The Bottom Line

Bottled water is not necessarily more pure or safer than tap water. Consumer Reports: article
Bottled water costs hundreds to thousands of times more than tap water, and tens to hundreds of times more than home-treated water. "Bottled water costs about 2000 times more than tap water. Can you imagine paying 2000 times the price of anything else? How about a $ 10,000 sandwich?" Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff
Bottled water has often been demonstrated in blinded tests to taste the same as tap water.
Bottled water wastes resources and pollutes our earth and atmosphere at every stage of its production, distribution, and the disposal of used bottles.
Bottled water can have no magical properties to cure disease, help you hydrate any better, give you more energy, balance your body's pH, or lose weight better or faster than tap (or filtered) water.
Bottled water is a 'quick fix' commodity that diverts attention away from the necessity of maintaining and upgrading critical public water treatment and distribution infrastructure.
In most cases it is inexpensive (compared to the continuous purchase of bottled water) and easy to treat and bottle your own water:
- Drink healthy water, drink it responsibly and save.

Alternatives to purchased bottled water

Drink the local tap water
In most cities in the US and other developed countries  the local tap water is safe.
Check when traveling, and if there is any question about the water quality use a portable water treatment device or buy bottled water.
Fill your own reusable bottle with filtered, distilled or tap water.
Filling your own reusable bottles and effectively cleaning them between uses does take some time and uses resources (water, soap, energy to heat the  water, and "elbow grease"). 

One way to minimize the time and resources needed to clean reusable water bottles is to pour the water into your mouth instead of sucking it out.  If you have not wrapped your lips around the bottle's mouth there will be little chance of contamination.  You would only need to rinse the bottle out occasionally.  Problems with this approach to drinking are that it looks a bit strange and, if you are not careful, you can pour the water down the front of your shirt instead of into your mouth.

With a moderate initial expenditure and attention to cleaning the container, bottling your own tap water will cost well under one cent per gallon.
If you have concerns about using tap water to drink and fill your reusable water containers, you can economically treat your water with any of the home treatment methods described on this page that fit your needs and budget and fill a 16oz water container for $0.01 to $0.04.

Concerns have been raised about the safety of some types of plastic containers.
National Geographic Green Guide (the original links are gone)
Safer plastics - #2HDPE, #4LDPE, and #5PP
When choosing plastic containers, even those you'll use over and over again, choose those that are accepted for recycling in your area. Although #1 PETE is one of the most commonly recycled types, there are no containers designed for re-use made from it, and one should never re-use single-use #1 plastic bottles because their design doesn't lend itself to proper cleaning and the bottles can harbor bacterial growth.  There are, however, a number of reusable containers made from another commonly recycled plastic, #2 HDPE. Number #4 LDPE and #5PP plastics, although not as widely recycled, are also good choices since, as with #2, most research has not shown leaching of any carcinogens or endocrine disruptors."

The Smart Plastics Guide "Plastic products are typically labeled with a number surrounded by the recycling symbol. These numbers and labels identify both the type of resin used to make the plastic and the products recyclability. Associated with the different types of resin are potential health risks. The following table summarizes seven different types of commonly used plastics, product examples, recyclability, and potential health risks."

For an alternative to plastic, try the Thermos Stainless Steel Beverage Bottle #2550.  With a stainless-steel exterior and interior, it keeps beverages cold or soups, coffee and tea hot 10 times longer than plastic bottles, or try Sigg's .6-liter Oval Traveler Reusable Bottle in stainless steel. {other brands of metal containers you can look up on the web include Klean Kanteen stainless steel), Sigg (ceramic-lined aluminum)
What You Can Do
Drinking water sources Avoid leaving water in any plastic bottle in the heat. {this would include purchased bottled water}
Drinking water sources Hand wash reusable bottles gently.
Drinking water sources Don't reuse PET bottles - particularly for baby bottles.
Drinking water sources Fill reusable bottles with your own tap water, filtered if necessary.

