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Bottled water

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Not to be confused with artisan tap water (or maybe it should).
Hwhat in hydration!?
—A common complaint
How Jesus made wine
Water woo
Icon water.svg
Suckers getting soaked

Bottled water is essentially a dirtier, ridiculously expensive[note 1][1] version of municipal water resold in plastic containers.[2]

Somehow, Coca-cola,Wikipedia Pepsi,Wikipedia Nestlé, and many other companies have convinced half of all Americans to buy water for 1 to 6 USD a gallon in bottle form,[3] instead of tap water, for a fraction of a USD penny per gallon,[4][5] all because of the influence of marketing and the publicized tap water contamination scares. Check your gas prices while you're at it, society.


Bottled water is the marketing trick of the century.
—John Jewell[6]

For the most tasteless and odorless substance on the planet, companies market bottled water products as having intrinsic high quality with a silky smooth texture and taste, despite a lack of any substantiative differences between it and normal water.[6][7][8] In Michael Shermer's article Bottled Twaddle, he reminds us just how taste-deaf our tongues actually are when it comes to nasty, boring water:[5]

The most telling taste test was conducted by the Showtime television series Penn & Teller: Bullshit!. The hosts began with a blind comparison in which 75 percent of New Yorkers preferred city tap to bottled waters. They then went to the Left Coast and set up a hidden camera at a trendy southern California restaurant that featured a water sommelier who dispensed elegant water menus to the patrons. All bottles were filled out of the same hose in the back of the restaurant; nevertheless, Angelenos were willing to plunk down nearly $7 a bottle for L'eau Du Robinet (French for "faucet water"), Agua de Culo (Spanish for "ass water") and Amazone ("filtered through the Brazilian rain forest’s natural filtration system"), declaring them all to be far superior to tap water. There’s no accounting for taste.

Penn & Teller: Bullshit!'s experiment illustrates the power of suggestion;Wikipedia the only aspect affecting the taste of the water is the assumed quality through deceptive presentation.


It pays to be warned of what you may consume, though. In 2016, at least 14 different brands of bottled water recalled their products due to E. coli contamination, the presence of which suggests the additional presence of animal or human waste.[9]

Hazardous waste[edit]

In one extreme case, "water, flaunted as 'spring water,' was pumped from a water source next to a hazardous waste dumping site."[10][11][12][better sources needed]

Plastic leaching and cancer[edit]

See the main articles on this topic: Plastic and Cancer

According to the grape vine, frozen bottled water releases carcinogenic dioxins, reusing water bottles releases carcinogenic DEHA, and heating bottled water releases Bisphenol A,Wikipedia a synthetic estrogen that causes breasts cancer and hormone issues. None of these claims are actually true, except for the last one, kind of.[13]

The health scare about heated water bottles was partly fueled from journalists taking a 2014 study by the University of Florida out of context.[14][15] The study shows two issues:[16][17][18]

  1. The study was actually conducted in China by Chinese students who sampled Chinese water bottles.
  2. The finding of the study reported water within the correct ranges of water standards.

Nanoplastics do leach from the plastic bottles into the water, and the levels of nano-plastics in bottled water is much higher than in tap water. The health effects of nanoplastics, if any, are as yet unknown.[19]


Evocative names and labels depicting pastoral scenes have convinced us that the liquid is the purest drink around. But labels can be misleading at best, deceptive at worst. In one notorious case, water coming from a well located near a hazardous waste site was sold to many bottlers. At least one of these companies labeled its product “spring water.” In another case, H2O sold as “pure glacier water” came from a public water system in Alaska.
Reader's Digest [20]
A typical ad for typical water. Don't worry, it's not bottled in Cleveland.[21]

Depictions of exotic mountains, crisp glaciers, and other beautiful imagery often depicted on bottles invoke a sense of purity and freshness. This eases a consumer's mind and convinces them they're making a better and healthier dietary decision.[6][7]

Here's a list of refreshing terminology for overpriced, unfiltered tap water:

