Skepticism

You’re not still drinking bottled water, are you?

Bottled water has taken quite a pounding from the league of skeptics, but obviously not enough, since the $50+ billion industry seems to still turn a hefty profit. The main criticism of bottled water is that it is outrageously expensive, asking that customers pay $2 for about a nickel’s worth of tap water.

The fairly recent explosion of interest in global warming has illuminated another major problem in the bottled water industry — namely, the fact that a few companies charge a premium for water that is shipped from a remote location on the other side of the planet, wasting vast amounts of energy and providing no discernible benefit to the consumer. Check out this recent article in Fast Company and learn fun bottled water facts, like San Pellegrino “uses up 2 liters of water to prepare the bottle for the liter we buy.” It’s surprisingly well-balanced when it comes to mentioning Fiji Water’s contributions to the local community. Of course, local Fiji students have more to say about the problems locals face gaining access to clean, fresh water.

(as seen on BoingBoing)

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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22 Comments

  1. Not to disagree with Joshua's most excellent point, nor to contradict the prestigious Molly Winner Mr. Stacey, but I believe that the best water (for DRINKING purposes) comes out of the ever-so-rare non-rusty, super-chilled, mildly-pressurized water fountain, when encountered on a warm day after a long walk. The best such fountain I know of used to exist (and indeed may still, it's been a while) in the Prospect Public Library in my hometown in CT. I still know of no better, more refreshing water anywhere on Earth.

    I've often wondered, though not enough to go searching for it, about the skeptical community's opinion of water filters and filter pitchers. Do they work? Do they have any legitimate health benefits? Are the taste benefits purely psychological?

    I can say that, when making tea with filtered water here in London, there is a significant decrease in both the amount of (for lack of a better word) scum floating on the top of each cup AND the amount of residue left on the mug vs. using unfiltered tap water. But does that MEAN anything? And how does the environmental impact of these filters compare to the impact of bottled water and that of tap water?

    Lastly, whenever I consider the fickle nature of Earth's water supply, I'm reminded of this clip.

  2. The only reason for me to buy bottled water is because of the bubbles. I like sparkly water. I like drinking loads of it. However, my tap water is of excellent quality – in fact the very same water is being sold in bottles (Sourcy, dutch water, frenchy name) – so it feels silly to buy water from the store.

    Recently, in a bright moment, I ordered one of those make-your-own-bubbly-water-machine-thingies. Tomorrow it'll be on my doorstep. Yay! No more bottled water for me!

    From now on I'll put my own carbondioxide in my water. This made me think of another aspect of carbonated water and other fizzy drinks. How much does the CO2 in those drinks itself contribute to global warming? That would be an interesting thing to calculate.

    Mmh.. when I find the time I'll see if I can come up with a value: need to know the total human CO2 production, the amount of CO2 that goes in one bottle or can, the total amount of sodas consumed,the percentage of CO2 that is absorbed in the body and the percentage that goes into the environment *burp*..

    What a nice little science project!

  3. I buy bottled water…because of the bottle! Then I have something I can use for a long time to put other water in (typically filtered water at work, usually because it's nicely cooler).

  4. The best water is the smoky, peaty stuff that bubbles up from the island of Islay. Admittedly it has to be, ahem, "processed", bottled, and shipped around the world before being consumed, thereby destroying the planet, but sometimes you've just got to pay a price for the best.

  5. I have a Pur water filter on my tap and there is no question of its efficacy. When I fill one glass from the tap and one from the filter, the filtered water looks, smells, and tastes cleaner. It even freezes clear. The filters are about $30 though! They last me around 2 months, but I drink quite a bit of water.

    I normally only buy bottled water when I'm out walking on a hot day. In the Farmer's Market in the French Quarter, you can buy a liter bottle of H2O for $1.25, which is quite the bargain compared to any convenience store.

    Blake's comment really took me back, though! It immediately brought to mind running through the woods chasing rabbits with my first dog (we never got close to catching any) and then coming home through the back yard and drinking deeply from the ol' garden hose. You just won't find that kind of sentimentality in bottled water.

  6. I bought a carton of water (yes, in Holland, they aparently sell water in cartons too) for … I think 20 cents, about a month ago.