Is reusing disposable water bottles (#1 PETE ) safe? Research has turned up two opinion groups:
Drinking water sources the refillers:  The refillers say that washing and re-using water bottles is safe, particularly if they are washed regularly with hot, soapy water.
Drinking water sources the non-refillers (represented, in particular, by the International Bottled Water Association, an organization that represents the interest of companies that sell bottled water):  Those in the non-refilling camp state that only bottles specifically made to be reused should be refilled.  For starters, they say that all kinds of bacteria can thrive in made-to-be-disposed bottles, even after washing.

My take on this issue, as mentioned above, is that as long as the top and inside of the bottle is not contaminated by contact with your mouth or hands, the bottle can be reused with minimal cleaning.  That, however, involves pouring the water into your mouth instead of wrapping your lips around the top, and you run the risk of pouring water down the front of your shirt.

Are there any benefits to purchasing bottled water?

Drinking water sources There are times and places where the immediate availability of safe water is critical, as in the aftermath of a disaster where normal water distribution is interrupted &/or the local water is polluted.  Bottled water can help tremendously in those situations - but so could portable water treatment stations.
Drinking water sources When traveling out of town the water quality/safety may be unknown (or known to be bad).  That would be another instance where purchasing bottled water would make sense.  Again, however, there are portable water treatment options that could be used. 

In the absence of a disaster or travel, however, the main (and arguably the only) benefit to bottled water is convenience - you can take bottled water with you wherever you go or purchase it when you get "there" and be reasonably assured of drinking safe, good tasting water.

Of course it has always been possible to bottle your own water and take water with you - back when I was a kid you simply filled a canteen or thermos from the faucet and went on your way.  Today there is a wide variety of reusable water containers in plastic, metal, glass and ceramic.  Plastic and metal are most commonly used for individual-use portable containers and glass and ceramic are mostly limited to bulk long-term water storage.

Additional issues and articles about bottled water

"I am sorry, Evian and San Pellegrino and Dasani and all the other bottled waters out there — Aqua Velva, Wells Fargo, Muddy Waters, Joan Rivers, Jerry Springer, whatever — but the current campaign against paying good money for bottled water when tap water is perfectly good (and very likely purer) is so sensible on the face of it that I am now done with you.
Fini. Kaput. Ausgeschlossen. No more designer water. Water is water. If you want lemon flavoring, add a slice of lemon. You want bubbles, stick a straw in it and blow.

My father, a true conservative, would have smiled on this. All his life he resisted the attempts of big corporations to gouge him by selling him stuff he didn't need and so he was not a consumer of high-priced water, anymore than he would've purchased bottles of French air or Italian soil.
No, San Pellegrino and Perrier got rich off the pretensions of liberal wastrels like moi who thought it set us apart from the unlettered masses. We ordered it in restaurants for the same reason we read books we don't like and go to operas we don't understand — we say to the waiter, "Perrier," to give a continental touch to our macaroni and cheese.

Enough. Man is capable of reform once presented with the facts, and the fact is that bottling water and shipping it is a big waste of fuel, so stop already. The water that comes to your house through a pipe is good enough, and maybe better." Garrison Keillor  Sept. 25, 2007

12 facts that show why bottled water is one of the biggest scams of the century: "It is wrong to assume that bottled water is somehow cleaner, healthier, or safer than tap water in the US," Peter Gleick, an environmental scientist and the co-founder of the Pacific Institute, told Business Insider. (Erin Brodwin and Aylin Woodward Mar 20, 2019, 10:01 AM )

In a thirsty world... Bottled water seems wasteful:  There's no question about it. We live in a thirsty world. Water scarcity is quickly becoming the issue of our time. Climate change is real and it's effecting farmers from California to Kenya. And already today, as many as 1 in 8 people don't have access to safe water to drink. The environmental cost of the massive consumption of bottled water has led some U.S. and Canadian local governments to consider a ban its sale. While this seems an extreme response, the scientific concerns are well-founded, and the facts may surprise you. (The Water Project)

