be devoid of minerals. However, there are waters that I enjoy (Eternal being my current favorite… I guess I like the taste of silica). If I had to rely on refilling a bottle with local water… I woudn’t drink water.

  11. *sigh* I love the well water at home. It tastes rich with minerals, and it is close to free. (And when the power goes out, we can still use the well bucket to haul up a few gallons at a time.)

    As a result, I am very sensitive to the taste of water. Bottled water tastes like liquid plastic, especially if it has been sitting out in the sun. X-( This shouldn’t be a surprise, given that the kidney-, lung-, and liver-toxic plasticizer bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate leaches out from the bottle walls into the water.

  12. “We buy those bulk packs of botteled water to drink AT HOME when we could simply buy a Brita pitcher.”

    Corry,I did buy one of those Brita tap things for Barbara. Just get a new filter for it. ;)

  13. Tap water in my city tastes like chlorine. I cannot stand it. I filter it at home.

    I would gladly give up bottled water if someone could recommend a reusable bottle that doesn’t have a funky taste to it or doesn’t acquire the taste of the dishwasher detergent when you clean it. The soft plastic bottles taste like plastic and all of them that I have come across taste like suds unless I rinse them a gazillion times after I take them out of the dishwasher.

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