Should You Drink Bottled Water?
By Steve Edwards
From the Million Dollar Body Club - Join Today and Workout to
When San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom banned the city from
purchasing bottled water for its facilities last month, it was the tip of a
plastic-bashing iceberg. Facing charges of low regulatory standards, poor
health practices, and overinflated prices, the bottled water industry is
finally feeling consumer pressure. A week later, a Chicago councilman proposed
a 10- to 25-cent tax on bottled water to help pay for a $40 million water and
sewer fund deficit, which came about because people weren't drinking as much
tap water. Now, Aquafina has announced that it's changing its labels to admit
that, yes, in fact, its product is nattily dressed tap water. The backlash begs
the obvious question: why are we drinking so much bottled water in the first
It's not like we're a developing
nation that lacks infrastructure. The United States has some of the highest tap
water standards in the world. Higher, in fact, than the standards set by the
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for bottled water. When PepsiCo was finally
forced to admit that its Aquafina brand came from municipal water supplies,
sales of the top-selling bottled water took a hit. "It's a tough time to be in
bottled water," Joseph Doss, CEO of the International Bottled Water
Association, told USA Today. "We're facing a great deal of
covered this story back in early 2006 (What's
In Your Water?). It created a big stir in our community but little in the
bigger picture. We did receive one letter from a Pepsi employee, a casual
dismissal stating, "The person who wrote this article is obviously ignorant of
the facts on bottled water." Now the facts we were "ignorant of" are exactly
what PepsiCo is currently addressing. Word on the street is that Coca-Cola's
Dasani brand will be following suit.
The entire industry is now in
full-scale backpedal mode. "It's unfortunate that people are turning this into
a tap-water-vs.-bottled-water issue," said Doss. "We don't disparage tap water.
We think if consumers are drinking water, whether it's bottled or tap, it's a
good thing." While not exactly a lie, this isn't the marketing hype that
encouraged consumers to shell out 15 billion dollars on bottled water last
year. Especially when you consider that, according to one estimate, a typical
monthly water bill would exceed $9,000 if the cost of tap water were equal to
the cheapest bottled water on the market.
Down, but not out
Even under fire with negative press,
the bottled water industry is still projecting sales to increase over 7 percent
in the upcoming year. While it may be a dip from previous yearsgrowth in
the U.S. has hit nearly 15 percentit's still a far cry from pure panic
mode and begs the question: why the increase in sales?
course, drinking plain water is vital. At Beachbody, encouraging our members to
drink more of it is one of our most harped-upon themes. Especially when you're
exercisingwhether it is P90X® or
Jam®adding more water to your diet is one of the healthiest things you
can do. But why is the public under the impression that it needs to be bottled
water? Are those Evian commercials really that influential?
It makes sense that the bottled water
industry would be strong in countries where potable water is scarce. But the
United States now consumes more bottled water than any other country in the
world. Given that we also have some of the best tap water in the world, this is
confusing. Further confounding the issue is the fact that bottled water is less
regulated than tap water in the U.S. In a study cited in our earlier article,
22 percent of the bottled waters tested had chemical contaminants higher than
state limits allow for tap water.
Bottled water, which is regulated by
the FDA, "is not tested as thoroughly or as frequently as tap water, which is
regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency," said Jon Coifman, spokesman
for the Natural Resources Defense Council, in USA Today. "It's not
that bottled water is going to kill you . . . But there's also no reason to
believe it's better, despite marketing that is all about health, wholesomeness,
Even with our high standards for water safety, there
are still occasional problems with municipal supplies that could create
misconceptions. Just last week, for example, a small Massachusetts community
was warned about a potential E. coli outbreak in their water. But this theory
that municipal supplies are less safe doesn't hold up because drinking bottled
water is not statistically safer. In fact, the current bottled water
regulations allow bottled water to contain "some contamination by E. coli, or
fecal coliform, and don't require disinfection for cryptosporidium or
So who knows the answer? Maybe the
bottled water folks are great marketers (Coke and Pepsi do lead the way,
remember), or maybe we just like those cute plastic bottles.