The real cost of bottled water:  Economic, Environmental, Health (University of Queensland)
National Geographic Article, Earth Day Article 2015, "If Bottled Water Is So Bad, Why Are Sales Hitting Records?"
Bottled water is poised to become the king of beverages in the United States. Despite the fact that more than a dozen colleges have banned sale of bottled water at campus dining facilities, that sales of bottled water are banned at 22 U.S. national parks—including the Grand Canyon and Zion—and that half a dozen cities have banned use of official funds to purchase bottled water, sales in 2015 hit an all-time high.
Americans now drink astonishing amounts of bottled water: In 2015, we bought the equivalent of 1.7 billion half-liter bottles of water every week. That's more than five bottles of water for every man, woman, and child in the country every single week. A typical family of four is going through one of those shrink-wrapped 24-packs of bottled water each week.

Kerosene and bottled water: Ed Quillen,
Columnist for The Denver Post: 05/23/2008

Mr. Quillen coined the term Equivalent Kerosene Quotient (EKQ), to denote the amount of fuel required to transport water from its source to a bottling plant.  He specifically proposed a requirement to post the EKQ on bottles of Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water if Nestle goes ahead with plans to truck water 250 miles from a spring in the mountains near Nathrop, Colorado to Denver for bottling.  After researching the amount of water Nestle is planning to ship, the amount of water a tanker truck can carry, and average miles per gallon of the trucks, he calculated that the EKQ for trucking the water to Denver would be 1.74 teaspoons of fuel per liter bottle.  1.74 teaspoons isn't much, you may say, but that works out to 1,680 gallons of fuel per day to transport the planned 194,400 gallons of water.
Related Story 3/23/09

Update, August, 2009 - Nestle wins approval to tap Colorado ground water - The world's largest beverage company has won approval from officials in Colorado to extract and bottle spring water from the mountains of south central Colorado...
Nestle Waters North America may draw 65 million gallons of water a year from a spring in Chaffee County to sell under its Arrowhead brand, county commissioners decided Wednesday.
David LaVercombe June 2010 update - "If things go according to plan, in about a month someone at Nestle Waters North America will turn a valve and water will begin running out of a pipeline near Buena Vista and will splash into an empty 8,000-gallon tanker truck.  It will take roughly an hour for the truck to fill, and then another truck will take its place.  The water will run 24 hours a day, filling approximately 25 trucks each day, every day.  Nestle Turns Arkansas River Water Into the Arrowhead Brand."

"I have always been a big advocate of tap water—not because I think it harmless but because the idea of purchasing water extracted from some remote watershed and then hauled halfway round the world bothers me. Drinking bottled water relieves people of their concern about ecological threats to the river they live by or to the basins of groundwater they live over. It's the same kind of thinking that leads some to the complacent conclusion that if things on earth get bad enough, well, we'll just blast off to a space station somewhere else."
Sandra Steingraber, Having Faith, 2001
A study from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Drinking water: A Comparison of Bottled and Tap Water Using Life Cycle Analysis, concluded, "The study confirms that while recycling bottles is environmentally preferable to disposing of them, buying bottled water and recycling the bottles is not the best environmental choice.  Drinking water from the tap (waste prevention) typically has substantially lower impacts in most categories of environmental impact.   ...If you choose to drink bottled water, recycling the bottle can have moderate environmental benefits.  These benefits, however, are still overshadowed by the negative impacts of making and transporting the bottle in the first place." (Study)

Bottled Water vs. Tap Water (7.5 minutes)

20/20 Special Report ABC Reports, 5/6/05 - Video, Text - It started with Perrier. Somehow, a French company convinced people it's cool to buy bottled water. Today, Evian has surpassed Perrier in sales and now it's the chic French water of choice. Why? It costs about 5 bucks a gallon! Why do people pay so much for something they can get virtually free? ...Bottom line, if you buy bottled water because you think it's healthier than tap, test after test shows no evidence of that. And if you buy fancy brands because you think they taste better, you're probably just buying the hype.  ABC Water Challenge

Tapped - The Movie: (1 hour 12 minutes)

Is access to clean drinking water a basic human right, or a commodity that should be bought and sold like any other article of commerce?  Stephanie Soechtig's debut feature is an unflinching examination of the big business of bottled water.

