Bottled Water Costs 1,000 Times More Than Tap Water

While cruising the New York City 2006 Drinking Water Supply and Quality Report our eyes lit up on the following item from the FAQ:

Should I buy bottled water?
You do not need to buy bottled water for health reasons in New York City since our water meets all federal and State health-based drinking water standards. Also, bottled water costs up to 1,000 times more than the City’s drinking water.

We don’t know exactly what they’re basing their numbers on, but we do know tap water is just as good as bottled. Put it in the Brita, put the Brita in the refrigerator, boom, lovely water. Just make sure to clean your Brita often enough.

Now, if we’re talking about sparkling or seltzer water, that’s a different story. We would pay good money to put a second faucet in our sink that dispenses carbonated water. — BEN POPKEN

(Photo: Spirit635)

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  1. Spider Jerusalem says:

    Somehow “Brita” is never mentioned when people talk about drinking tap water. My city’s water tastes like paint, so I totally filter it. I can’t imagine New York City’s ground water can be so awesome you can skip the Brita step, whatever standards it meets.

  2. rikkus256 says:

    “Put it in the Brita, put the Birta in the refrigerator, boom, lovely water.”

    That’s exactly what I do :)

  3. electricanime says:

    That is interesting. I don’t live in NY, but I do still fear the contents of my local water. There is a lot of Jet Fuel runoff from the local airport and that doesn’t sit right with me.

  4. ptkdude says:

    The problem isn’t that the water doesn’t pass water quality standards at the plant. It’s after it has travelled through the miles of pipes and have picked up some nasty stuff that it becomes a problem. I drink tap water every day, but only after it goes through a filter at the end of the faucet in my sink.

  5. Televiper says:

    Bottled water is a massive environmental issue. I cringe when I see people buying cases, upon cases of the little plastic bottles. David Suzuki suggested we should stop buying bottled water and start freaking out about not having an adequate and safe water supply coming from our taps.

  6. y2julio says:

    I drink tap water from NYC tap without any filtering, it tastes better then any fancy bottled water crap.

  7. ShadowFalls says:

    Well, my refrigerator has its own filter, it does a very good job. When it comes to bottled water, not at home, I can trust my water, but elsewhere I can not, so I wouldn’t have much of a choice there.

  8. Trai_Dep says:

    I’ve read that NYC, amazingly, has among the best tasting water of major US urban centers. Noted academic scholars Penn & Teller have done blind taste tests to assorted people on the street and tap water comes out on top, even compared to bottled water.

    I’d kill if they had NYC water here. Probably almost as good as Dutch water…

    LA water is chlorinated to death, tastes like a rat died in it. Healthy, but eww. No wonder W. C. Fields drank martinis.

    Pur or Brita is amazing, though. Makes even LA water taste like licking the dew off a newly sprouted tropical tree leaf.

    Also, great for cutting down on plastic pollution as well.

  9. TechnoDestructo says:

    I buy bottled water when I need the bottle.

    Then I refill the bottles till they’re beat to crap or too filthy to bother washing.

  10. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    I can’t stand tap water. It tastes bad, and as Tkdude mentioned, it contains stuff that I’d rather not put into my body.

    I use a Pur filter on my faucet and it works quite well. I’ve got two big water jugs for the fridge and I’ve got a Nalgene bottle for the gym.

    Bottled water is fine if you’re out and away from home. It’s convenient and it’s better than drinking from a moldy and dirty water fountain. And yes, I know bottled water is filtered tap water. That’s why I buy it.. it’s filtered! :-)

  11. capturedshadow says:

    Brita and Pur are good for taste and odor problems. They don’t remove viruses and bacteria, and other pathogens, so don’t try to drink river water that you poured in a Brita. They also take out the chlorine so don’t try to store the water very long after you filter it, and please do keep it in the fridge. If you are really cheap you can make your own filter from sand and charcoal. The same stuff those fancy filters use.
    Water fountains are usually safe if you let the water run for a full two minutes before you drink from it, but who wants to wait.

  12. FLConsumer says:

    @ptkdude: NYC tap water is absolutely awesome! If I had that here, I wouldn’t need filters.

    FWIW, tap water quality is measured at the plant *AND* along various points along the distribution system.

    I have a Pur filter built into my fridge here, does a good job of cleaning up the taste of the water. I’m not fond of the earthy/sulphur-ish taste of Tampa’s water from my tap. I still prefer the taste of the water which comes from my distiller at my other home ‘though.

