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Rethinking Bottled Water

How to be green on a budget.
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Over the past decade, bottled water has become an ever-present part of American life. You’ll find bottles of Dasani, Poland Spring, Evian, or Aquafina at the gym, in the checkout line at the grocery store, in the office.

Sales of bottled water nearly doubled between 1997 and 2007, reaching about $11.5 billion. In 2007, Americans drank 29 gallons of water per capita.

But that’s begun to change. From a peak in 2007, bottled water consumption dropped in 2008, down by 3.8% from the previous year. Recently, cities, schools, natural food stores, and restaurants have begun to “buy local” -- offering tap water rather than bottled -- for environmental and economic reasons. For example, many of the mayors at a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors voted to phase out the use of bottled water. And more and more individual consumers are following suit.

Picking up a bottle of water at the supermarket or the gym is quick and easy, but it has its costs.

  • Bottled water is expensive. Depending on where you live, you’ll pay between $1 and $2 for the average 16-ounce bottle. (That’s between 240 and 10,000 times the cost of tap or filtered water.)
  • Bottled water is hard on the environment. Even though about 23% of plastic water bottles are recycled, that still leaves about 2 million tons of bottles pouring into landfills every year.
  • Bottled water isn’t necessarily purer than tap water. An investigation by the Environmental Working Group found chemical contaminants in every brand tested -- including disinfection byproducts, fertilizer residue, and pain medication.

 

What’s Really in Bottled Water?

In a lot of cases, bottled water is just tap water. The EWG report found that at least two distributors (Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club) were basically bottling and selling tap water, while many other major brands, including Dasani and Aquafina, distill or purify tap water for their product. If your bottle doesn’t say “spring water” on it, chances are the water came from a municipal water source.

In most cases, you really don’t need to buy bottled water. Municipal tap water is almost always safe to drink, experts say.

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