  • "Designed to make a difference"[22]
  • "The secret is in the Alps"[23]
  • "Purified spring mineral water"[Every bottled water ever]
  • "A water that belongs on the wine list"[24]

Alternative to soda[edit]

While being vastly inferior to tap water in every way, bottled water was initially positioned as an alternative to unhealthy sodas. In a Hispanic-targeted sweepstakes, NestléWikipedia challenged families to replace sugary drinks with water for a possible cash prize:[25]

The campaign also uses regional radio to support in-store promotions, grassroots events and the La Promesa sweepstakes at Consumers can register their pledge to remove one sugary drink from their family’s diet each day and replace it with water. In doing so, they are automatically registered in the contest with over $20,000 in prizes, including a grand prize trip for four to Miami, and dinner with Cristina Saralegui.Wikipedia

Rodriguez said Hispanic consumers have played an important role in growing the brand’s popularity since it was launched in America nearly seven years ago. It is now the best-selling bottled water brand by volume, according to Beverage Marketing Corp. In the brand’s most recent marketing efforts, Nestle did not run general market advertising but focused instead on Hispanic ads using the first campaign featuring Cristina Saralegui. Since those ads broke in 2008, the brand’s awareness and purchase intent levels have quadrupled among Hispanics, Rodriguez said.


Bottled water is marketed as a convenient alternative to tap water.[6][7] Obviously, it's much easier to spend money like a dope instead of planning ahead and filling up a container at home to carry with you, or stopping at a refill station once you run out. Unfortunately, the bottled water craze has resulted in fewer public drinking fountains, therefore, giving positive feedback to the cash cow industry.[26][note 2]


United States[edit]

In the U.S., bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug AdministrationWikipedia while tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.Wikipedia[27] It doesn't sound like much, but once you consider how the regulation process goes, the EPA goes much further to ensure the water is safe for drinking.

The FDA has two means of testing bottled water, testing it themselves[28] and to have companies do it for them.[29] For the latter, it goes by an honor system; therefore, companies can lie about the regulations they're not abiding by. According to studies, bottled water often fails to meet EPA standards of mercury, thallium, and thorium amounts.[30][31] As for the FDA's plant inspections, fairly loose regulations are also present. Here's some quotes, straight from the administration's website:[28]

Because FDA's experience over the years has shown that bottled water has a good safety record,[32] bottled water plants generally are assigned a relatively low priority for inspection. The Agency, however, inspects violative firms more frequently, depending on the number, significance and recurrence of violations. In addition, FDA's field offices follow up on consumer and trade complaints and other leads, as appropriate, on potentially violative bottled water products.

The current system in place is not preventative and is, instead, reactive to a violation of unsafe water released to the public... after the fact. Amusingly, a handful of unsafe bottled water cases between the years 1994 and 2006 were not made public for whatever reason.[33] Here's one more awful questionable FDA practice:

FDA laboratories may test the water for microbiological, radiological or chemical contamination. Individual samples are not tested for all possible contaminants cited in the quality standard, but for selected contaminants, depending on the reason for the sampling. For example, suspected microbiological contamination may result in microbiological analysis. (However, as noted, bottlers are required to maintain testing records to show to government inspectors for all the contaminants in the quality standard.)

Keep in mind, the quotes from above are straight from the official dot gov website. The rather lax regulations are likely a reflection of a lack of funding or authority over the issue. Either way, Congress is to blame, not the FDA per se.

Meanwhile, tap water goes through rigorous testing, thanks to the Safe Drinking Water Act.[34][35] The results show tap water has consistently less contaminants than bottled water. Despite highly publicized contaminated tap water incidents, no scientific evidence shows tap water has more toxins than bottled water; in fact, it's the other way around. Despite this, the FDA claims to have higher standards for lead in bottled water by a difference of 10 ppb because "leaching of lead from distribution systems is not a factor for bottled water and, based on its survey data, FDA concluded that bottlers can readily produce bottled water products with lead levels below 5 ppb."[28] In contradiction, a lot of bottled water available in the United States is tap water, so "leaching of lead from distribution systems" should be a factor. However, tap water isn't free of contaminates either. According to a study, 94% of sampled tap water was contaminated with plastic fibers, although the health impacts remain unclear.[36]


Bottled water looming over a hapless fountain it has pumped dry.

