We all know by now how important it is to drink plenty of water. There are quite a few options these days: sparkling water, fruit-infused water, flavored water, artesian water, spring water. There are options for everyone. Water comes in cans, boxes, bottles and, of course, straight from the faucet. How do we make sense of all of these options? How do we keep our bodies healthy without damaging our environment? Is bottled water best, or just more convenient? Let’s dive in to the tap water vs. bottled water debate.
It’s widely believed that the bottled water craze began around 1977 when Perrier launched a $5 million dollar advertising campaign to promote its imported water, billing it as “Earth’s First Soft Drink.” The campaign featured television ads voiced by famed actor Orson Welles and highlighted its French origin and premium price, appealing to many of those that desired to exhibit social status. It was rumored that Farrah Fawcett even used Perrier to rinse her hair! This is considered to be the campaign that ushered in the commercial dominance of bottled water.
The 80s and 90s saw exponential growth in bottled water sales, with some of the large soda companies following the growing trend, banking on growing awareness for healthy living and growing fears of illness and contamination from tap water sources. The fears were prompted by a 1986 EPA report showing tap water consumed by millions of Americans contained high levels of lead. Even though cities and Congress rushed to address the problem, mistrust of public water lingered. According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, bottled water was an $18.5 billion industry in 2017, propelling bottled water past soda as American’s favorite drink.
So is bottled water safer than tap water today? The short answer is NO.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is charged with regulating the bottled water industry, classifying them into four categories: artesian well water, mineral water, spring water, and well water. Anything labeled “sparkling water,” “seltzer water,” “soda water,” etc., isn’t included in these regulations and is instead considered to be a soft drink and regulated differently. Some bottled water also comes from “municipal sources” – meaning tap water – and can be labeled and sold as “purified water.” In fact, nearly 50% of all the bottled water sold in the U.S. is reprocessed tap water. Tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and actually has much stricter regulations and more frequent testing than the FDA-regulated bottled water. Tap water suppliers are required by the EPA to provide customers with a yearly Consumer Confidence Report (visit kentuckyamwater.com to read ours), which provides details and results of the various tests performed on the water.
Tap water is certainly the smart choice if you want to take care of Mother Earth. You can purchase a reusable water bottle almost anywhere these days. They come in all sizes, shapes, and materials. You can even purchase one with a built-in diffuser for fruit or herbs to add a little more flavor to your water. Bottled water takes much more energy to produce than tap water. Around 68 billion plastic bottles are thrown out each year in the U.S. and only 1 out of every 6 bottles ends up in recycling bins.
Also, it’s much cheaper to turn on the tap! As mentioned earlier, nearly half of all bottled water is simply reprocessed tap water; however, bottled water is sold at prices nearly 3,000 times higher than the cost for tap water. The average cost for a gallon of bottled water is $1.22. However, 2/3 of all bottled water sales are single bottles, making the cost even higher. The cost for a gallon of Kentucky American Water’s tap water? Around a penny.
In many instances, bottled water can be more convenient. Public water fountains can be trickier to find these days and it can be hard to remember to bring along a reusable water bottle for refills. Bottled water is critical during a natural disaster when water supply has been disrupted, and bottled water can easily be tossed into a purse or gym bag. But considering the safety and quality of tap water, the environmental impact and the low cost, your tap water is a smart choice.
About the author: Dorothy Rader has spent more than 20 years in the water industry, starting her career as a water treatment plant operator in Tennessee. She was water quality and environmental compliance supervisor with Tennessee American Water in Chattanooga before joining Kentucky American Water in 2017 as water quality and environmental compliance manager.
In 2018 was recognized with the George Warren Fuller Award, one of the highest individual honors bestowed upon water professionals by the American Water Works Association, a national drinking water trade association. The award recognizes water industry leaders for their long-time distinguished service and commitment to the advancement of water treatment and delivery.
Rader holds a degree in chemical and environmental engineering technology, as well as water plant operator and distribution operator licenses from the state of Tennessee and the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Dorothy Rader, Water Quality and Environmental Compliance Manager
Kentucky American Water – www.kentuckyamwater.com