  13. huadpe says:

    I would like to point out that the safety standards for bottled water are lower than tap water. “In the United States, tap water is regulated by the stringent United States Environmental Protection Agency. Bottled water is regulated under a similar, but significantly less strict set of regulations from the United States Food and Drug Administration under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (“FFDCA” or the “Act”), 21 U.S.C. § 301et seq.” [en.wikipedia.org]

  14. palaste says:

    What’s Brita?

  15. Michael says:

    Sigh…Ben, sometimes I really wonder how you ever got a blog in the first place.

    1. Obviously they are considering the price of bottled water versus the price one pays the city (or private institution, if privatized) for water. Just because you rent an apartment doesn’t mean everyone in New York doesn’t pay a water bill.

    2. If you need to put tap water through a Brita to make it as good as bottled water, then it’s not as good as bottled water. Why are you criticising a government agency by praising a private company, anyway? Embedded advertising?

    For the record, I’ve had water in NYC and I was very impressed; it does taste much better than a lot of bottled water brands (especially Aquafina).

    Ben, if you really want to do a story on this, stop rushing things out and do a comparison test like Gizmodo did on Monster cables.

  16. Maurs says:

    The water quality here in Louisville is some of the best in the nation, which is pretty surprising given the nasty state of the Ohio river. It’s especially better than the well system our subdivision used to be served by.

  17. otherdeb says:

    Hi –

    Re “Now, if we’re talking about sparkling or seltzer water, that’s a different story. We would pay good money to put a second faucet in our sink that dispenses carbonated water.”

    Um, it’s called you buy a syphon and a soda-making kit. Gary Krakow from MSNBC recommends The Soda Club System, but there are all kinds of kits out there for getting carbonation into water. The catalog for KegMan Products features a bottle and syphon set. There are many other places where you can obtain these, but you get the idea. Sparkling water (a/k/a seltzer), and even soda can be made at home, although I suspect that the flavored soda would end up actually being more expensive.

  18. Maulleigh says:

    I read something somewhere that really resonated with me. An American drinking bottled water is a slap in the face to third-world countries with no adequate drinking water and poor sanitation. I’ve been drinking water from the tap for thirty four years and have experienced no ill effect. People need to lighten up.

  19. phlo says:

    This number seems to be a bit exaggerated to me. I don’t have any US numbers handy but here (somewhere in Europe) tap water goes for some 3.60 per cubic metre while bottled water costs about -.95 (locals) to 1.50 (evian) per 1.5 litre bottle (633.33 to 1000 per cubic metre).

  20. OnceWasCool says:

    Pur water filter works great for us. We use if for drinking water and things made with water. (Coffee, tea, etc)

    Tap water taste like a swimming pool to me compared to filtered water. Try a glass of each and do your own taste test!

  21. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    @ShadowFalls:

    I’m in the exact same situation. We have a water softener at home & a great filter on the ‘fridge, so no problems there. At work however, the water out of the fountain tastes like I’d imagine fertilizer run-off does. My solution? I’ve found the biggest plastic cup that fits into my car’s cupholder & use / wash it everyday.

  22. OwenCatherwood says:

    @palaste/spiderjerusalem: Brita is a water filtration system.

  23. Havok154 says:

    @TechnoDestructo:
    That’s what I do. Of course, I end up losing/destroying half of them while on a job somewhere.

  24. CeilingCat says:

    @capturedshadow: There is more to a Brita/Pur filter than just sand and charcoal. They are ion exchange columns with small plastic beads (Sephadex) that hold onto dissolved minerals. In fact, I would not use sand in such a filter since you could pick up some fairly nasty bacteria (mainly species of clostridium).


    I have one other recommendation for people using Pur/Brita type filters:

    DO NOT SOAK THE FILTER FOR LONG PERIODS OF TIME.

    As mentioned above, they are a consumer version of laboratory ion exchange columns. The plastic beads are designed to work optimally and hold onto ions within in a certain pH range. Change that pH and the beads let go of the ions (which is why they are useful in the lab to separate ions from solution).

    If you let water sit long enough its pH becomes more acidic as CO2 dissolves into it and forms carbonic acid. Let Brita water in contact with the filter for long enough the lower pH will cause the filter to let go of all its bound metals and other stuff.

    Imagine drinking the last 3+ months of crap filtered out of your water in your next glass. Bleaurgh.

