The Battle of Bottled Water

Water’s a funny thing. We all need it, and while some of us take it for granted, we all have our views about it.

Where I work, the water from the fountain doesn’t taste good, so we buy bottled water. The unwritten rule regarding this water, is that it must be purified; no spring water. It never fails, however, that when someone new buys water, they try to save money by purchasing whatever is on sale. This results in half-fun, half-serious, ridicule regarding how bad the water tastes that was purchased. The spring water (Brand Bad) is three dollars a case, where the good water (Brand A) is five dollars a case. The two-dollar difference between Brand A and Brand Bad isn’t worth the savings.

As I’m sure you’re aware, there is a growing controversy over the use of bottled water. Although there are several issues, they can be grouped into two main categories: plastic and taste.

The plastic bottles that are left when the contents are emptied are certainly are an environmental problem. Millions are thrown away and wind up in landfills. And while this is probably the largest of the issues, it seems to me that this should be the easiest part of the problem to fix.

I don’t understand why there isn’t a massive recycling movement underway. These bottles need to be collected for reuse, reducing the amount of material needed to create new bottles, and reducing the amount ending up in land fills. Let’s be honest. While recycling is one way, it is a pain. Only certain types of plastic are accepted, and not all communities have pick up. In a society where people want things done easily, recycling does not fit in; individuals don’t see tangible benefits as a result of their extra efforts. In other words, the extra work isn’t worth the effort.

A bottle deposit, on the other hand, leads to tangible results. Individuals see the outgoing cash when they make the purchase, and they see the incoming cash when they return the empty. Not only that, they are already in the habit of returning their empty beer and pop bottles. The additional effort involved is minimal. Not only that, David Eggert says that ninety-seven percent of all cans and bottles purchased with a deposit are returned 1 . Ninety-seven percent! I would bet even the best recycling plans don’t come close. I understand distributors have issues with this due to logistics, but I’m sure they faced the same problem when the beer and pop deposit was initiated. It’s a one time change that can be dealt with, and should be.

The second problem with plastic, is the supposed health risks. I see this as a weak argument simply because plastic isn’t just used for water. It’s used for milk, juice, pop, beer, and many other food products. If plastic is so unhealthy, then it is a food industry problem, not a bottled water problem.

There is another problem with plastic and that is that it changes the way its content tastes. We continue to use plastic bottles more and more, and I have been complaining about for years. Plastic ruins the taste of everything you put into it, including beer and pop. To this day, I’m still saddened by the fact that Coca-Cola stopped using glass bottles, and putting beer in plastic bottles should be against the law. Luckily, most brands of beer available in plastic have something in common with bad spring water: you can’t tell which is which.

Speaking of taste, this is where the second part of the controversy comes in. The taste argument is not only weak, but subjective. Everyone’s tastes are different, and to simply say that tap water tastes fine and everyone should drink it is infuriating. Tap water tastes different wherever you go in the country. In some areas, it tastes fine, and other areas it does not. Maybe it was an acquired taste, but the tap water where I grew up tasted fine. When I moved out, I moved to another area of the state where I could taste the chlorine in the water. While taking a shower, I could smell it in the steam. In those days, hydration didn’t come from the tap.

Just drink it? No. I do have a filter at home for tap water, but that filter is not available everywhere I go. It’s not available at work, and as I mentioned earlier, the water from the fountain doesn’t taste good. It’s been tested, and it’s safe, but safety isn’t the issue. There’s no test for taste, because there’s no universal standard for what tastes good.

Imagine going to a wedding reception where dinner is served. You usually get to choose from a couple of different options, because not everyone likes the same thing. Even with options, many times a person will not like any of them. But what would happen if the wedding couple decided that their favorite food was salmon, and their favorite vegetable was asparagus, and everyone is going to eat salmon and asparagus at the reception? You don’t like salmon? You don’t like asparagus? The wedding couple has declared that it tastes good, so just eat it. Personally, I like asparagus. I think it should gets it own category on the FDA’s Food Pyramid. Everyone should have one helping of asparagus per day.

Although the analogy I invented is a little ridiculous, so is the idea of telling everyone that the water is fine, just drink it. Just because you can’t tell the difference, doesn’t mean others can’t. Not everyone can tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi, or Bud Light and Miller Lite, or bad beer and bad spring water. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a difference.

Finally, there’s the question of what goes into the municipal water. Chlorine? Fluoride? Both of these chemicals are poisonous. I know, the dosage is so small, that it doesn’t have any effect on us. But is it really? The fluoride cuts down on cavities, which means the dosage is high enough to have an effect on us. Seems to be a contradiction to me. And I’m not convinced that everything the FDA tells us is true. I’m not calling them liars, and I don’t believe there’s a conspiracy. I do believe they have our best interest in mind and I believe they are convinced the water additives are fine based on current data. But, we all know data changes, so what’s current now may not be current ten years from now.

The bottom line is stop telling me the tap waters fine, and I shouldn’t have the option of buying bottled water. I don’t care that a lot of it is simply filtered tap water. I actually prefer the filtered tap water to bottled spring water. I like having a choice.

Last week I had the opportunity to take part as an extra in the upcoming movie Real Steel. It was an interesting experience, and I had a good time. I’m sure I’ll look like a dork if my scene doesn’t wind up on the cutting room floor. What does this have to do with water? The set was hot, and the crew provided us with bottled water. The brand, you ask? Brand Bad! I wonder if they bought it because they liked it, or because they wanted to save two dollars.


  1. David Eggert, "Dime deposit on water, juice unlikely in Michigan," Associated Press. 22 Jun 2008.

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