Bottled water is for chumps

I for one salute Gavin Newsom for refusing to waste government money on bottled water.

I have never bought bottled water. It’s silly to spend good money on bottled water when throughout this country it’s possible to drink clean potable water for free or a tiny fraction of the cost of bottled water – and it’s far more environmentally sound.

Penn and Teller, of all people, covered this issue the best.

They simply show that people can’t differentiate in taste between tap water (excepting Florida’s) and tap water, and can be tricked into spending idiotic amounts of money on, well, water.

The environmental issue here is highly relevant. Petroleum is used to generate the plastic that the water is contained in. Fuel and energy is wasted in the production, transport, and storage of bottled water. And people can’t even tell the difference in taste!

This is what I consider a miserable failure of markets to create efficiency. In fact, bottled water is an example of the exact opposite of an efficient market. Tap water is essentially free for all. People are incapable of distinguishing between tap and bottled (except in Florida), and yet will spend literally hundreds of times more on bottled water based on the false perception of superior taste or health benefit.

Tap water in the U.S. is perfectly potable and safe (true even for Florida). There is no good reason to drink bottled water, and even some health reasons that would suggest that bottled water is a negative – fluoride anyone? Certainly, from an economic and environmental standpoint this is a stupid waste of money. It creates waste and expense for no justifiable benefit to the consumer.

So I salute Gavin Newsom for refusing to spend municipal funds on such an obvious waste of money. This shouldn’t be considered some revolutionary environmental act, or interference with the market. This is the sensible refusal of a municipal government to waste money on a worthless product.


30 responses to “Bottled water is for chumps”

  1. 1. Except in Florida? Do tell.

    2. What of the mind altering, reality bending additives that local municipalities infuse into the tapwater?

    I am reminded of last week’s lobby response to the new, ineffectual gas-mileage rules — “Well, if you want to sacrifice your family’s safety to small cars, go ahead and buy them.”

    So, likewise, if you don’t care for your family’s well being, well then, go ahead and drink tap water. 🙂

  2. Brian Thompson

    Ted, I can’t tell if you’re being serious, but studies have shown SUVs are less safe than cars. here and here just to name two.

  3. This is good. Now the government officials and agencies who legislate fluoride into the water supply will be forced to drink it themselves.

    Fluoride is added to San Francisco’s water supply, not to purify it, but to prevent tooth decay in tap water drinkers. Modern science shows it is ineffective, harmful to health and a waste of tax dollars.

    Fluoride chemicals are silicofluorides – waste products of the phosphate fertilizer industry. They are dumped unpurified into the water supply. They are allowed to have trace amounts of lead, arsenic, mercury and other contaminants.

    Studies link silicofluorides to children’s higher blood lead levels which, in turn, are linked to higher rates of tooth decay.

    The statistics prove that tooth decay is on the rise along with fluoride overdose symptoms – dental fluorosis, white spotted, yellow, brown and/or pitted tooth enamel.

    So drink up San Francisco government officials and make sure your kids do, too. If you are buying bottled water at home to protect your family, you should be protecting all San Franciscans by ending water fluoridation.

    For more info: http://www.FluorideAction.Net

  4. I was racking my brains for a denialist argument for why this would be a bad thing. I should’ve remembered Dr Strangelove.

  5. That’s right. Jack D. Ripper only drank bottled water and grain alcohol.

    But Ted, have you ever had Florida water? The sulphur content makes it really disgusting. It’s still safe, but people have to get these filtration systems too make it taste like you’re not drinking from a swamp.

  6. Jim Ramsey

    I forwarded this to my wife, who’s a chemist. She grew up in New York and in Newark. She had some good comments. (We live in Tallmadge, Ohio.)

    Actually New York water has always been pretty good. We used to drink it on the table. Newark water was even better. That’s why there used to be breweries there. Tallmadge water tastes OK, although I can’t say that I care for the barely legal levels of atrazine(herbicide). Akron water is awful! I think what Penn demonstrated was the power of suggestion which is, of course, the magician’s forte. He also demonstrated the power of NY snobbery. The only way you really know about water is by seeing the analysis. That has nothing to do with regulation. Something can be legal and taste bad or not legal and taste fine.