    Who would spend more than that on water, unless you were in the middle of the desert?

  7. Oh yeah, that was a one liter carton BTW.

    I don't drink uncarbonated water, unless I boil it first for something like coffee or tea. Tap water here tends to have a very amonium-like taste.

  8. I live in the country, and we have a well. Our well water is full of iron and –ugh!–sulfur.

    In Texas, where the water runs very salty, most people have reverse osmosis systems in their houses. (Expensive, but they work very well.)

    We buy water to drink by the gallon from a reverse osmosis stand in the grocery. You bring your own container, so re-use is possible. We also have a home iron filter, and a softener. They get most of the sulfur, and about half of the iron. (I still have yellowy white shirts, and some odd highlights in my hair. Sigh.)

    Most of the major filter brands are based on a known technology–ceramic filters and carbon do work.

  9. I drink bottled water all the time. I have a nice plastic bottle that I fill up and keep in the fridge and take it out and drink it now and then. It probably tastes better than the kind you buy at the store. In fact, probably better, because I've had the bottle for a long time and the plasticky taste is pretty much gone.

  10. I have a filter pitcher that seems to help the taste of my local water, though I can't say the perceived difference isn't psychological. Guess I could conduct an experiment to that effect…

    On my family's ranch, the drinking water has a distinct, almost sweet taste. Neither pleasant nor unpalatable, just noticeable. Recently, the county declared it unfit to drink, even though we (my family) have been doing so for four generations. Now we have a new filtering system, which supposedly removes the dissolved minerals (or enough of them to meet the county's requirements). Like bug_girl's case, the main villain is apparently excess iron.

  11. Of course, I live in a town with a cancer cluster from an unknown source. The CDC has been testing the water from the local well and hasn't pinpointed it yet, but it seems pretty likely that it is the source. Since I prefer my water carcinogen-free I tend to drink only bottled water.

  12. I used to drink bottled water because I thought it tasted better than tap water, then I realized it was just colder. So I bought a 1 liter water bottle, and keep it in the fridge full of tap water, which is much cheaper.

  13. Read an article somewhere saying bottled water is having a significant effect on teeth decay, because of the lack of fluoride in it, which is one of the major public health successes we've had. So I try to avoid bottled water if I can.

    I also read another article arguing if we delivered all drinking water instead of piping all our household water as drinkable water, we'd save a ton in resources.

    The idea of water branding cracks me up.

    Otara

  14. I can see bottled water being silly in cities where tap water is of high quality. But, I work in a camp in the north of Cananda. Now most people would think that there should be no shortage of clean fresh water out here. However due to the presences of arsenic and elivated mercury in the local lakes, the arsenic is from the local rocks and the mercury is related in part to the mining history of this location.

    The result of this is that the water is safe for washing and utility uses but not recomended for drinking, as a result we bring in bottled water for consumption, so bottled water can have a sencible place.

  15. Water filters (like a Brita you'd keep in the fridge, for instance) don't get rid of the nice fluoride, right?

    Also, carbonated water has got to be one of the silliest things Europe has ever come up with.

  16. Exactly what I was going to ask mollishka – do the water filters remove the fluoride we want to keep in our water?

    I use a Brita filter mainly because it is an easy way to keep a jug of water in the fridge. The filter is probably unnecessary in Sydney but seems to make the water taste better. Growing up in Adelaide I actually did drink the tap water but I wouldn't now I am used to better!

  17. I can see bottled water having its place in some situations, but why would you spend a huge amout of resources shipping it half way across the world in a contraption which itself floats on water (!) as is the case with Fij-water …

  18. Yeah, exarch, that's where it gets silly. You really could just as well have a local purification/bottling plant in convenient locations for mass distribution. I assume this is roughly that Dasani/Aquafina do, since they're both owned by cola companies and aren't attached to a brand like Fiji is.

  19. Joshua said: I assume this is roughly that Dasani/Aquafina do, since they’re both owned by cola companies and aren’t attached to a brand like Fiji is.

    Funny, I always thought they just ran the tap a bit before filling up.

    Didn't one of them get caught doing essentially that? Wasn't it 'Dowser' ? And, if so, they should have known! All dowsers are frauds :-P

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