These days, you see people with bottled water everywhere. But is it really better than tap water? In the battle between bottled water vs. tap water, you may want to say no to paying the premium price.
Once Upon A Time
Let us get a bit into the history of bottled water to set things into perspective: it was in Europe, in the middle of the 17th century, that the first bottled water appeared.
At that time, the rich had made it a fashion to visit natural mineral springs, drinking and bathing in them, believing the mineral contents to have some reinvigorating effect. Of course, it was never investigated if that water really was superior to what you got from your well at home. But good marketing already worked 250 years ago and compared to water gathered from ponds, lakes and rivers, that often was ripe with disease and considerably helped spreading illnesses such as cholera, it probably was at at least hygienically better. Back then, your safest bet most likely was either having your own well or indeed the water from such a spring.
Of course there was the problem with the mineral springs that if you wanted to drink their water, you needed to travel to them. For an entrepreneurial spring-owning spirit it was only a short mental leap to come up with the idea of filling it into bottles and let the water travel to the drinkers.
But, by and large, most people regarded these bottled mineral waters as an expensive eccentricity and were content if they simply had access to some water that probably did not give you some form of excruciatingly painful death – by the 19th century still the true luxury for many.
When this access had largely materialized at the beginning of the 20th century, getting to drink clean water was as easy as opening your tap. From then on, to really make a profit from water, you needed to have some good ideas. That came with carbonating and flavoring it and giving birth to the soft drink.
Going Back Just A Couple Of Years
However, by the 1980s, the soft drink market was pretty much saturated and the big players in it looked to other fields to expand their businesses. In 1994, one rather adventurous mind at Pepsico had an idea: why not take tap water and give it the same branding treatment as the company’s lead product, Pepsi? History doesn’t tell what the exact reaction at that board meeting might have been, but the idea went through and “Aquafina” was born.
This prove, perhaps even to the astonishment of the board, to be a huge success. So much so, that in 1999 rival Coca-Cola created its water brand “Dasani”, that too was soon followed by others.
But both, Aquafina and Dasani, are nothing but the same very tap water you can get in your own home. To give consumers some incentive to buy something at 2,000 times the price of what they can have at home, they needed to give people a strong incentive: they had to make tap water look inferior.
To achieve this, Aquafina, according to Pepsico, undergoes reverse osmosis, ultraviolet sterilization (PDF) and ozone sterilization, while the water in Dasani is treated with reverse osmosis as well, but also has some trace amounts of minerals added. All of course done while hinting that the hygiene of your regular tap water is lacking and doesn’t provide those fancy minerals.
Facts About Bottled Water Vs. Tap Water
First of all, tap water is safe to drink if you are living in any reasonably civilized part of the world, as your tap water undergoes rather strict hygiene controls. I know of no reports from the EU or North America where tap water was indicated as the source for disease. What Pepsico and Coca-Cola do with their ionizing and reverse osmosis is shooting a dead horse, hoping it will be double-dead.
Quite to the contrary, it was in the UK that Coca-Cola actually made the water quality worse: they took perfectly fine tap water and during the production of Dasani added bromide to it – a chemical that can increase the chances of cancer.
Second, tap water does contain minerals and, opposite to what these companies try to tell you, it is quite good at it. Already in 1987, a Canadian study found that tap water contained enough minerals for pre-school children, while a 2004 comparison of bottled and tap water available in the US found no significant differences in mineral contents:
Adequate daily consumption of some tap and bottled waters may help North American children and adults supplement dietary intake of Ca2+ and Mg2+ as well as reduce Na+ intake. Physicians should therefore encourage their patients to check the mineral content of their drinking water, whether tap or bottled, and to choose the water that is most appropriate for their individual dietary needs.
Of course, there is one huge difference: Bottled water costs up to 2,000 times as much as tap water.
We’ve Been Had
So far in this article I haven’t been going into the ecological impact all the water bottling has, lest you take me as a tree hugger. Let it suffice to say that one of the greatest pieces of national heritage in the US, the Grand Canyon, is littered with so many thrown away bottles, that the National Park Service now banned the sale of water bottles.
Therefore we’ve been truly had: for a product we can essentially have for free we pay more per gallon than we do for gas, its waste destroys our landscape and then we have to pay for it once more, when tax money has to be used to clean up all that waste.
Be Your Own Hipness
You can easily stop the madness: refill your bottle from the tap and once in a while clean it. If you need some fancy logo on it to show off your hipness, draw your own. You will be your own brand of one.