  25. Two points:

    First, I have way minerally water coming out of my tap. Took a few weeks to get used to it when we moved. But the thing is — if this was Europe, people’d be paying $2 a bottle to BUY THIS AS MINERAL WATER. (With a unique local taste, natch.)

    Second, @spiderjerusalem: “I can’t imagine New York City’s ground water can be so awesome” — you might be surprised. I had a job once where part of what I had to do was test tap water and sometimes source water. A lot of what comes out of the tap is RIDICULOUSLY clean.

    Americans are real whiners about water having any “taste” or cloudiness. Get over it. It doesn’t mean your water isn’t “clean.” It just means you have some minerals in there. They’re good for you.

    If you’re THAT concerned about it you can a) read municipal water reports (mine requires they test not just source water, treatment center water, and various points along the system, but at least 300 tap outlets yearly from various parts of the city) to find out what’s in it or b) get your personal tap water tested for pretty cheap. (If you live in an older building/house, you should do this anyway — your pipes might be lead.)

  26. FLConsumer says:

    For the conspiracy theorists out there:

    Is there any research on the long-term effects of:
    Fluorine (H-F, as added to tap water)
    Chlorine
    and
    Chloramines

    in humans from drinking water? I can’t help but think that Chlorine, while beneficial in keeping microbes down, might have some undesirable effects on the human body.

  27. unchi says:

    Since all of us are not lucky enough to have NYC tap water, I rely on a carbon filtration system for my tap water. The water coming out of the plant is great, but it currently goes through pipes that are about 100 years old and corroding (being slowly replaced now). It has an interesting smell coming out of the tap, but that is all gone after the Brita.

  28. The Walking Eye says:

    Another problem with some bottled water is that it’s just filtered tap water. The Penn & Teller show mentioned above said at least one of the companies they looked at merely filtered city water and bottled it.

    The cost thing comes from comparing the prices of a given amount of tap water and bottled water. If you break down it down and compare, bottled water is extremely expensive. An interesting aside to this kind of comparison is to compare it to gas. We’re fine with buying a 16 ounce Coke for $1 at McDonald’s, which is $8 per gallon, but heaven forbid we pay $3 per gallon of gas. And yes, I’m aware that we don’t buy 16 gallons of Coke at one time.

  29. Pelagius says:

    Penn & Teller did a great episode on the bottled water scam in the first season of “Bullshit”. They did taste tests that demonstrated people could not tell the difference between NYC tap water (not even filtered) and expensive bottled water. They visited bottled water factories that took the local municipal water, filtered it, stuck it in a bottle, and sold to morons for $1.50 a pop.
    I spent a weekend last month cleaning up the banks of the Potomac. That’s where all your goddamn water bottles end up. Drink from the tap – it didn’t kill us before 1995 or whenever this marketing scheme paid off for Coca Cola. Jesus.

  30. Majwell says:

    The idea that bottled water is safer, cleaner or in anyway better than tap water is untrue. Basically bottled water is loosely regulated and the only advantage is that it is contained in a bottle. If you need water in a bottle that is your decision but it should be noted that tap water is no less safe and should look at this 1999 extensive study into the quality of bottled water and found 40% of bottle water they tested to be bottled tap water while also finding contaminates in many of the bottled waters.

    [www.nrdc.org]

  31. Majwell says:

    Edit: From the report: “In fact, about one-fourth of bottled water is actually bottled tap water, according to government and industry estimates (some estimates go as high as 40 percent).”

    I say 40% in my original post, but I went back and looked again (it has been a while) and found that was the max not the norm, sorry.

  32. niteflytes says:

    If you don’t wash your Brita (or Pur, etc.) pitcher mold will grow on the inside of the lid. It’s gross.

  33. @FLConsumer: “I can’t help but think that Chlorine, while beneficial in keeping microbes down, might have some undesirable effects on the human body.”

    For the chlorine, at least, most of it evaporates off pretty quickly if you let your glass of water stand there for a minute or two. (This is important for me as a gardener because the chlorine in municipal water can seriously damage certain plants, so instead of using the hose on tender plants, you fill a watering can and let it sit for a couple minutes. No problem.)

    We get super-chlorinated water sometimes in the summer when there’s an algae bloom, so much that it smells like a swimming pool when you take a shower, and if I let a glass of water stand for a minute, I definitely can’t smell the chlorine anymore (the way I can when it’s first filled from the tap).