The plastic problem
On that note, the pollution factor has
also been getting more attention recently. It's estimated that more than 60
million plastic water bottles are thrown away every day in the United States.
Since it can take up to 1,000 years for these disposable water bottles to
decompose, we don't need a statistician to show us how this could present a
future ecological crisis.
Mike Layton, a project manager for
Environmental Defense, a Toronto-based environmental organization, told the
St. Catherine's Standard that drinking bottled water could
significantly hurt the environment. "The product is really the bottle, which is
actually a petroleum-based product. It is mined and made into PET (polyethylene
terephthalate) plastic bottles. One kilogram of plastic requires 17 kilograms
of water to make it, not to mention all the other greenhouse gases released
into the air in the manufacturing process."
over 50 billion plastic water bottles were purchased in the United States
alone. The one and a half million barrels of oil required to produce those 50
billion plastic bottles could fuel at least 100,000 vehicles for a full year.
The manufacturing of every ton of PET produces around 3 tons of carbon dioxide
(CO2). Thus, bottling water created more than 2.5 million tons of CO2 in 2006,
which is about 0.1 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
And that's just in the bottle
manufacturing process. We also transport "exotic" water from places like Fiji
and New Zealand. "We're paying for the water to be driven or often flown from
other parts of the world, when we have good clean water running right out of
our taps," said Layton.
So what's the easy answer?
There's no need to drink store-bought
bottled water in the United States and Canada. It's cheaper, safer, and more
time efficient to filter your own water and store it in your own bottles for
All municipal water suppliers are
required to provide annual water-quality reports to their customersand
it's free. You can then choose a home water filtration system that specifically
rids your water of any local contaminants. A quick Internet search will provide
dozens of options, most of which filter your water so that it's often clean
beyond the legal limits for contamination. And even if you're lazy, any random
filter system will probably improve your 22 percent chance of getting
contaminated bottled water.
Home bottling is also the safest and most environmentally
friendly alternative. The dangers of cheap disposable water bottles are
debated, but companies that specifically make water carriers, like Nalgene,
test all of their products to ensure that they're safe. These bottles are
practically indestructible, leak proof, and will last most of your life. And if
the time involved in filtering your own water seems inconvenient, consider the
time and gas it takes to drive to the market just to get a drink of water.
What if I want my Aquafina?
For those of you who still want to buy
bottled water but would also like it to be safer, here's what you can do. Write
letters to your Congress members, the FDA, and your governor, and urge them to
adopt strict requirements for bottled water safety, labeling, and public
disclosure. Specifically, refer to these points suggested by the National
Resources Defense Council (NRDC):
- Set strict limits for contaminants
of concern in bottled water, including arsenic; heterotrophic-plate-count
bacteria; E. coli and other parasites and pathogens; and synthetic organic
chemicals such as "phthalates."
- Apply the same rules to all bottled
water, whether carbonated or not and whether sold intrastate or
- Require bottlers to display
information on their labels about the levels of contaminants of concern found
in the water, the water's exact source, how it's been treated, and whether it
meets health criteria set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the
Centers for Disease Control for killing parasites like cryptosporidium.
To take even further action, you can
encourage your bottlers and the International Bottled Water Association (a
trade organization that includes about 85 percent of water bottlers) to
voluntarily make labeling disclosures such as those listed above.
E. Henney, M.D.
Commissioner, U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Rockville, MD 20857
Marketing Corporation 2006 Market Report Findings; Canadian Bottled Water
Association; P.H. Gleick 2004. "Bottled Water." In P.H. Gleick
(editor), The World's Water 2004-2005: The Biennial Report on Freshwater
Resources. Island Press, Washington, D.C.; The National Resources Defense
Council, "Gaping Holes in Government Bottled Water Regulation."; Pacific
Institute Bottled Water and Energy: A Fact Sheet; J.G. Rodwan
Jr. (2005), "Bottled Water 2004: U.S. and International Statistics and
Developments," Bottled Water Reporter, International Bottled Water
Association April/May 2005.