Bottled vs. Tap: Which Water is Sustainable and Healthy?

Bottled Water: Virtue or Vice

Bottled water certainly is attractive. The bottles are seductive, and the water's origins are exotic. For many consumers, that is all they need to know to buy those pretty little bottles. After all, movie and T.V. stars tilt the same bottles all the time. However, the bottle and the glacial origins of the water are not the primary concerns. Bottled water comes with possibly suspect quality and absolutely heavy carbon footprints.

Standards for bottled water are not as stringent as for tap water. Consider why this is the case. Bottled water is packaged in many different plants from countless water sources. Tap water is a municipal resource governed by federal regulations. According to Mother Earth News, some bottled waters are nothing more than tap water, possibly with an additional filtering process.

Equally concerning is the environmental impact of all those bottles. First, plastic is a petroleum product. It is essential that consumers move away from products derived from fossil fuels. Oil usage associated with plastic water bottles is staggering, according to the same Mother Earth News article. "Approximately 1.5 million gallons of oil — enough to run 100,000 cars for a whole year — are used to make plastic water bottles." Fuel is used to transport bottled water, and affiliate energy is consumed in the manufacturing process (not including petroleum used in the bottles themselves).

Secondly, even if plastic water bottles are made from post-consumer recycled products, most of those bottles are not likely to be recycled. Plastic water bottles litter the roads and landfills. If only the estimated 10 percent of water bottles are recycled, that leaves millions of water bottles worldwide taking thousands of years to decompose. These bottles threaten land and sea and are potentially fatal to wildlife.

Tap into Tap Water

The truth is, municipal drinking water is strictly regulated. The exceptions where water is found to be contaminated are rare. Anyone can have her water tested. Water filters come at a far more reasonable cost, financially and environmentally, than bottled water. If water in a community has problems, it is possible to fill a two gallon jug for about eighty-one cents. Tap water is available to everyone, everywhere in America. It is not elitist at all. There is little about tap water with which to find fault. Well, it is not pretty. Solution: buy a pretty pitcher. If one's community has problems with its municipal water, get involved and help to ensure that everyone has access to clean drinking water.

Get Educated, Lighten Up

Comedian Lewis Black jokes about a simpler time when Americans drank water that came straight to their homes. Even if they were locked out, there was water outside. And then Americans started driving to buy water and carting around water bottles as crossing the Mojave desert (Lewis Black, Black on Broadway, 2004). Funny as the bit is, the reality is not funny. There are websites that offer information about EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) standards for drinking water, and sites for individuals to an eco-conscious pledge to make the move back to tap water and away from bottled water.


Mother Earth News, Water Wars: Bottled or Tap?, Union of Concerned Scientists, February/March 2008, accessed 01/06/2011

Food and Water Watch, Why the Feds Should Add 'Fixing the Tap Water' to Their List of New Years Resolutions, Wenonah Hauter, January 1, 2001, accessed 01/06/2011

EPA, Water on Tap: What You Need to Know, accessed 01/06/2011