Pros & Cons of Bottled Water vs. Tap Water

Bottled water is a popular beverage around the world, and consumption has grown steadily in recent years. Despite its popularity, however, bottled water is not without controversy. The type of water people consume has environmental, social, financial and health impacts. The debate between tap water and bottled water highlights the many pros and cons of each.

  1. Health

    • Bottled water is often touted as a healthy consumer choice, especially compared to sodas, juices and sugary drinks that are typically its main competition. Clever marketing by the bottled water industry has also contributed to the public perception that bottled water is cleaner and healthier than tap water. However, municipal tap water is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and various state agencies, requiring cities to filter and disinfect it according to strict standards. Bottled water, on the other hand, is considered a packaged food and therefore regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA’s quality standards do not require the same stringent disinfection and testing mandated by the EPA for tap water. Furthermore, bottled water does not contain fluoride for cavity prevention as most tap water does.

    Convenience

    • One important reason consumers choose bottled water over tap water is convenience. Bottled water is packaged in lightweight plastic containers that are significantly less weighty than reusable metal or plastic bottles. Consumers can purchase bottled water when they are ready to consume it and then discard the bottle immediately afterward, thereby eliminating the need to carry it around. Bottled water is also readily available from public vendors such as restaurants, convenience stores, gift shops, vending machines, newsstands and street carts, while drinking fountains or public taps are not always available or working properly.

    Environmental Impact

    • The main advantage of tap water is that it uses no packaging. Manufacturing plastic water bottles requires 1.5 million barrels of oil annually in the U.S. alone, according to the University of Iowa Extension. Additional fuel is needed to transport bottles to stores, restaurants and other points of sale. Although manufacturers have begun to design bottles that use less plastic, bottled water still requires a significant amount of plastic packaging. Fortunately, plastic water bottles are fully recyclable, which helps reduce the impact they have on the environment. Recycled bottles can be transformed into carpets, textiles, furniture and new bottles. The reality, however, is that only a small percentage end up getting recycled. Most bottles end up in landfills or in the ocean, where they can threaten the health of marine life.

    Cost

    • Bottled water can be an affordable option compared to other prepared beverages. However, it is far more expensive than tap water—as much as 10,000 times more, according to the Earth Policy Institute. This cost calculates to several times more per gallon than for gasoline. Water from public taps and drinking fountains, on the other hand, is free to the public, and residential rates are relatively low. Even in areas where water rates are increasingly expensive, tap water would have to go a long way before catching up to commercial bottled water in cost.

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