Jeff Flowers on July 23, 2016 14 Comments Is Bottled Water or Tap Water Better? You Decide. The decision between drinking tap water or bottled water isn’t as straightforward as you might think. Neither option is inherently safer than the other. To ensure quality, US federal government regulates both bottled and tap water. For bottled water, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees labeling and content, while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets standards for both tap water and ground water. That means that in most cases, the water you drink will be free of common contaminants, such as pesticides, microorganisms, chemicals and heavy metals. So, how do you decide which option is better for you and your family? Below we’ll take a look at the two options, provide you with the pros and cons of each and give you some of our recommendations. Our goal is to provide you with the information you need, so you can make the best possible decision for you and your family. Overview of Tap Water We get our tap water from local sources, such as rivers and lakes. This water may contain bacteria, industrial pollutants, agricultural runoff, and heavy metals and minerals leached from the soil. In order to make the water safe to drink, a treatment plant must filter out particulates, disinfect the water to kill microorganisms, and remove any minerals or other chemicals that exceed the standards set by the EPA. Benefits of Tap Water There are many reasons to choose tap water. The most obvious reason, of course, is convenience. We can turn on a faucet and have drinkable water whenever we want it. Tap water is also what’s served at most restaurants, dispensed in public drinking fountains, and otherwise readily available in a whole host of public places. Tap water is inexpensive, costing a fraction of a penny per gallon. It doesn’t require disposable packaging, and while there is still a level of waste involved, it is minimal when compared to bottled water. None of this waste goes into the landfill or recycling after consumption (with the exception of disposable cups). Is Tap Water Safe? Yes. Generally speaking, thanks to municipal water treatment facilities, the water that comes out of the faucets in our homes is safe to drink. In rare cases, such as what happened in Flint, MI, for those with older plumbing, lead and copper can leach into our drinking water from the pipes, solder and fittings. If you own an older home, it may be worth contacting your city or state health department to learn how to get your water tested. Many people find that they don’t like the taste of tap water, or think that it smells funny. In order to remove microorganisms from our water, treatment facilities frequently add chlorine or other chemicals to sanitize the water. These chemicals are still in the water when it reaches our homes. While considered safe to drink, chlorine can alter the smell and taste of the water, giving it a “swimming pool” odor. Additionally, some of our water is “hard”, meaning it has a higher concentration of minerals that are harmless but can affect taste. Like with chlorine, some consumers find this off-putting and choose either to filter their water or purchase purified water in bottles. How to Purify Tap Water If you are worried about exposing your family to certain contaminants, there are many ways that you can purify the tap water in your home. Here are a few ways you can easily filter your tap water. Countertop, Faucet & Water Filter Pitchers — These filtration systems are the most convenient way to purify your tap water. You can easily filter out many additives, such as chlorine. Water filter pitchers are extremely popular and allow you to store purified tap water in the fridge and ready to drink. Reverse Osmosis & Distillation — To filter out other chemicals or minerals, most notably lead and fluoride, you will need a slightly more advanced filtration system. The most popular way is to install a reverse osmosis system in your home, which purifies your water before it even comes out of the faucet. Overview of Bottled Water Bottled water offers a quick beverage option. It’s easy to buy a cold bottle at the store or grab one from the refrigerator after a workout. It’s estimated that people around the world spend $100 billion a year on bottled water, and each American drinks 21 gallons per year, almost two gallons a month. Because of its popularity, bottled water can be found virtually everywhere, and seems like a great alternative to lukewarm, boring tap water. But, is it? Let’s take a look at what bottled water actually is, where it comes from and whether it is actually safe to drink. Types of Bottled Water There are two types of bottled water. Much of what you see on store shelves is purified water or drinking water, and it’s actually nothing more than filtered tap water. If you want to make sure you’re buying water that comes from a natural source — either an underground source or a fresh spring — look for one of the following three FDA-approved labels: “artesian water,” “spring water,” or “well water.” Well water and artesian water come from underground aquifers, while spring water comes from surface water. The main difference is that these waters did not go through a municipal water treatment plant. Artesian, well, and spring waters still must meet FDA water quality standards, however, and may be filtered or disinfected (possibly through reverse osmosis or using ultraviolet light rather than chlorine) to make them safe to drink. If the water meets the FDA standards, it is then bottled and sold. A further classification is “mineral water”. Like the others, this water comes from underground aquifers, but to earn the mineral water classification it must contain a minimum of 250 parts per million total dissolved solids (minerals and other trace elements) that originate at the water source. Why You Should Read the Fine-Print on the Label If you come