On the Table

Bottled water not worth the cost to you or the environment

CorrespondentDecember 10, 2013 

On a recent trip to Bangladesh, I brushed my teeth with bottled water and clenched my lips shut in the shower. It got me thinking about how fortunate we are to have clean water back home.

Around much of the world, it’s a luxury to turn on the tap and fill a cup with clean water. For many it’s unthinkable to rinse lettuce in the kitchen sink or add ice cubes to lemonade without fear of making someone sick.

So, then, why do we buy so many little plastic bottles of water?

For many it’s a matter of convenience – grab a bottle to take to the park or in the car. And smart marketing by soft drink companies and others played up the perception that bottled water was better than water from a faucet.

So today we buy bottled water by the case and dispense it from giant jugs in the office. Is it worth it?

I don’t think so.

Bottled water is expensive. Even the cheapest brand is vastly higher in cost than a sip from the drinking fountain in the hallway.

And many people don’t stop there. They drink vitamin- or oxygen-infused boutique brands, buying the illusion that those products provide something of value to health.

They don’t.

Besides expense, all those empty plastic bottles fill landfills and add to pollution problems. And while water from plastic bottles can sometimes taste like plastic, if it’s stored somewhere hot over time – like in your garage, in a warehouse or in your car – some research has shown that chemicals from the plastic can leach into the water.

That pure glacier water is no longer so pure, if it was even pure to begin with. Much of the bottled water sold in stores is just bottled municipal water anyway, packaged for your convenience.

The bottom line: Think about alternatives to bottled water.

Use reusable stainless steel or lined water bottles or keep a glass on your desk and fill it up instead. Walk to the drinking fountain for a sip.

If you’re worried about what’s in your local tap water, check online for the annual water quality report. Get your water tested if you have concerns. Add a filter to the faucet or use a filtered water pitcher.

Save money, pollute less. Simplify.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a registered dietitian and clinical associate professor of health policy and management at UNC-Chapel Hill. Reach her at suzanne@onthetable.net; follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.

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