  34. chazz says:

    Soda club is excellent. One CO2 cart makes 110 liters of seltzer and the flavors are excellent also – highest recommendation.

  35. Fuzzy_duffel_bag says:

    I live in NYC, but in Greenpoint, home of the famous Greenpoint oil spill, and I drink bottled water, because no one can tell me for sure if the oil spill can contaminate the pipes that transport the water into my apartment, and I don’t have a few hundred dollars to pay for the level of test that would tell me if my fears are justified.

  36. cruzich says:

    We would pay good money to put a second faucet in our sink that dispenses carbonated water.

    Get one of these:

    [www.sodaclubusa.com]

    We stopped buying seltzer at the store because of the waste (aluminum cans or plastic bottles) and money involved. The Soda Club unit is great – just fill a bottle with tap water, screw it into the machine, press a button and you have seltzer.

  37. QuiteSpunky says:

    Bottled water is not only doesn’t taste any better than tap water, but is a major contributor to environmental damage. Consider:

    1) Bottled water has FEWER regulations for purity than tap water. (see Huadpe’s post above). This means it is MORE likely to contain bacteria than tap water. To quote a NY Times Op-ed piece: “In one study, published in The Archives of Family Medicine, researchers compared bottled water with tap water from Cleveland, and found that nearly a quarter of the samples of bottled water had significantly higher levels of bacteria.” Here’s the article: [www.nytimes.com]

    2) The environmental implications extend far beyond the waste of discarded plastic bottles. Consider how much gasoline it takes to fly water all the way from Fiji or Europe to your local convenience store. Now also consider that when a huge bottling plant is set up it is likely to drain the local aquifer and leave the area dry. Now consider that much of bottled water is just filtered tap water, from places like Wichita, Kansas, Queens, New York, or Jacksonville Florida.

    Bottled water isn’t healthy, pure, or environmentally friendly, and on top of that it’s a huge waste of money. The biggest problem with bottled water is that people perceive it as being healthy-they think they’re doing something good for themselves by drinking it. Even smart, active, otherwise environmentally responsible people I know fall victim to this. I don’t think this would be the case if the truth were more widely known, at least I hope not.

    Use tap water, buy a Nalgene bottle. Buy a Brita or a Pur if you’re worried about the pipes or the taste. A lot of the “bad tastes” associated with tap water (i.e. chlorine) will evaporate if you let it sit for a few minutes before you drink it. Save hundreds of dollars and do yourself, the environment, and your pocketbook a favor.

  38. Pelagius says:

    @QuiteSpunky: Post of the week!

  39. Maulleigh: One of my mother’s friends is one of those people who was poisoned by PG&E letting waste sink into the water supply in West Hollywood, so noooo, I don’t think I will lighten up thanks.

    OwenCatherwood: I KNOW what Brita is. I have a big ol’ filtering tank in my fridge, and have had for about two years, since we moved here and figured out that the water from the tap tastes like paint.

    To everyone citing Penn and Teller, I can think of at least two major discrepencies in that episode, not the least of which is they don’t define which brands filter and which don’t, but purposely represent it to look like Aquafina is the same as Rock Water Springs or whatever local bollocks people buy.

    That said, Brita-filtered water tastes better to me than most other waters that have that damn metallic taste of companies who add minerals or don’t filter “for added flavor.” I hate water having added metal flavor.

  40. eross says:

    I was floored that someone could be so misinformed to think that you need to let a public fountain run for 2 minutes before it’s safe to drink.

    It made we wonder, are any readers aware of disinformation campaigns about tap water (as opposed to merely implying that bottled water is better/safer in ads) by major beverage corporations?

  41. GenXCub says:

    I have my Brita doubts… my city’s tap water not only tastes like half-processed poo, it also gives you 10X your recommended daily calcium intake. (Water from Lake Mead, NV)

  42. magic8ball says:

    @Maulleigh: Please explain how “An American drinking bottled water is a slap in the face to third-world countries with no adequate drinking water and poor sanitation.” Is this like my mother telling me I should eat my dinner because other children are starving in Africa? Whether I eat or not, the starving children still don’t get fed. Whether I drink bottled water or tap water or nothing but Vodka, third-world countries with inadequate drinking water still won’t have adequate drinking water.

