Sunday, November 30, 2008

On Tap

I'm cheap. I get it honest. Dad grew up on a south Mississippi farm, and he knew how to stretch a penny. He's also generous; he's just not going to through money away.

So I never understood why someone would buy a bottle of water when you could get it for free at home. OK, technically not free, but at a fraction of a penny per gallon it's practically free.

I always thought that bottled water was purer than tap, but that's not true. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates tap water, is stricter than the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates bottled water.

Much stricter.

The EPA doesn't allow any bacteria in tap water. There cannot be any confirmed E. coli or fecal Coliform bacteria in tap water, while the FDA allows a certain amount in bottled water. Not enough, obviously, to get anyone sick, but that pretty much puts the nix on the purity argument.

Some people object to the taste of tap water, specifically the chlorine, but it's the residual chlorine in the water that ensures that the water is bacteria free. Bottled water filters all chemicals out, including chlorine. That may sound like a good thing, but many of the naturally occurring chemicals in our water are good for us, and filtering all chlorine out of the water means that any bacteria that may get in--through the plastic bottle, for instance--are not killed.

But all you have to do to eliminate the chlorine taste is put the water in the frig for eight hours and the taste will dissipate.

Bottled water costs anywhere from $.80 to $4.00 a gallon, while tap costs pennies per day.

And there are no plastic bottles which take thousands of years to degrade in our landfills.

So this is one of those times when being cheap is actually better for everyone, including the planet.

If you're in the habit of buying bottled water, try getting a filter instead, filling a Water for Christmas aluminum bottle before you go to bed so it will be both cold and tasty in the morning, and donating the savings vs. bottled water to Water For Christmas.

Just an idea that will help bring clean water up from the African ground.


  1. Great post! I'd like to add one additional thought - some companies bottle water from springs in remote rural areas. Not only do they have to transport that water via truck (invoking a sizable carbon footprint), but some - especially Nestle Waters (Arrowhead, Poland Spring, Ice Mountain, etc) are awfully predatory in their dealings with rural towns.

    In Fryeburg, Maine, Nestle's sued the tiny town five times because the planning commission won't let them put a truck loading station in a residentially zoned area.

    I could go on, but the point is that bottled water isn't just a waste from an economic standpoint, it's also not too good when the company bottling it is predatory.

  2. Hi Larry,

    I respect your decision not to drink bottled water, but I hope you’ll allow me to offer another perspective on the matter. As an employee of Nestlé Waters North America, I feel compelled to correct some misinformation.

    In the U.S., our tap water is generally safe, thanks in part to the EPA regulations. However, the EPA regulations are not stricter than the FDA’s standards for bottled water. By law, the FDA regulations for bottled water must be as strong and protective of public health of the EPA’s regulations for tap water. In no way do these regulations allow for presence of coliform or E. coli.

    At Nestlé Waters North America, we take every possible measure to ensure our products are safe and of high quality. Our bottled water must meet our own internal stringent quality standards, plus individual state regulations. Even when bottled waters such as Nestlé Pure Life come from municipal sources, they receive extra filtration before they are hygienically sealed in convenience-sized containers. Our bottling plants undergo independent annual inspection and are subject to state and federal regulations as well.

    I encourage you to see for yourself: we make our quality reports publicly available for all of our brands, including Poland Spring and Arrowhead, on our Web sites and via a toll-free number of our bottles.

    The unfortunate truth is that today, we face alarming rates of obesity and diabetes, and that we consume more calories than ever, in part due to sugary beverages. If bottled water weren’t available, research shows that consumers would drink more soda or other sugary beverages. We should encourage people to drink more water – whether from a bottle, a filter or the tap.

    Thanks for the opportunity to hopefully clear up some misperceptions.

    Jane Lazgin
    Director, Corporate Communications
    Nestlé Waters North America

  3. I'm not going to get into the middle of a dispute between Nestle and others. My point is that tap water is both safe and cheap, and the money we could save by drinking tap water could be used to dig wells in Africa so others can have safe water as well.