    Personally, I remember the water at paternal grandparents home in Canton, OH. Not only the odor but the color was interesting

  7. Well there you go David. I thought the anti-fluoridation movement went out with the Soviet Union, as it used to be the big commie plot. But people still are paranoid about it clearly.

    The other funny thing people don’t realize about bottled water, and was shown in the video, is that it’s usually just some other municipalities tap water, and people are paying for its bottling and shipment. This is nuts. If your water doesn’t taste good, just get a Brita.

    Finally Jim, you sure they weren’t on a well?

  8. I live in Texas and the tap water taste awful in the summer. It’s not great in the winter either, but in late summer there is a side effect from algae in the lakes that makes the water taste like dirt. It’s so strong you can taste it in tea or coffee. Most restaurants mix tap water with the syrup for soft drinks so even those taste bad. Bottled drinks are the only escape.

  9. I understand, I’ve been places where the water isn’t palatable (Florida). However, filtration still strikes me as superior to bottling and trucking in water for the price and environmental impact.

  10. I don’t recall drinking water outside of Texas, so I can’t make a comparison, but since my family uses a reverse osmosis filter, I guess we get pretty close to pure.

    My view on the whole bottled water thing: Get one of those big generic squeeze bottles and fill it with tap.

    Curious to see a reply to nyscof’s crankery, since it’s been a while since I’ve bumped into anti-fluoridation.

    Perhaps he’d like to explain why people with ‘Texas teeth’ caused by natural fluoride had lower decay.

  11. Evinfuilt

    Lived up on Colorado. First out east of Denver, where the tap water was so frickin clean that the purifier companies just had to give up. You want good water there, just put it in a pitcher and chill in the fridge.

    Then I went to Golden, where water lives up to the name of the town. I’d say once or twice a year we got a warning not to drink the water due to heavy metal run off upstream. When we could drink it, it had a more metallic taste. But a simple purifier took care of that (and always keep a big 5gal container of water set aside for one of those days/weeks.) I might add this is the water that Coors Brewing talks to highly of. I’m not sure what type of water retention system they have on site, but I’m sure they don’t look forward to the cut off days. In fact I know they boil all the water they bring in (and excess steam gets pumped out under the sidewalks in the winter.)

    Now I live in Texas. Galveston County at that, and once more a simple purifier does wonders. But hell, I find the tap water tastes pretty damn good without. (but the water you swim in down here, don’t drink, its kinda sludgy.)

  12. I’ve bought a couple of bottles of bottled water. Not for the water, but for the bottles. I refill the bottles with tap water for use at the gym.

  13. Kagehi

    Hmm. I would like to add a qualifier here.. It would be more accurate to say people can’t tell the difference between bottled and tap water in two cases a) when the later is filtered, and b) when its coming from the source with low levels of additives, like chlorine. I can’t guarantee you that **I** can tell the difference between most unfiltered tap water and bottled, in nearly every place I have ever gone. Some people however, may not have as sensitive a sense of taste as others, and for some reason, chilling water will often numb or somehow mask *must* of the bad flavor. In Escondido, California, where my grandmother lived, we never tried to drink tap unless it was put into gallon jugs and chilled first, and some places in town it was so much worse that even if chilled you couldn’t stand it (and that went for “everyone” in the family).

    But, as a rule, a cheap filter is *way* more useful than buying huge numbers of bottles of water. The only real issue is if you have to go on a trip some place, go boating, etc, where you need a lot of bottles, so its often easier, unfortunately, to buy a case of it, than keep the bottles and refill them, which means “storing” them some place in between.

    There is a difference. The problem isn’t that you can’t do anything about it, the problem is, more money has gone into building places to bottle the stuff, than providing more or less universal means to clean/filter it in between the city water system and your tap. Not every place bothers, and its real easy to tell which ones they are.

  14. Aquafina definitely tastes better than any other bottled water (to me), and most definitely better than my tap water. I haven’t tried filtering my tap water, however, so I will try that.