  43. bbbici says:

    “phlo says:

    This number seems to be a bit exaggerated to me. I don’t have any US numbers handy but here (somewhere in Europe) tap water goes for some 3.60 per cubic metre while bottled water costs about -.95 (locals) to 1.50 (evian) per 1.5 litre bottle (633.33 to 1000 per cubic metre).”

    I have never once paid for tap water in my life. Therefore bottled water is infinity times more expensive (to me).

    NYC tapwater comes from underground springs and is some of the finest quality water on earth.

  44. TechnoDestructo says:

    @spiderjerusalem:

    I grew up drinking unfiltered well water, in a town where you had your choice of flavors: Iron, silt, sulfur, or arsenic. (I don’t much care for the arsenic)

    I can drink pretty much anything.

  45. AcidReign says:

    …..I’m not a big fan of plastic water. Unless it’s just RANK, I’ll drink tap water. For instance, I did drink a LOT of tap water on a weekend trip to New Orleans barely six months after Katrina. I didn’t die. If anything, it made me stronger. That, or the sazeracs…

  46. cuff1 says:

    two things: phlo, european utility costs are notoriously higher than american utility costs. water is cheap when you get it from the tap.

    massachusetts requires reporting on the source of water (one of only three states, i think). i did some research about where bottled water comes from a few months ago, and in reality, all of the major brands are just tap water from states with lower drinking water standards.

    the only significant marker of water’s source is whether or not it says “spring” on the bottle–if it does, it’s not just tap.

    either way–i have well water and i love the way it tastes! no bottled h20 for me.

  47. Ben Popken says:

    @Fuzzy_Duffel_Bag: I don’t think oil can permeate a metal pipe.

  48. Michael says:

    I should add, I have had tap water in Latvia, although the tour books specifically say not to. I think concern over tap water in most countries is paranoia; but in a wealthy industrialised nation, whether America or one in western Europe, it’s ridiculous.

  49. Topcat says:

    @bbbici: It’s true- NYC has some of the absolute best tap water in any city I’ve been to or lived in.

    For those paranoid about chlorine in their tap water- leave it in the fridge in an open-topped jug- in a few hours most of the chlorine will have evaporated.

    And it’s true that bottled water can be more dangerous than tap water in many cases. That expensive ‘Fiji’-brand water is absolutely loaded with arsenic.

  50. synergy says:

    It’s what I keep saying. Bottled water is wasted money and immense pollution of all that damn plastic. Buy ONE bottle and fill it from the Brita in the refridgerator. Oh and for heaven’s sake, wash it with some soap daily. Otherwise you’ll be eating E.coli cocktail. Mmm mmm mmm!

  51. synergy says:

    @Fuzzy_Duffel_Bag: “They mix like oil and water.”

    OK, a little unfair considering the oil might be a carrier for things that DO mix with water, but still…

  52. mytosis33 says:

    Oil -CAN- get into a metal pipe system, depending on how old that system is. Pipes get rusty, crack, or just plain disintegrate and the only thing keeping it together is the soil around the pipe. Nothing lasts forever…

  53. MasterPhu says:

    I see a lot of commenters praising NYC tap water but guess what? MY DOG HATES IT.

    I just moved to NYC from Reno. In Reno I gave my dog unfiltered tap water and he had no problems with it. When I came here, the dog wasn’t drinking the water and I thought it was the stress of the move. On a whim my girlfriend gave him a capful of Fiji (bottled water) and he lapped it right up. I thought it was a fluke so I filled two bowls, one with NYC tap water and one with Fiji. Set the NYC bowl down first, he took a couple of licks from the NYC water and stopped. Set down the Fiji bowl and he finished it. Maybe humans can’t tell the difference but my dog sure can and if my dog wouldn’t drink it why should I?

  54. suburbancowboy says:

    NYC tap water is the reason our bagels and our pizza and hot pretzels taste better than everywhere else.

  55. Amy Alkon says:

    Now that I live in Lost Angeles, I would buy NYC tap water. It tastes great. I never drink bottled in NYC, except Pellegrino or other sparkling, or when I need a bottle to carry in my bag. (Which I refill from the tap.)

  56. consumer_999 says:

    Brita is a crap solution. The filter replacement cycle is a function of time (there’s a timer ffs!), not of amount of water filtered. And they run more than $5 a pop. It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out the problem there: if you follow the little timer that tells you to replace it, and drink very little water, you’re wasting money. If you follow the little timer and drink a lot of water, you’re drinking a lot of poorly filtered dirty water.