Crystal clear mountain lakes. Unpolluted tropical waterfalls. Glaciers from the purest part of Iceland. Rachel from FRIENDS. These are the images that the beverage industry uses to sell over $15 billion worth of bottled water to American consumers each year.
The aggressive marketing onslaught has catapulted bottled water to become the largest beverage category by volume in the United States. Bottled water had long been outpacing consumption of beverage mainstays and just this year it overtook carbonated soda to reach No. 1 status.
Yes, it’s important to drink plenty of water, but that does not mean that these huge numbers from the bottled water industry are good for you (or the planet). There is a growing mountain of evidence that the beverage companies selling bottled water are pulling off a monumental con job on millions of thirsty Americans. Here are eleven reasons why:
1. Bottled water is often not where it says it’s from.
While bottled water labels often showcase picturesque mountain springs and other images evoking the purest of sources, many varieties of bottled water are often just purified versions of municipal tap water.
Water labels are required to state if they are from a natural spring or public water source, but advertising usually leads less attentive consumers to believe they are getting something other than purified tap hydration.
A few years ago, Aquafina was shamed into making it clear on every bottle that their water comes from a public water source: aka their local tap.
2. Bottled water is less closely regulated than tap water.
Most people think of bottled water as safer, cleaner, and regulated with an attention to quality that far exceeds what comes out of your tap at home. But the fact is that the government keeps a much closer eye on municipal water than it does bottled water.
The EPA demands annual reports from public water systems, while the FDA requires no such information from bottled water companies. While there have been some high-profile lapses in public water in troubled towns and rural areas, overall one can expect far more government oversight on public tap water than the water that comes in fancy little bottles for a buck or more.
3. Bottled water is ridiculously more expensive.
Speaking of costs…according to reports, the average cost of one gallon of bottled water in the U.S. was about $7.50 a gallon. That means that folks are paying nearly 2,000 times more than the cost of a gallon of tap water. The very high cost is due to the popularity of individually sold single-serving bottles of water that average 500 mL in size.
If you take out those bottles that everyone likes to grab from a vending machine or their local corner store, the average price drops to roughly $1.22 a gallon.
4. Americans’ mistrust of tap water is a question of perception.
Despite the much harsher regulations that are placed on public water supplies, there is a perception in America that drinking water from the tap could be unhealthy. In fact, concerns about drinking water pollution are at its highest point since 2001 according to a recent Gallup poll.
Americans’ concerns about their drinking water have steadily gone up ever since the public water issues of Flint, Michigan, commanded the national spotlight in 2015.
5. Bottled water companies are taking out water fountains.
Beverage companies who are in the water-selling business have set their sights on reducing the number public water fountains as a way to force consumers to spend money on bottled water.
In his book Bottled & Sold, Peter Gleick shares the story of the controversy that erupted when the University of Central Florida built a brand new football stadium with no water fountains. All water had to be purchased in $3 bottles and in the inaugural game, more than 70 people were treated for heat-related illnesses.
Soon afterward, the school installed over 50 new water fountains in the stadium. Situations like the UCF stadium have played out all over America as big beverage companies seek to limit consumer access to public drinking fountains.
6. The bottles themselves could be bad for you.
The vast majority of bottled water is sold in plastic bottles that contain Bisphenol A (BPA)— a chemical compound that is still being studied for its effects on public health.
So even if the water itself if cleaner (which is far from certain), the plastic bottles that water is sold in contains a compound that studies say have “complex and wide-ranging” effects.
7. Plastic bottles are terrible for the planet.
In addition to all the evidence that bottled water is not necessarily better for you, there is also evidence that bottled water is absolutely awful for the environment. People often think that the bottles they are drinking from are made from old recycled bottles—they aren’t. And, the empty bottles that aren’t recycled have devastating effects on our natural world.
Just look at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a trash-filled section of
8. Distributing bottled water is terrible for the planet.
While there is a clear environmental impact of plastic water bottles themselves, there is also evidence that the production and distribution of bottled water
Bottling plants, delivery trucks, ubiquitous vending machines: all of this takes a much greater toll on our natural resources than a simple system of pipes.
9. Big beverage companies are trying to turn a public resource into a private business.
Big beverage companies are trying their best to transform what has always been a low-cost public utility into a money-making private enterprise. It is the hope of these companies that this vital natural resource can be deregulated and brought to consumers through profit-focused companies.
As the keynote speaker at a bottled water company convention, Peter Gleick said,: “water policy could benefit greatly from exploring the strategies that have been used to produce oil.”
10. And they’re making a fortune doing it.
With so much money in this industry, big beverage companies have every reason (15 billion reasons, actually) to continue their aggressive tactics to convince consumers that their bottles contain the cleanest and purest water available.
11. And at the end of the day, you probably can’t taste a difference.
For all the marketing images and promises of crisp, clean tasting water, study after study has shown that most people can’t really taste any difference between bottled mineral water and tap water. While there are plenty of factors that influence thirsty consumers to think they are tasting something
Of course, it’s a free country and if grabbing that Dasani after your spin class or on the way to work keeps you happy and hydrated—great! But it’s helpful to know that the perceptions of bottled water as a cleaner, healthier, and possibly even Earth-friendly option are far from accurate.
In some cases, they’re actually flat-out lies. Nobody likes to be scammed, especially when the scam concerns a natural resource that makes up 70 percent of the Earth (and of us!).