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.
*Editorial note from Kitty: I’m so impressed that Piggy had the discretion and restraint to not out me as the Fiji Water Friend. It is delicious water! I just hadn’t yet processed that it was flown from halfway across the world in non-biodegradable plastic bottles. A behavior so absurd it would make the citizens of Panem’s Capitol blush!
Bottled water is fucking expensive
If you’re looking to cut 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. 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 counterintuitively, 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. 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.
Here’s more of our tree-hugging, whale-saving, moralizing pontificating:
- Ethical Consumption: How to Pollute the Planet and Exploit Labor Slightly Less
- You Deserve Cheap Toilet Paper, You Beautiful Fucking Moon Goddess
- Fast Fashion: Why It’s Fucking up the World and How To Avoid It
- You Deserve Cheap, Fake Jewelry… Just Like Coco Chanel
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
Let’s talk about Flint fucking Michigan, where people literally have dysentery because their water has been poisoned since 2014! Which is some surreal Oregon Trail bullshit if I ever heard it.
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.
14 thoughts to “You Are Above Bottled Water, You Elegant Land Mermaid”
I’ve never been one to buy water bottles unless ABSOLUTELY desperate (travelling, drunk, dehydrated, sunstroke). But to FURTHER instill this belief in myself to resist, I spent $30 on a FANCY WATER BOTTLE to guilt myself into ever thinking about buying another water bottle. It works! (See here: http://g.nordstromimage.com/ImageGallery/store/product/Zoom/13/_12708973.jpg)
!!! You are an inspiration to us all! Who wouldn’t want to carry around a fancy fucking reusable bottle like that instead a chunk of horrible plastic?
And you bring up a good point about only buying bottled water if absolutely necessary. The last time I bought one was when I flew to CA to go hiking and forgot to pack an empty bottle. So I bought one at the grocery store and reused it for 5 days. TAKE THAT BOTTLED WATER INDUSTRY.
Thank you for not outing me as the Fiji-water enthusiast! I don’t want our readers to think less of me!
What can I say? It was 2005, it was a different time. We thought that George Bush was the worst this country could do! We thought we were good to just put some tasty water on an aeroplane and fly it around the planet! I hope the Fiji water factory becomes the estate of a sadistic water-hoarding warlord in Fallout 5: Viti Levu.
Well, your secret WAS safe with me. 😉 We were so young, so innocent, so willing to spend our hard-earned babysitting money on curly fries at the diner…
So glad we have great Tap water where I live 🙂 Hubs is a water snob but works for a commercial cooler/filter company so we get it free. It blew my mind travelling in SE Asia how much packaging we blew through just to exist because you have to drink bottler water there, a couple every day!
I’m insanely jealous of your SE Asian travels. And I totally should have added traveling abroad to the exceptions in the article!
Some offense, but I follow one of you on tumblr and all I’ve seen from this site is giant versions of the kind of comments I’d see on right wing newspaper sites.
It falls solidly into the trap of thinking that there’s one kind of poor, or at least never acknowledging that there’s two.
The first kind, the kind you’re targeting are the temporary poor. The sort of people who if they do save a little here and get their life together there will someday probably be able to be comfortably off. I’m not saying it’s easy, and honestly, good for you. But bearing something for a little while because you know you’ll feel the benefits later or in another area of your life is a whole different thing from when it’s your life and it always will be. What am I going to do with the money from half price toilet paper or the >£20 a year I spend on water? What, is that my retirement plan? I get to the end of fifty years of drinking tap water and oh look I’ve got a whole £1000 to show for it? Plus interest! Fucking whoo.
Yeah I buy fancy toilet paper. I didn’t used to, but then I got anal fissures, and suddenly cheap toilet paper turned from shit wiper to torture device, whereas the fancy stuff didn’t hurt. Since switching the fissures haven’t been back, which might be related or it might be superstition, but there’s no fucking way I’m risking it.
