Monday, January 26, 2015

Bottle Your Own Water

It distresses me every time I see someone pushing a cart full of bottled water around the grocery store.  I always wonder what they are thinking.  Don’t they understand that it’s much cheaper and just as healthy and convenient to buy a bottle once and fill it with tap water every day?  While there is so much publicity about Americans who are food insecure, others still choose to spend grocery money in this way.

I recently ran across this excellent posting with a good explanation for those who are not current with the science and will not choose to reject it out of hand because it doesn’t agree with their preconceived position.  (One of the wisest statements I know is Paul Simon’s old song lyric: “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”)

The article begins with the different kinds of bottled water, how you can tell the source of the water, and what regulations apply.  In general, the EPA regulates tap water, whereas the FDA regulates bottled water, but only if it is shipped across state lines.  Some states regulate bottled water and the industry itself has voluntary standards.

It then goes on to address the beliefs that bottled water is purer, healthier, tastes better and is the more ecologically responsible choice.

Purity is a difficult thing to measure and prove, therefore, “the FDA prohibits bottled-water manufacturers from implying that their water is ‘safer’ or ‘purer’ than any other kind of water.”  It goes on to say:  “Bottled water sources are typically tested for harmful contaminants once a week at most. Municipal water supplies are tested hundreds of times every month. Tap water may not be perfectly clear, or it may have a slight chlorine aftertaste, but according to the Minnesota Department of Health, those are merely aesthetic qualities that do not indicate the water is unsafe.”

Purity is not as big a deal as the health benefit, but here too, bottled water falls short.  “In May 2005, the ABC news program ‘20/20’ sent five different national brands of bottled water and one sample of tap water taken from a New York City drinking fountain to a microbiologist for testing. The lab tested for contaminants that can cause illness, like E.coli. The results showed no difference whatsoever, in terms of unhealthy contaminants, between the bottled waters and the tap water.”  Other tests have shown the same thing.  The Mayo Clinic advises: “Tap water and bottled water are generally comparable in terms of safety.”  From the National Geographic website:  “Not only does bottled water contribute to excessive waste, but it costs us a thousand times more than water from our faucet at home, and it's likely no safer or cleaner.”  Finally, this CNN article from 2013 concludes:  “if you're buying it because you believe it's safer than tap, you may want to start heading to the sink to fill up your glass.”

Taste is also an issue.  Some people are willing to pay a price 500 times higher for better tasting water.  “But a couple of very non-scientific, blind taste tests have found that most people – or most people in New York City, to be more accurate – can't actually tell the difference between tap water and bottled water once they're all placed in identical containers.”

The biggest drawback to bottled water is that many organizations and researchers consider it an “environmental nightmare.”  From the production operations, to transportation, to disposal of the bottles, to the minimal recycling of bottles, the overuse of resources, the littering/landfill issues, and the associated pollution make bottled water an environmental loser.  This was the National Geographic’s primary objection.

So if you are one of the people who contribute to the over $11 billion in annual bottled water sales, please note that the industry itself does not even claim that it is healthier and safer.  They state it this way:  “Although bottled water has often been likened to tap water, bottled water actually achieved its market stature by enticing consumers away from other packaged beverages perceived as less wholesome than bottled water.”  Perhaps the best advice comes from the Readers Digest article in 2008 to “Rethink What You Drink.”

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