Bottled Water Is Still A Scam

Bottled water in America is generally less healthy than tap water, extraordinarily more expensive, and far more destructive to the environment. It’s something I started blogging about years ago, and thanks to an an exceptional package of stories in Fast Company, I had a reminder to revisit the issue.

From my old post:

In case you don’t know, bottled water is an incredible scam. I used to help out with running a water company when I was a kid, so I got a good background in the stringent set of requirements that utilities must meet when providing drinking water to a community. Generally, bottled water doesn’t have to meet standards that are anywhere near as tightly regulated in regards to contaminants, filtering, or purity. Not to mention the fact that waterwhich stagnates in plastic containers on supermarket shelves frequently has a higher bacteria count than water from public utilities.

Meanwhile, the Fast Company article adds an incredible amount of new specifics, particularly about the explosive growth in sales of bottled water. As Charles Fishman says,

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 81/3 pounds a gallon. It’s so heavy you can’t fill an 18-wheeler with bottled water–you have to leave empty space.)

Meanwhile, one out of six people in the world has no dependable, safe drinking water. The global economy has contrived to deny the most fundamental element of life to 1 billion people, while delivering to us an array of water “varieties” from around the globe, not one of which we actually need. That tension is only complicated by the fact that if we suddenly decided not to purchase the lake of Poland Spring water in Hollis, Maine, none of that water would find its way to people who really are thirsty.


It’s worth reiterating that Aquafina and Dasani are just tap water. There’s nothing wrong with that, since tap water is very good water — it’s just not worth paying 500 times as much for. I don’t have any argument against the convenience factor, either, since it makes perfect sense to take water with you when you’re on the go. You’ll just get something that’s got less bacteria and generally better quality if you fill your bottle from your tap. It’s also worth checking out this story for the slideshows that are displayed alongside it; These usually just seem like blatant attempts for magazines to increase their page views online, but in this case they seem to have actually included original content and research.

Some of the other points made in the article:

  • Fiji Water produces more than a million bottles a day, while more than half the people in Fiji do not have reliable drinking water.
  • If the water we use at home cost what even cheap bottled water costs, our monthly water bills would run $9,000.
  • 24% of the bottled water we buy is tap water repackaged by Coke and Pepsi.
  • The bubbles in San Pellegrino are extracted from volcanic springs in Tuscany, then trucked north and injected into the water from the source.
  • We pitch into landfills 38 billion water bottles a year–in excess of $1 billion worth of plastic.
  • Worldwide, 1 billion people have no reliable source of drinking water; 3,000 children a day die from diseases caught from tainted water.

I’d encourage everybody to take a look at the Fast Company article — it makes it clear that the costs of bottled water, aside from its extraordinarily expensive price, are simply not worth it. And that’s not even taking into account the fact that a lot of experts think the next resource that will spark a wide-scale international conflict isn’t going to be oil, but fresh drinking water.

Thanks to Lisa for the article link and to Philippe for the photo.