Bottled water might as well be the biggest nonsense of the century, especially in industrialized nations such as Canada and the US. Don’t get me wrong – there’s not much harm in providing safe bottled water to areas without access to drinking water from the tap, or to areas hit by a disaster that contaminated local water temporarily.
In most other cases, however, bottled water is a ridiculous way for a bottling company to sell you something you don’t need for a price you should not be willing to pay. Depending on where you live, bottled water is hundreds of times more expensive than tap, and usually of lower quality. Plus, if your water is free (such as in Montreal), bottled water is just pure luxury. (If you are interested in more raw data on this topic, please check out our recent article on the real cost of bottled water.)
Drinkable tap water is subject to strict quality controls everywhere. The controls of tap water are actually much stricter than those of bottled water because bottled water is considered a commercial beverage and is thus subject to a whole other set of laws. Tap water must be clean enough to be used for surgeries with minimal treatment, fit for people and animals, safe for the elderly, and tasty. It should not contain any extra additives except for low levels of chlorine (hypochlorous acid) which is supposed to keep it sanitized as it travels. If you are afraid of chlorine, you can install a filter on your taps once and you’re done. Also, remember that while chlorine alone is indeed a toxic gas, it is omnipresent in the nature in many kinds of salts (such as your regular table salt) and is thus vital for most living organisms.
On the other hand, bottled water is literally a demon among consumer products. The natural springs and icebergs that the water is sourced at are often relatively dirty and are subject to contamination (industrial or otherwise) – unless your bottled water also comes from the tap, which, unfortunately, is often the case too. While tap water is checked right before it comes to your home, bottled water is checked at the source and may get spoiled en route to you. If you despise acid rains, you should think carefully about drinking iceberg water. If it comes from the surface of an iceberg, it is almost like drinking water from a frozen paddle. If it’s from the core of an iceberg – isn’t there enough ice melting already?
In many cases, the added minerals and vitamins are artificial and spoil the taste of the water. Most of the vitamins and minerals which bottled waters boast are present in your regular vegetables, salt and meat in a much more digestible form. Plus, your average steak or eggplant is still probably tested more thoroughly for contaminants than the water with which you want to complement it.
Bottles However, the worst part of the bottled water story is – you guessed it – bottles. Bottles are made of fossil fuels and since almost all bottles are plastic, they are never going to dissolve in the environment. In a perfect world, even if every piece of plastic was separated for recyclation, you would still need to make sure that your bottles are recycled into bottles again – that is to say into a product of equal or higher usability. Whereas there are people trying to achieve this, the vast majority of recycled bottles end up becoming a plastic sweater or a pen at best. The problem with such downgrading is the fact that new oil needs to be dug and new plastic needs to be manufactured to create your next bottle.
You might be aware, however, that most bottles inevitably end up in a landfill or, in the worst case, in the ocean. All this said, it is mindboggling why anyone in their right mind would buy bottled water at all, EVER.
And yet we do. But we definitely don’t have to and we should not. There are hardly ever any contaminations to the tap water we drink. Even if there was to be a problem, it would most likely be discovered long way up the supply stream and you would know well ahead of time not to drink your tap water for, say, a week. If you are worried about terrorism then think whether it’s easier to contaminate the constantly tested drinking water reservoirs or to buy a bottled water factory and insert contaminants straight into the bottles you put to your mouth…
And if it is still not clear to you, what we suggest is that you quit buying a product with a real value equal to packaged breathing air. Instead, designate one of your existing bottles for carrying with you and keep it filled up with the nice and clean water from the tap. It will never dissolve and will be available whenever thirst hits you. And if you are thirsty while out and about having forgotten your tap water bottle, consider asking for a GLASS of water in the restaurant instead of purchasing a small drop of overpriced bottled water. In fact, I say all “environment-friendly” restaurants should offer their visitors tap water for free, what do you think?