across bottled water that is labeled or branded as “mountain water” or “glacier water,” please know that these are often used for marketing purposes. These two terms are not regulated by the FDA, which means that those terms can be printed on the label to help entice you to buy it, but the water inside the bottle has likely never touched a mountain or glacier. In these instances, look on the back of the label to find the water source. Benefits of Bottled Water Why choose bottled water over tap water? First, bottled water is convenient. While it’s not as easy as turning on a faucet, it takes little effort to pull a cold bottle from the fridge. You can also carry a bottle with you to class, the gym or in the car. Outside of the convenience factor, one of the main reasons people choose bottled water over tap water is the taste. Whether the water originates at a natural source or is filtered tap water, it doesn’t have the unpleasant taste and odor that some tap water has. It must be stated, however, that over the years and in different cities, groups as varied as ABC News, Boston University, and Mother Jones magazine have conducted blind taste tests that indicate many people will actually choose tap water over bottled water. When it comes to taste, one thing bottled water can offer is flavorings and other enhancements. Forced carbonation, adding citrus or berry flavors, and adding electrolytes to water can make them taste better and feel more refreshing, which has the added benefit of encouraging you to drink more water overall. Hydration is important, and with medical professionals recommending we drink six to eight glasses of water a day, knocking back a few 16 oz. bottles of flavored water a day makes that goal seem a little easier. Is Bottled Water Safe? Yes. Plain bottled water itself is generally safe to drink, but because of the handling and packaging process, it’s possible to introduce germs into the water that may normally not be found in tap water. For example, some bottled water has tested positive for E. coli bacteria. While it may be rare, bottled water recall efforts are not unheard of. Can You Reuse Water Bottles? The plastic from the bottle itself may also pose a bit of a health hazard, depending on certain circumstances. The plastic used for most disposable water bottles is known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE), classified as “#1” out of the seven types of plastics. It has long been believed that reusing or refilling plastic bottles can leach carcinogenic chemicals into the liquid you are filling the bottle with, which you ultimately ingest. These chemicals include diethylhexyl adipate (DEHA) and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), both of which may play a role in your health and well-being. However, the belief that either DEHA or BBP can leach into water by simply refilling them seems to be unfounded. The FDA has tested and approved PET as an acceptable and safe way to package food, including bottled water. However, there is one caveat to this. If the water bottle is exposed to high levels of heat, it may be possible that some phthalates could leach out of the container and into the liquid. So, if you decide to reuse a water bottle, it would be wise not to fill it with hot liquids. The Downsides of Bottled Water For the consumer, bottled water is significantly more expensive than tap water. The International Bottled Water Association calculated that in 2013, the average price of a gallon of bottled water was $1.21. Meanwhile, the EPA estimated that the average cost of a thousand gallons of tap water was $2. In other words, you could fill a single bottle hundreds of times from the tap for the same price as you spend on a single bottle from the store. The biggest downside to bottled water, however, is the environmental cost. A few of the environmental problems caused by plastic bottles include: Most plastic bottles end up in landfills, where they decompose very slowly and release toxic chemicals as they do break down. Packaging, transporting and refrigerating bottled water uses significant fossil fuels. Pumping water for bottled water drains aquifers and causes local water scarcity. Creating the bottles uses petroleum products, and a byproduct of the production releases toxic chemicals into the air. Many bottles end up in the world’s oceans, contributing to the massive problem of plastic pollution. The Bottom Line Are You Drinking Clean & Pure Water? While there are some definite advantages (primarily in terms of convenience and taste) to choosing bottled water, in our opinion, the drawbacks seem to outweigh those advantages. Bottled water is far more costly and hazardous to the environment for us to be able to recommend it as the better option. However, we do realize that the decision on what’s best for your family is solely dependent on your lifestyle. You may find that the convenience of bottled water is better for your family. And if so, then go with that. Perhaps you may start to realize how much money you are spending or the amount of waste being generated, and decide to start drinking tap water more frequently. We would suggest a compromise between tap water and bottled water — one that’s both easy on the bank account and convenient for your family. Think about how much money you spend on bottled water and use it to invest in a filtration pitcher or reverse osmosis unit. These will give you drinking water straight from the tap that is comparable to bottled water. This allows you to dispense water into reusable bottles of glass, aluminum or steel, all options that don’t have you worrying about ingesting leached chemicals. No matter what type of water filter you go with, it will quickly pay itself off. And you can rest easy knowing that your family is drinking safe water, not generating truckloads of wasted plastic and you’re using your money in a more constructive manner that will benefit your family.