The UK treats bottled water as food:[37]

Bottled waters are split into 3 categories: natural mineral water, spring water and bottled drinking water. Each has their own rules and requirements on exploitation, sale and how they are labelled.

Coca-Cola tried to sell bottled mains (tap) water under their 'Dasani' brand in the UK. They recalled and stopped production after bromateWikipedia was found in the product. "Many papers, unhelpfully for Coca-Cola, also reminded readers that while Dasani sells for 95p per 500ml, Thames Water, which supplies homes in the area where the product is sourced and bottled, sells the water at the equivalent of 0.03p per 500ml."[38]

German law also provides for a different set of regulations for tap water than for bottled water. Needless to say, the regulations for tap water are much much stricter, but r. and in fact, they may even go to your house to measure at the tap whether any pollutants are above the legal limits.[39][better source needed] As for another advantage of tap water, in Germany, you won't be slapped by the intentionally onerous 25 cent deposit on throwaway bottles; this is even more expensive than the cheapest one and a half liter of water itself.[40][better source needed]


Some areas in Russia have safe-to-drink tap water; others, not so much, though that doesn't stop tour guides from advising tourists to avoid it altogether or some restaurants serving only bottled water.[41][42] Although the big cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg have cleaner water than areas in Central Russia, Siberia, Yamal, and Altai, the pipe infrastructure is pre-Soviet era where some cities have very poor pipe quality, with Kalmykia having 72 percent and Novogorod having 55 percent of pipes not up to modern standards. What doesn't help is that St. Petersburg has contained trace amounts of the Giardia lambliaWikipedia parasite.

Roskachestvo serves as the watch dog regulatory agency for Russia's products, funded by the government to promote Russian stuff (something to keep in mind when looking at its research). Products that pass its testing earns a quality seal from it. Russian law categorizes bottled water in two categories: first category water, which is just "cleaner" tap water, and water of the highest category, which not only comes from "natural" sources but has to be "good for your health" to drink it.[43] Notably Roskachestvo has noted that some bottled water categorized as water of the highest category often did not meet quality standards.

Environmental impact and waste[edit]

The water ripples you see? That's Mother Earth, crying.

In some strange twist, it takes water to produce water bottles. In the best case scenario, it takes 1.26 Liters of water to produce plastic for 1 Liter of water; on average this number is 1.32 Liters.[44] While the amount of water to make bottled water is better than other products such as soda,[45] it still doesn't negate that companies are wasting water when tap water is a reasonable and more efficient means of getting water.

The plastic poses another issue: recycling. Sure, water bottles clearly indicate that it's recyclable, but most people don't recycle.[note 3] According to IBIS World:[46][47]

About 6 billion pounds of plastic bottles get thrown away every year, and only about 30% of them are recycled[.] Of that 30%, just one-fifth is processed to create fresh plastic bottles for use in food and beverage.

Plastic bottles can take 450 years to decompose if left in the environment.[48] You don't want to make the Earth sad, do you?

Bottled water in emergency response[edit]

Natural disasters[edit]

FEMA recommends using bottled water for emergency kits, although its reasoning behind its usage is questionable:[49]

It is recommended you purchase commercially bottled water, in order to prepare the safest and most reliable emergency water supply.

While bottled water is not the safest, it is very reliable for emergency situations and doesn't need further treatment, unlike tap water.[49] Although, it is best to create your own emergency supply from tap water for safety reasons.[note 4]


In Ohio, Toledo's water supply was affected by Lake Erie's algae blooms hence contaminating the water supply. In response, the city banned tapped water, prompting the Red Cross to supply the half a million of affected citizens with bottled water.[50] The take away: bottled water is a reasonable alternative when it is relatively cleaner than the available tap water.