  15. Ted, I can’t tell if you’re being serious, but studies have shown SUVs are less safe than cars. here and here just to name two.

    No really, last week during the parade that everyone was having over raising the gas mileage requirements by 2020, an industry lobbyist (really a wonderful young woman) was on TV saying that Americans don’t want smaller cars because no one in their right mind would sacrifice the safety that we’ve become accustomed to (re: SUVs). I can only conclude that your studies were some sort of axe grinding because the evening news wouldn’t lie to me.

    All I’m saying is that with all the vitamin and vigor fortified water being bottled out there, it really provides a choice for consumers. If the bottlers weren’t doing their thing, the municipal statists would be making unilateral decisions what addative to put into the drinking water. We just can’t have these decisions made by anything but the market and the consumer. It’s a slipery slope to allow this type of interference — because bottled water should be more expensive by volume than unleaded gas.

    Today’s rate at the Valero stop — bottled water, $.99 for 20 oz bottle, unleaded gas, $2.89 gallon.

  16. I guess I should also try pouring tap water into an Aquafina bottle to make sure it’s not the bottle that I like. 😉

  17. Nick Johnson

    I’m from Christchurch, NZ, and we are one of the very few cities with totally untreated water – we have artesian wells, and no treatment is required.

    Having lived here most of my life, I have no trouble distinguishing bottled water (very similar to our tap water) from local water – mostly because most cities’ tap water is heavily chlorinated. When I was staying in Seattle, I had to leave water in an open jug overnight to be able to stand it. When in Vancouver, drinking water straight from the tap made me _thirstier_, due to the incredibly high levels of chlorine.

  18. CaptainBooshi

    Good, at least we know that Ted isn’t being serious.

    I live off well water, which consistantly makes us sick if we drink it, so we use bottled water all the time. It’s just easier than constantly filtering water to drink.

  19. Nick, I second that. I used to live in Christchurch, and I remember its tap water tasting beautiful. But when I went back, I couldn’t stand it. Same for Wellington.

    I’m seriously thinking of getting a filtration system.

  20. kseven

    coca cola did a bottled water in the uk called Dasani.
    it hit its first problem when they had to admit it was tap water run through a purifier (with lots of marketing jargon) and then hit the second when it turned out it ended up with too much bromate in it.
    got pulled off shelves and aint been back

  21. Is bottled water really better than tap?

    Bottled water is not necessarily healthier or safer than tap water.
    Twenty-five percent of all bottled water is actually repackaged tap water.
    Bottled water doesn’t deserve the nutritional halo that most people give it for being pure, If you’re not an exclusive bottled water drinker, you may find it worthwhile to check into filtering your tap water to save money. In a recent Gallop survey, most consumers said they drink bottled water because they perceive it to be purer than tap water. Taste and convenience are also factors.
    Because bottled water is considered a food, it is regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration. Tap water is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Both types of water are subject to testing for contaminates.
    An estimated 60 to 70 percent of all bottled water in the U.S. is packaged and sold within the same state, which exempts it from FDA regulation. And 1 in 5 states do not regulate that bottled water.

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates bottled water at the federal level, permits the product to contain certain levels of fecal matter, whereas the Environmental Protection Agency does not allow any human waste in city tap water. Bottled water violations are not always reported to the public, and in most cases the products may be recalled up to 15 months after the problematic water was produced, distributed, and sold.

    Moreover, tests on 1,000 bottles of 103 different brands of bottled water found man-made chemicals, bacteria and arsenic in 22 percent of the bottles.
    Tap water is also not immune to contamination problems. While most cities meet the standards for tap water, some tap water in the 19 U.S. cities tested was found to contain arsenic, lead, and pesticides.

    Solution: Try a Multipure water filter for one week! If you like the taste you will probably buy one.
    Cost: 8 cents per gallon or $5 a month. If you are paying more, you are paying too much!
    Filter: Is changed (once) a year!