And yes, I buy bottled water. A habit I picked up because we can’t afford heating and the pipes freeze. Also we flood. Now I could keep it just for emergencies but you know what? It’s 17p/2l and it’s (optionally) fizzy. I dunno what that is in American but it isn’t a lot. It gets me to drink water and it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than buying fruit to put in tap water. Fruit that probably has to be flown halfway around the world to get to you btw. So green.
Yes, bottled water is bad for the environment and that’s bad, it really is, but frankly… eh. I don’t fly to some sunny place twice a year and I don’t have four kids who I drive around town in a car that’s designed to go up mountains. So idk, let’s call that my allowance of crap stuff I do.
So yeah, congratulations, you’ve made me go on a “poor people are allowed to have nice things” rant. Doesn’t generally take much tbf, but I find it doubly frustrating from this kind of site.
Hey, thanks for following us on Tumblr and thanks for the thoughtful feedback!! We are a young blog and we appreciate it! If ANYONE can read our site and get “right wing” we need to hear that, because both Piggy and I would literally rather pull off a toenail than perpetuate conservative fairy tales about the power of magic bootstraps.
Real quick: as the toilet paper article mentions, the cheap toilet paper advice does NOT apply to folks with Legit Butt Problems. Anal fissures, hemorrhoids, pilonidal cysts, recent childbirth = go find whatever kind of toilet paper Marie Antoinette used and get some with our blessing.
While we occasionally do articles like this, they are designed to suggest areas where young people can trim their budgets. We do NOT believe in shaming impoverished people for small luxuries, as long as they are luxuries that truly bring you joy. I skip lunch almost every day out of pure miserliness but I sleep in a top-of-the-line Tempurpedic because my back suuucks. We are not in the business of scrooge-breeding, because we value freedom and happiness over wealth-for-wealth’s-sake.
I want to point you toward some of our articles that talk about systemic poverty. Please check those out. And we will happily take up your challenge to write more of them!
Buying the $7 Chocolate Bar
Starting at Rock Bottom
“Poor People Are Poor Because They Are _____. Rich People Are Rich Because They Are _____.”
…We also have an article in the queue about the intersection of generational poverty and self-discipline. It’s got some really interesting science behind it, and I’m gonna jump it to the top of the queue just for you!
OMG, yes to all of this! I made a terrible video in college saying these very same things (it was for a scholarship. I didn’t win. See before: terrible).
Though I have to admit to buying bottled water once in a while, nowadays. Only when I’m out and about and in a situation where bringing a waste bottle and filling it doesn’t work (movie theater), and only because I want something to drink that isn’t sugar water. Alas, how the mighty have fallen.
Your secret is safe with us! And really, I think that’s bottled water’s proper place: useful in a pinch, but not fit for daily consumption.
By the way, we love your blog! Millennial finance geeks unite!
I grew up in Alaska on glacier and well water, so bottled water doesn’t impress me. When I moved to Srattle, water tasted fine there too. I used a Brita, but even without it, the water was good.
Then we moved to Phoenix. I, not exaggerating when I say that it took me a month to get used to the smell of our shower. The chemicals are disgusting. But you know what we did? Got a $30 water cooler off Craigslist and filled water jugs ($0.25/gallon). When our health got worse and we couldn’t handle 40-lb jugs, we got a reverse osmosis system for $300.
There are other options people.
YES! Bottled water is unsustainable. You took a shitty situation and found a long-lasting, frugal solution.
My lovely fiance, upon moving into our apartment, informed me that he didn’t like the taste of my city water and also that he prefers refrigerator-cold water. He requested a Brita filter water pitcher. I rejected this expense and the monthly plastic waste involved. I did some research and decided to buy activated charcoal sticks and put them (with tap water) into a glass pitcher in the fridge. Works well for him, the charcoal can be used for months and then broken down into substrate for compost, and also Brita filters are just charcoal by a fancier name and in plastic anyway. Almost a year in an super happy with this solution.
This. Is. BRILLIANT!!! Thank you so much for letting us know!