The Story of Stuff Project - bottled water
The Story of Bottled Water, released on March 22, 2010 (World Water Day) employs the Story of Stuff style to tell the story of manufactured demand—how you get Americans to buy more than half a billion bottles of water every week when it already flows from the tap.  The film concludes with a call to take back the tap, not only by making a personal commitment to avoid bottled water, but by supporting investments in clean, available tap water for all.

Twenty-First Century Waterfall - YouTube
Project webpage:

It is estimated that in 2005 alone approximately 30 billion plastic water bottles were purchased in the US, with only about 12% recycled (in part due to out-dated deposit laws), and the remaining 25 billion bottles landfilled, littered or incinerated. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Innovate.

Computer animation comparing the US rate of plastic water bottle recycling (approx. 100 bottles per second) to the nonrecycled rate (approx. 845 bottles/second) for 2005.

This computer animation was made to raise awareness about bottled water, and its surprisingly poor recycling rates.  Since its recent popularization, bottled water (in all its flavors) has become ironically one of the most consumed, yet least recycled beverages.

$38+ for one bottle of designer water - YouTube
Bling water may be the most extravagant bottled water, but here are some other unique, rare extravagant &/or expensive foods.

People are flocking to a New York establishment that sells 80 different brands of water, including the $49-a-pop "Forbidden Bling H20."

NPR article on Bling water.

How Stuff Works article: would you pay $38 - $49 for a bottle of water?

bling - home page

Another article about Bling water and another.



Hotel bottled water offering at $19 per gallon.
Hotel H20

Join the movement to Unbottle Water!  ACTION KIT: Step-by-Step: Breaking the Bottled Water Habit in Your Community.  Cartoons

Why Bottled Water Is Insane by Michael Byrne, June 16, 2013:  "Bottled water as a concept has been visible for a very long time, of course, and most histories of the phenomenon mark the introduction of Perrier in 1976 as the genesis of modern bottled water.  It wasn't until the mid-90s, however, that bottled water became everyday and, you know, for the common folks.  Those of us that remember this period are lucky enough to have witnessed one of the most insane events in consumer history, when the soda industry figured out how to sell the same thing in bottles that people already had piped into their houses.Abolish Bottled Water - "Bottled water is a con. It makes about as much sense as designer bottled air..."

15 Outrageous Facts About The Bottled Water Industry: "Who got the idea to sell us something we can get for free?  And how did it get so popular that now more than half of Americans drink it?  The first documented case of selling bottled water was in Boston in the 1760s."

Environmental Protection Agency: Bottled Water Basics
"Bottled water is much more expensive, per gallon, than tap water.  Because of this, consider whether you are buying it as a healthy alternative to bottled beverages, for its taste, or for other reasons."

National Geographic: Why Tap Water is Better Than Bottled Water - "Transporting the bottles and keeping them cold also burns fossil fuels, which give off greenhouse gases.  And groundwater pumping by bottled-water companies draws heavily on underground aquifers and harms watersheds, according to the Sierra Club, an environmental nonprofit.  And according to some estimates, it takes up to three liters of water to produce one liter of bottled water."

 Eleven billion billion gallons of bottled water were bought in the United States in 2014.
Bottled water consumption in the United States, from 1976 to 2014.  Data are from the Beverage Marketing Corporation.  Image adapted from a graph by Peter Gleick. According to the IBWA and BMC, in 2012 bottled water sales increased from 2011 by 6.7% to 9.67 billion gallons and another 4.3% in 2013 to 10.1 billion gallons - with $11.8 billion and 12.3 billion dollars in sales respectively.  Sales in 2014 had increased to 11 billion gallons.

Bottled Water Sales: The Shocking Reality by Peter Gleick, April 25, 2013:  "The numbers are in for 2012, and they are shocking.  The Beverage Marketing Corporation, which tracks sales and consumption of beverages, is reporting that sales of bottled water grew nearly 7 percent between 2011 and 2012, with consumption reaching a staggering 30.8 gallons per person.  And since I (and some of you) consume almost zero bottled water every year, there are people out there drinking far more than the average."

