One time during my freshman year of college, I walked into my dorm to find my pals holding up a bottle of Fiji water like it was the Holy Grail. Recently escaped country bumpkin that I was, I had never heard of Fiji bottled water. “Oh, you have to try it!” they exclaimed reverently, “It’s the best water.”
I sipped. I was underwhelmed. “Tastes just like my well water back home,” I explained. They gave me looks that clearly said, “Take your fairy tale upbringing in a sylvan glade drinking unicorn tears and shove it.”
All of which is to say that I have never been impressed with our country’s feverish devotion to bottled water. And here’s why I am perfectly vindicated in that point of view.
Bottled water is fucking expensive
If you’re looking to save money by cutting costs, one of the very first things you can do is stop buying bottled water. Americans spent $11.8 billion dollars on bottled water in 2012. That’s an average cost of $1.22 per gallon, or 300 times the cost of tap water. That’s ludicrous.
In the United States, bottled water costs around $0.25 to $2 per bottle (though you can pay upwards of $5 for the fancier brands). Meanwhile, the same volume of tap water costs less than a penny. All of which tells us that Americans are choosing to spend money on something that they could otherwise get for basically free. So buying bottled water is just about as nonsensical as paying for canned air when you live within the earth’s troposphere.
Why would you pay for something when you can easily get it for free? That’s Frugal Living 101, people! DO BETTER.
How Stuff Works compared the cost of buying bottled water to the cost of using a water filter. The result: a family of four could save almost $3,000 per year by switching from bottled water to a water filter. And you can save even more by skipping the filtration system entirely and just drinking straight from the tap.
Bottled water is hella bad for the environment
Even worse than the cost of bottled water is its staggering environmental impact.
The plastic bottles themselves take about 1.5 million barrels of oil to create and over 1,000 years to biodegrade. “But what about recycling?” What about it? Only one in five bottles is ever recycled, so U. S. landfills are overflowing with 3 billion pounds of discarded water bottles. Oh yeah, and not all water bottles are recyclable, and if you incinerate them instead of letting them sit around in a landfill, they produce toxic fumes. Cool, right? WRONG.
Then there’s the fact that, perhaps counter-intuitively, bottling water actually wastes more water than it provides. It’s estimated that about three liters of water is used to package one liter of bottled water.
It gets worse. All that water has to come from somewhere. Bottled water manufacturers actually purchase water rights and resources all over the country, allowing them—and no one else—to use the water as they please. Which means that other people legally can’t tap into those water resources for their supply of water. The result is a strain on the environment and a shortage of freely available water for things like agriculture, maintaining wetlands, and yes, drinking straight from the tap.
By supporting the companies that bottle and sell water, you’re personally paying to contribute to all this pollution and environmental strain. So fucking don’t.
Bottled water is a scam
You might want to sit down before reading this next part. Most bottled water is no better—and it might actually be worse—than the water you get from the tap.
While the EPA strictly regulates tap water, no such system of oversight exists for bottled water. And independent testing has shown that some brands of bottled water contain concerning levels of arsenic, fluoride, and microbiological organisms. Yeah.
And while the bottled water industry spends gajillions of dollars convincing us that tap water is a nasty vector of disease and chaos from which only bottled water can deliver us, it simply isn’t true.
Quoth Eric Goldstein of the Natural Resources Defense Council: “No one should think that bottled water is better regulated, better protected, or safer than tap.”
In short, the entire bottled water industry is predicated on a myth: that tap water is unhealthy, unclean, and tastes bad. But the reality is that in most places in the United States, the tap water is perfectly clean and healthy, which makes bottled water completely unnecessary.
The notable exception
The situation in Flint is a fucking tragedy and a goddamn national embarrassment. And yet, the only thing saving the people of Flint from continual lead poisoning and all the other assorted horrible shit that comes from not having a clean water supply, is bottled water. You can help by donating to the Flint Water Fund here.
My friend who grew up in Flint told me recently that he’s not surprised at all by the water disaster in his hometown. Flint is one of the poorest cities in the country, and its residents struggle with poverty-related health complications and access to proper health and education resources. Moving to a place with a clean water supply just isn’t an option for many Flint residents. But more importantly: they shouldn’t have to move.
And so they rely completely on a supply of bottled water trucked in from clean water sources. And they will continue to do so until they can all afford to leave, or their water supply is cleaned up by the government. Once again, you should totally donate to help Flint out.
Likewise, there are many places in the world where the water supply is not safe. I am not judging the people in those places for relying on bottled water for their survival. They have no choice, and in their case, spending money on bottled water isn’t a waste—it’s a necessity.
But if you do not live in a Flint-like dystopian horror story, and you spend money on bottled water because you like the taste or the convenience… well then…
What you can do
If you want to save money and the planet, give up your damn bottled water. You have so many more cost-efficient and environmental options! You can:
Buy yourself a water filter! Some of these babies attach directly to your kitchen faucet, so every drop of your municipal water comes out filtered, clean, and perfect. Other models are attached to a pitcher which you can constantly refill and keep in your refrigerator, so it’s always perfectly chilled and refreshing. Nothing tastes better than filtered water with a side of economic smugness!
Buy some fresh or frozen fruits and veggies! If the taste is your problem, try making yourself some homemade cucumber or lemon water. Chop it up fresh, serve it in a glass of ice water, and feel super fancy while sipping your eleven glasses a day (or whatever the medical profession is recommending at the moment). Throw in some frozen berries instead of ice and feel innovative while hydrating. MAKE WATER LUXURIOUS AGAIN.
Make your own bottled water! I have a friend whose excuse for buying bottled water is “I just like to reach into the fridge and have it ready and waiting for me, you know?” Which is so staggeringly lazy my brain is having trouble processing the magnitude of privileged cluelessness required to actually spew such a sentiment from one’s mouth hole. If having cold water in bottles sitting around waiting to hydrate you is really so convenient, spend five minutes filling reusable bottles from your tap (or filter!) and sticking them all in the fridge a couple times a week.
Get the fuck over it! Most well water and municipal water supplies in the United States are perfectly safe. So embrace your frugal options and stop acting so goddamn precious. Your wallet—and the earth!—will thank you.