    Compare and save! Look at the rest then buy the best.
    Feel free to contact me with any questions in the drinking water field. I have been an Independent distributor of Multipure drinking water systems for over 13 years. #223193
    920-517-3282 Chris
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  22. Ian B Gibson

    They simply show that people can’t differentiate in taste between tap water (excepting Florida’s) and tap water

    Needs fixing, I think.

  23. Luna_the_cat

    …Except I lived for a brief while in Plano, Texas, where the city itself passes out leaflets to residents advising them to consider using bottled, purified water rather than tap water for the very old, the very young, pregnant women and anyone with a compromised immune system. Presumably it wasn’t particularly healthy for anyone, but more robust people could fight off the effects better. :-/

    One of the main problems there seemed to be an issue with industrial effluent which had made its way into the municipal water supply, and their filtration system was entirely inadequate to get rid of it all. Tap filters aren’t necessarily adequate for chemical contamination, either. Oh yes, and it did really, really taste like sh**.

    Not everywhere in America has healthy tap water. Tap water which meets minimum safety requirements, yes, but in a few places the basic requirements are set very low.

    I would agree that in many cases bottled water is overhyped and oversold. Sometimes there is good justification for it, however.

  24. G Barnett

    I’ve always found the anti-fluoride stuff to be absurdly amusing, partly because I lived for 13 years in an area (the Myrtle Beach, SC region) where the water is so heavily fluoridated that if kids start drinking tap water at too early an age, their teeth get an odd brown coloration. It’s not decay at all — they’ve got teeth like diamonds down there.

    The thing that amuses me so is that in their case, the fluoride comes from natural sources; leached from several millions of years of calcified oceanic fossils — shark’s teeth and the like. Folks actually have to get distilled water until their kids’ baby teeth have all come in.

    Yes, you can overdose on fluoride but it is doubtful at the concentrations that San Francisco likely uses. Keep in mind that it requires very high concentrations, and contrary to paranoid nutters ravings, the water supply is tightly monitored — usually by independent companies that are not tied to the utility, no less.

    I love the allegation in the first comment that fluoride is “mind-altering” and “reality-bending.” Ah, if only it were so. My formative years in the coastal regions of South Carolina would have been so much more entertaining that way….

  25. My father-in-law worked for MIT and then Woods Hole. Any water samples processed through the ion probe / mass-spectrometer had to be in glass bottles from the start. Any plastic container introduced impurities which mucked up the readings. They did some checking on plastic bottles. A new bottle added lots of impurities. Even after twenty fills and empties, there was STILL impurity introduction.

    I do not drink bottled water (except when I am at a wild land fire and have no choice) (I do use glass containers and bottle my own at home for the fridge). Even the trace contaminants in my towns water system are minor compared to what leaches out of the plastic.

    Anyway, just one more reason to stay off the bottle.

    For those who wrote in about bad tap water, when I lived in Maryland, our well was drilled into a collapsed cavern. We had a wonderful sulfer smell (there was a pre-Civil War ‘healing sulfer bath’ across the creek) and a hardness level over 100. Even with water treatment, we bought gallon jugs of water for drinking and cooking.

  26. matthew

    It is even worse than that in Florida. Usually the only time you get sulphur from the tap is when the water is coming from a well in say, a private residence. Water that does not come from a well is chlorinated beyond what the law actually allows. This is done because the aquifers are not very deep and thus are teeming with bacteria that need to be destroyed. I never had good-tasting tap water in FL, so I used a typical water purifier (pitcher type) and that did the trick.

  27. Phoenix tap water has an awful taste, and while the city claims it’s safe to drink, they do recommend that you run the tap for a minute or two just for fun.

  28. Wilfred

    But why don’t they use ozone to purify, no chlorine taste.

  29. The plastic that “leaches” into water is actually HDPE #2. This leaches into distilled water..

    Distill your own water and don’t listen to the all this government bullshit. Fluoride is toxic and poisonous to humans. Research from the 1950s was covered up so that they could dump fluorides into our drinking water. Its almost impossible to escape it as well. Do real research, chlorine and fluoride have been known to cause cancer.

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