Environmental Working Group:  Is your bottled water worth it?  When you pay a premium price of up to 1,900 times more for bottled water, you expect more.  But with rare exceptions, you get less. All too often, you get nothing.  Unless you count hyped advertising come-ons like "crisp," "pristine" or "essential."

Drinking from a Bottle Instead of the Tap Just Doesn't Hold Water - Scientific American article - Some 2.7 million tons of petroleum-derived plastic are used to bottle water worldwide every year, and costs consumers up to 1,900 times more than tap water. Bottled water has been a big-selling commercial beverage around the world since the late 1980s. According to the Worldwatch Institute, global bottled water consumption has more than quadrupled since 1990. Today Americans consume over 30 billion liters of water out of some 50 billion (mostly plastic) bottles every year.

Back to the Tap:  Time Magazine, Aug. 09, 2007
Water sales topped $10.8 billion last year--all for something you can get virtually free.  "It's like marketing air," marvels Allen Hershkowitz, an industrial ecologist with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).  But the phenomenal growth in bottled water isn't just draining our wallets--it's also putting stress on the environment.  It takes oil to make the plastic in all those bottles and oil to transport the water from its source to the consumer, and that means greenhouse gases--a primary cause of global warming.

Bottled Water: Pure Drink or Pure Hype?  This is the online version of National Resource Defense Council's March 1999 petition to the FDA and attached report on the results of our four-year study of the bottled water industry, including its bacterial and chemical contamination problems.  The petition and report find major gaps in bottled water regulation and conclude that bottled water is not necessarily safer than tap water.  The online version contains all of the report's text, tables and figures; it does not include the accompanying Technical Report or additional attachments to the petition.
2016 NRDC editorial, The Truth About Tap, "Lots of people think drinking bottled water is safer. Is it? ... It's important to note that the federal government does not require bottled water to be safer than tap. In fact, just the opposite is true in many cases. Tap water in most big cities must be disinfected, filtered to remove pathogens, and tested for cryptosporidium and giardia viruses. Bottled water does not have to be."

Message in a Bottle-1:  Despite the Hype, Bottled Water is Neither CLEANER nor GREENER Than Tap Water. from July, 2004
...A 2001 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) study confirmed the widespread belief that consumers associate bottled water with social status and healthy living.  Their perceptions trump their objectivity, because even some people who claim to have switched to bottled water "for the taste" can't tell the difference:  When Good Morning America conducted a taste test of its studio audience, New York City tap water was chosen as the heavy favorite over the oxygenated water 02, Poland Spring and Evian...

Message in a Bottle-2:  Americans spent more money last year on bottled water than on ipods or movie tickets: $15 Billion. A journey into the economics--and psychology--of an unlikely business boom. And what it says about our culture of indulgence.  From, July, 2007
...Bottled water is often simply an indulgence, and despite the stories we tell ourselves, it is not a benign indulgence.  We're moving 1 billion bottles of water around a week in ships, trains, and trucks in the United States alone.  That's a weekly convoy equivalent to 37,800 18-wheelers delivering water.  (Water weighs 8 1/3 pounds a gallon. It's so heavy you can't fill an 18-wheeler with bottled water—you have to leave empty space.)...
...Bottled water is not a sin.  But it is a choice...
...Once you understand the resources mustered to deliver the bottle of water, it's reasonable to ask as you reach for the next bottle, not just "Does the value to me equal the 99 cents I'm about to spend?" but "Does the value equal the impact I'm about to leave behind?

5 reasons not to drink bottled water - It's expensive, wasteful and - contrary to popular belief - not any healthier for you than tap water.

Living in a Bottled Water World - by Bill Melton - I have a keen dislike for bottled water. I'm not so much against bottled water in and of itself -- bottled water is great for helping people recover from being without water after hurricanes and tornados or for people planning trips across the desert. What upsets me is how so many folks have come to think the only way they can drink water is to buy it from a store even when they have plenty of fresh running close by. And I really get bent out of shape at ...

