The TRUE Cost of Bottled Water Vs. Tap Water (& Comparative Purity & Taste Test Results)

The Cost of Bottled Water

Let’s assume that bottled water costs $1 per bottle. Maybe less if you buy it in bulk. That’s not that much, right? And water is good for you, an essential component of life itself, so it’s totally justified, right? Once you see the math (and some other interesting facts), you might find it a bit harder to justify.

Unless you live or are traveling in a country that does not yet have potable drinking water (and there are surprisingly still plenty of them out there) or a city with leeching lead pipes or other current water supply disasters, you really have no reason to drink bottled water. Most of us know that the cost of drinking bottled water vs. tap water will never work out in your favor. However, the exact extent of the price disparity isn’t so clear. When you see the math, it will likely shock you.

bottle vs tap water cost

The Cost of Tap Water Vs. Bottled Water

I recently got curious as to how much tap water I was actually consuming, which led me to doing this cost comparison. I discovered that my city provides an online water usage rundown. My city water bills measure water usage in CCFs. What is CCF? It’s a unit measurement of water that is equivalent to 100 cubic feet of water. Distilling that down to units we can all relate to:

  • 1 CCF = 748 gallons of water
  • 748 gallons of water = 95,744 ounces of water
  • 95,744 ounces = 4,787 bottles of water
  • Basically, 1 CCF = 4,787 bottles of water
  • What does 1 CCF cost? $2.10! (your water utility’s rate may vary)

That’s right – 4,787 bottled waters could be filled with tap water for $2.10! So every time you buy a bottle of water for $1, you are paying 2,279 times what you would if you filled that same bottle with tap water.

If most of what you drink is bottled water, assuming you drink 64 oz. of water per day, you’d consume a little under three 20 oz. bottles of water per day. Those 3 bottles per day would cost you $3/day or $1,095 per year. That same 1,095 bottles filled with tap water would cost you $0.48 PER YEAR. Another way to look at it is that as soon as you buy your first bottle of water, you’ve already spent double what you would for an entire year of tap water. Wow. The cost of bottled water is insane.

Bottled Water Vs. Tap Water Purity

OK, so we’ve made the cost argument. But how about the purity argument? I hate to burst your Utopian fantasies of crisp icy glaciers, trickling mountain streams, and 100% pure springs but it’s mostly just the same stuff. Most bottled water is just bottled tap water. Two examples, according to Michigan Radio, are popular brands Dasani and Aquafina:

Coke and Pepsi process and bottle Detroit city water under the brands Dasani and Aquafina.

Is that a bad thing? Well, tap water is actually held to higher purity standards than bottled water is in the United States. Tap water is regulated under the EPA’s Safe Water Drinking Act (SWDA), while bottled water is regulated under less stringent standards by the U.S. FDA’s Federal Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Act.

Can the differing standards really result in a less pure bottled water? According to one bottled water purity comparison study of 25 different bottled waters, most of the samples resulted exceeding the contaminant level set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‎ (EPA) for mercury, thallium, and thorium. None of those bottles would have passed the tap water SWDA standards.

The frequency of testing is also less stringent for bottled water. According to the NRDC,

Both kinds of water are tested regularly for bacteria and most synthetic organic chemicals, but city tap is typically assessed much more frequently. For example, bottlers must test for coliform bacteria just once a week; city tap needs to be tested 100 or more times a month.

And let’s not forget about all of the BPA that comes from the bottle itself.

OK, so tap water wins the purity tests over bottled water (in most cases).

Bottled Water Versus Tap Water Taste Tests

Surely, surely, you can’t tell me that tap water tastes better than bottled water? Can you? Yes, I can.

In a blind water taste test by Good Morning America, New York City tap water came out the clear favorite among testers:

  1. New York City Tap: received 45% of the vote
  2. Poland Spring: received 24% of the vote
  3. O-2, Oxygenated Water: received 19% of the vote
  4. Evian: received 12% of the vote

And this test was no fluke. Time after time, tap water is rated as good or better tasting than bottled water in blind taste tests.

Ways to Save Money on Drinking Water

As highlighted in my environmentally friendly products that save money post, there are a few products that can encourage tap water drinking:

  • Water Bottle: cutting down on the waste and cost of individually bought bottled beverages should be considered mission critical.
  • Water Pitcher: I drink a lot more tap water (vs pricier alternatives) if it comes nearly ice cold from the refrigerator versus from the tap. A simple pitcher does the trick.
  • Refrigerator Water Filter Pitcher: I personally use this Brita and recommend it.
  • Water Filtration System: if your water smells or tastes not so great, and that is preventing you from drinking it, get a system like this.

Bottled Water Vs. Tap Water Conclusion

Tap water tastes as good, it’s more pure, it’s better for the environment, and it costs under 1/2,000th as much as bottled water. You’d be justifiably crazy to pay for and drink bottled water, unless you had no other choice.

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