What’s That You’re Drinking? Shel Horowitz’s Frugal Fun Tip, June 2008

The younger generation may not believe this–but even as recently as 20 years ago, most Americans
drank tap water. Unfiltered. Unbottled. Straight out of the faucet and into a glass. In fact, Americans are blessed with extremely high water quality compared with developing countries–as are Canada and many parts of Europe. However, not all tap water tastes good, and some municipalities do have quality issues. Thus, the rapid and remarkable rise of bottled water.

Bottled water is a way to convert a free or nearly-free public utility into a commodity that has to be bought. and the water may or may not be better than your tap water. In fact, if you see the abbreviation “pws” on a water label, it stands for Public Water Supply. In other words, the bottler is collecting tap water, filtering it, and selling it back to you at 1000 times the cost.

And then there are the environmental issues.

  • Those thin plastic bottles are a major consumer of petroleum and energy (not to mention the water contaminated in the bottling process and rendered unusable), and add heavily to solid waste problems
  • Concerns have been raised about whether the plastic leaches into the water
  • Water bottlers sometimes draw down the source aquifer to the point where the local population doesn’t have enough anymore

So, to save money, reduce solid waste, and leave more water for the residents of ares with bottling companies, consider switching to filtered tap water. There’s even beginning to be a movement to recycle the plastic parts in pitcher-type (e.g., Brita, Pur) water filters to further minimize the environmental impact.

Yes, there are times it will still make sense to have water in a bottle, such as on a hike or a long hot bus ride. But you can cut down your use drastically, even refill those bottles, and do something good both for your wallet and the earth.

Oh, and by the way, water is much, much healthier than soda, and may even be healthier than seltzer (there are rumors of calcium depletion from carbonated beverages). As for those pretty-colored “vitamin waters?” Much of the vitamin content appears to be derived from sugar, and these waters are even more expensive. Take a vitamin pill and wash it down with good old filtered tap.


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