See also[edit]

  • Holy water — it's occasionally bottled, often unsanitary, and completely unregulated

External links[edit]


  1. Like, a 4000% markup ridiculously expensive
  2. Fortunately, there are various refill schemes around the world aiming to combat this:
  3. Even if they did, recycling is only fourth place on the waste hierarchy, but by all means let's get them recycling first.
  4. If you need source for this, you clearly haven't been paying attention.


  1. 10 items with ludicrous markups[a w] by Aaron Crowe (2012) ABC News.
  2. Soft drink is purified tap water[a w] On Monday, 1 March, 2004. BBC
  3. The Truth About Tap: Lots of people think drinking bottled water is safer. Is it?[a w] from Natural Resources Defense Council
  4. The Story of Water[a w] from City of Chesapeake
  5. 5.0 5.1 Bottled Twaddle[a w] by Michael Shermer, published July 2003
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Bottled water: the marketing trick of the century[a w] from The Week
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 5 marketing lessons from the bottled water industry[a w] from Quickbooks
  8. Bottled water[a w] from The Washington Post
  9. 14 Brands Of Bottled Water Voluntarily Recalled Due To Potential E. Coli Contamination[a w] from The Huffington Post
  13. Reuse of Plastic Bottles: Does reusing or freezing plastic water bottles cause them to break down into dioxins or carcinogenic compounds?[a w]
  14. Effects of storage temperature and duration on release of antimony and bisphenol A from polyethylene terephthalate drinking water bottles of China[a w] (The study was originally located here). Study conducted by Ying-Ying Fan, Jian-Lun Zheng, Jing-Hua Ren, Jun Luo, Xin-Yi Cui, and Lena Q. Ma
  16. Chinese Bottled Water Study Misrepresents Facts
  19. Here’s what you’re really swallowing when you drink bottled water: A new study finds that ‘nanoplastics’ are even more common than microplastics in bottled water by Shannon Osaka (Updated January 9, 2024 at 12:47 p.m. EST; Published January 8, 2024 at 3:00 p.m. EST) The Washington Post.
  20. Reader's Digest[a w]
  21. (July 20, 2006) Cleveland Takes Offense at Fiji Water Ad. The Washington Post. Retrieved August 5, 2019.
  22. Dasani[a w] from Textart
  23. Evian[a w] from Textart
  24. Acqua Panna[a w] from Textart
  25. Nestle challenges Hispanics to drink more water[a w] from Adweek
  26. Time for a drinking fountain[a w] from SF Gate
  27. Bottled water[a w] from U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 Regulation of Bottled Water by the U.S. FDA
  29. Bottled water[a w] from U.S. Food and Drug Administration
  30. Bottled water[a w] from U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information
  31. Ikem, A., Odueyungbo, S., Egiebor, N.O., & Nyavor, K. (2001). "Chemical quality of bottled waters from three cities in eastern Alabama". Science of the Total Environment 285 (1-3): 165–175. doi:10.1016/S0048-9697(01)00915-9[a w]
  32.[a w]
  33. Bottled water recalls[a w] Information Supplement to Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water (published by Island Press, April 2010)
  34. Drinking water: basic information[a w] from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  35. Fewer regulations for bottled water than tap water[a w] from The New York Times
  40. See the Wikipedia article on Container Deposit Legalisation.
  41. Sorokina, Anna (Oct 23 2017) Is it safe to drink tap water in Russia? Russia Beyond. Retrieved August 5, 2019.
  42. (April 25, 2016) Moscow Lifehack: Can I drink the water in Moscow? Are you sure? The Moscow Times. Retrieved August 5, 2019.
  43. Bottled Water in Russia. Russia Lounge. Retrieved August 5, 2019.
  44. "Water and Energy Use Benchmarking Study". Antea Group. Retrieved 17 July 2017. 
  45. Thomas Andrew Gustafson. How Much Water Actually Goes Into Making A Bottle Of Water?, NPR, 30 October 2013.
  48. Marine Debris[a w] from New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services
  49. 49.0 49.1
  50. Fitzsimmons, Emma G.. "Tap Water Ban for Toledo Residents.". Retrieved 6 November 2015.