Water is eternal. As long as there has been the earth, there has been water. Similarly, the debate over what water is best seems to have lasted forever.
Is it mineral water? Is bottled water better than tap water? Does it even matter? - It’s all water, right?
We have all gotten stuck in ‘tap water vs bottled water vs whatever water’ debates at some point with friends and family members. One way or another, it is a conversation that rarely finds a satisfying resolution.
Environmental change and increased water scarcity are focusing minds more and more on this question: Should we drink bottled water or tap water?
Although many people claim that bottled water is better for you, other advocates argue that bottled water is expensive, bad for the environment, and unnecessary. This is particularly true when compared with investing in a filter for your tap water.
So, how do we determine if bottled water is better than tap water? Here, we break down the points so that you can make an informed decision.
Drinking-Water Options: Tap Water vs Bottled Water vs Filtered Water
To understand what kind of water you should be drinking, you first need to understand what different kinds of water are. The differences often aren't so stark. A large portion of bottled water has been repurposed tap water.
The Natural Resources Defense Council found that 25% of bottled water comes from municipal water reserves, whereas a 2018 report found that 64% of bottled water is sourced from tap water.
Across most of the U.S., tap water is very safe to drink. (Notable exceptions include Flint, Michigan, and Newark, where water has been contaminated with lead.)
The quality of the water in your area probably determines who wins the ‘tap water vs bottled water’ debate in your home.
In urban and suburban areas, you can rely on city water because it is regularly treated and tested so that it meets a certain standard of safety. By international standards, the water your local municipalities provide is safe, healthy, and it’s good quality.
In some areas, extremely low levels of fluoride may be added to boost dental health and reduce the occurrence of cavities.
Is bottled water better than tap water in rural areas? Maybe or maybe not. It’s complicated.
Water that comes from wells hasn't undergone the same treatment process, so it isn't safe for people with compromised immune systems.
A report by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that people living in small, rural areas are at the greatest risk in the U.S. of drinking contaminated tap water. In places like these, bottled water is better than tap water.
Many people object to drinking tap water on the grounds of safety and taste. They aren't sure they trust what's in tap water and don't think it tastes as good as bottled water does.
In these cases, people can and often opt to use water filters, which — you guessed it — filter out bacteria, pesticides, and any other foreign elements that might be found in water.
Filters come in many forms. There are filters you can attach to your taps and faucets so water is filtered as soon as you open the tap. Premium pitchers manufactured with high-quality filters treat water when you fill them.
And there are complex, heavy-duty filer systems available, such as point-of-entry aeration. Is bottled water better than tap water or filtered water? The answer is unclear. Filtered water can be a safe, healthy, and economic middle ground.
Bottled water is an attractive option for many people who feel it’s better tasting than tap water and they think it’s safer. It’s the usual winner in the ‘tap water vs bottled water’ debate.
Depending on the supplier, bottled water may come from a spring. It can also be repurposed municipal water that is filtered heavily, or can just be tap water bottled up and packaged as something else.
Most bottled water is put through a filtration system, but it is often just filtered tap water from somewhere else. In some cases, bottled water isn't even filtered.
If you check the side of the bottle you are buying and it doesn't tell you how or where it is filtered, then it likely hasn't been filtered.
Tap Water vs Bottled Water: Pros and Cons
Is bottled water truly superior to tap water? The answer is not as straightforward as it may seem.
To make an informed choice, it's essential to delve into the complexities surrounding the handling of both tap and bottled water. (Hint: A filter might be worth considering for your water needs.)
Pros of Tap Water:
Here are some Pros of Tap Water:
- Flavor: Tap water's taste can vary depending on the region, treatment processes, and the presence of minerals. Advancements in water treatment have significantly improved the overall taste and smell of tap water.
- Cost and Availability: Tap water is relatively inexpensive and widely available, making it a cost-effective option for most people.
- Safety: In developed countries, tap water is rigorously regulated and tested for contaminants, making it generally safe to drink.
- Environmental Impact: Opting for tap water helps reduce plastic waste since it doesn't require single-use bottles, contributing to combating plastic pollution and promoting sustainability.
Cons of Tap Water:
The following are some of the Cons of Tap Water:
Flavor: In some areas, tap water may have slight odors or flavors due to different treatment processes or the presence of certain minerals.
Cost and Availability: In some regions, water infrastructure might be outdated, leading to issues with water quality and availability.
Pros of Bottled Water:
Here are some Pros of Tap Water:
Flavor: Bottled water often boasts a consistent and neutral taste, appealing to those who prefer a more purified drinking experience.
Convenience: Bottled water provides an easy and portable solution for staying hydrated on the go.