Think Outside the Bottle - Responsible Purchasing Guide from the Responsible Purchasing Network (RPN): In order to facilitate the efforts of educational institutions throughout the world that are seeking to reduce or eliminate purchases of bottled water, RPN has created an updated version of its bottled water alternatives guide, tailored specifically for universities and colleges. Most of the information in this Guide is applicable to any institutional purchaser, but a special effort was made to address the unique concerns of colleges and universities.

Fiji Water:  Fiji's bottled water brand leaves a bad taste in the mouth - Fiji Water is sold as the epitome of chic, but there's a darker side to its ritzy image. The water racks up its carbon footprint by being transported to Scotland from half way across the globe, and its sexy uber-cool image is doing wonders for the country it hails from. Fiji after all is a nation ruled by one of the world's most repressive regimes... (2009)
Fiji Water: Spin the Bottle -
Obama sips it. Paris Hilton loves it. Mary J. Blige won't sing without it. How did a plastic water bottle, imported from a military dictatorship thousands of miles away, become the epitome of cool?  By Anna Lenzer
Fiji Water accused of environmentally misleading claims -
It is, according to the marketing spiel, "drawn from an artesian aquifer hundreds of feet below the edges of a primitive rainforest", untouched by human hand. ...The firm also claims to be "the first major beverage brand to give a carbon negative commitment", meaning that buying its product is actually good for the planet. But a documentary investigation has concluded that Fiji Water, which is stocked by some of London's most exclusive restaurants and enjoyed by Barack Obama and Scarlett Johansson, is far less friendly to the planet than it claims. By Andy Bloxham, June 20, 2011
Bottled water faces backlash - High-end brand Fiji started a campaign intended to tout its expensively-imported-from-the-tropics water. "The label says Fiji because it's not bottled in Cleveland," read the copy in a series of glossy magazine ads. This did not sit well with the good people of Cleveland, Ohio, who were rather proud of their city's tap water. Cleveland Public Utilities director Julius Ciaccia had the local water tested against the pricey bottled stuff. Fiji water had 6.31 micrograms of arsenic per liter; the city tap had zero.

Bottled water in the Comics: The University of Maryland used a 'Cathy' comic strip from August 19, 2007 to encourage students to toss their plastic water bottles in favor of a more environmentally friendly alternative � tap water.  The University of Maryland recently removed all bottled water from the resident dining offerings and instead has installed triple filtered water stations with free student access.  Another Cathy strip from 11/2013.
The 12/2/2007 "Doonesbury" comic strip assessed bottled water as "... a triumph of perceived need over reason � the greatest marketing coup in history."  A Cornered strip 6/11/2000 showed a kid filling bottles from a hose telling a friend who's holding a punch bowl "Forget Lemonade.  The real money is in bottled water."
There are several comedians who have commented on bottled water, Jim Gaffigan, Brad Stine, Lewis Black, etc. A Comedy Review of Bottled Water
February, 2015 - Scientists reported this week that the world's oceans are being polluted with 8 million tons of plastic trash a year. Editorial cartoonist Pat Bagley calls it a tsunami for marine animals, while Mike Luckovich suggests a possible new species The Bottled Water Comics and Cartoons - More BW Cartoons

Disputes spring up over bottled water sources - USA Today, December 2012
Do you know where your bottled water comes from? The owners of a Chicago plumbing supply store say they thought they did. Since 2008, they had five-gallon bottles of Ice Mountain spring water delivered to their Chicago Faucet Shoppe offices. The attraction sprang from marketing that exclaimed, "Imagine having fresh, great-tasting spring water right in your home or office any time you want it!" But the plumbing shop owners say they learned in July those bottles contain filtered municipal tap water. The water's source wasn't disclosed in advertising, they allege in a consumer lawsuit that has landed Neste Waters North America - the USA's top bottled water supplier and a subsidiary of Switzerland-based nutrition and health giant Nestle - in legal hot water.

    Copyright  2005, Randy Johnson. All rights reserved.


Updated April 2015