Safety: Reputable brands of bottled water adhere to quality standards and are generally safe to drink.
Cons of Bottled Water:
The following are some of the Cons of Tap Water:
Cost and Availability: Bottled water can be considerably more expensive in the long run compared to tap water. Additionally, accessing bottled water may be challenging in remote or emergency situations.
Environmental Impact: Bottled water production consumes significant resources and contributes to plastic pollution. The disposal of plastic bottles poses a severe threat to the environment.
Quality Variability: Not all bottled water is sourced from pristine locations; some brands might merely be filtered tap water, so it's essential to research the source and purity of the bottled water you choose.
Regardless of whether you choose tap water or bottled water, using a water filter can offer additional benefits. A good quality filter can further improve the taste and odor of tap water by removing impurities, providing you with a cost-effective and environmentally friendly option.
Benefits of Tap Water vs Bottled Water
There is little difference in health benefits between tap and bottled water. They do the same job of hydrating you whether the water comes out of a tap or a bottle. (Or, out of a bottle via a tap.)
One major difference, though, is the presence of fluoride in tap water.
Fluoride is a subject of great debate (and conspiracies) with regard to its safety. It is often put in municipal water supplies in extremely low doses to promote dental health, as it can prevent tooth decay and cavities.
Although other health concerns about fluoride in the water are unsubstantiated — owing to its minimal presence in the water supply — there are now debates about how much effect it has on dental health.
Either way, its presence in the water supply causes no harm and shouldn’t be a factor in the ‘tap water vs bottled water’ debate.
While U.S. tap water is safe and of good quality by international standards, there are still risks of contamination. This can occur through natural disasters, poor government policy, and old or faulty water systems.
Tap water safety can also vary from location to location, as the examples of Flint and Newark highlight. That makes the answer to “Is bottled water better than tap water?” a little more complicated.
Many argue that bottled water tastes better, but the research doesn't support this. Blind taste tests of tap water vs bottled water have found that people can't taste the difference between them.
A 2010 study found that 64% of people couldn't taste the difference between six types of bottled water and six types of chlorine-free tap water.
When there is an obvious difference, this is usually due to the minerals and chlorine being added to the water. This can be fixed by using a filter. But this unsatisfying taste doesn't mean the water is poor quality.
Cities treat tap water with chemicals and then pump it into holding tanks. Even though this process involves a lot of energy and chemicals, it has less of an impact on the environment than bottled water, which also uses large quantities of plastics.
Tap water is inexpensive, and the upkeep is covered by your taxes. Each day, you can fill up a reusable bottle for free at home or in public areas. The only extra cost you incur is that of your reusable water bottle.
Risks of Tap Water vs Bottled Water
Is bottled water better than tap water for sanitary reasons?
Like tap water, bottled water is generally safe. In addition to being sourced from municipal supplies, it can be sourced from wells and springs. The FDA, which oversees bottled water, requires that bottled water processes meet certain sanitary conditions.
However, bottles are sometimes recalled due to contamination. One ongoing issue is the low presence of microplastics found in bottled water. This is a factor where bottled water is not better than tap water, but tap water isn’t always safe.
Some regions experience contamination, and water treatment facilities issue boil orders to the public. So safety of tap water and bottled water in this regard can be unclear.
As described earlier, people generally struggle to taste the difference between bottled water vs tap water, despite the stated preferences for bottled water.
When people do notice a taste difference, mineral water is preferred over other sources depending on the type and presence of minerals.
Bottled water has a much greater environmental impact than tap water does.
First, it involves a filtration process similar to that of tap water. In addition, it is packaged into plastic bottles and shipped across countries, continents, and the world while in some cases depleting natural water supplies.
For many people interested in sustainability, these bottles make a big difference. Bottled water is the clear loser in the tap water vs bottled water debate when plastic is considered.
It costs you several dollars each time you buy bottled water vs tap water. This is in addition to the social costs associated with the pollution that arises from bottled water.
Take, for instance, the costs of clearing beaches of washed-up water bottles, ridding the oceans of plastic pollution, and recycling efforts.
So, What Should I Use? - Bottled or Tap Water?
So, is bottled water better than tap water? The reasons for drinking bottled water instead make sense, but they don't tally with the weight of evidence. It often tastes no different from tap water and is just as safe, yet it is more costly to you and the planet.
No matter what, investing in a filtering system, however simple it may be, is the best option moving forward.
Perceived differences in taste are important. And where there are differences, filters help to make tap water taste better by filtering out contaminants and chemicals that may be affecting the taste.
The same goes for everyday concerns about the safety of drinking water.
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