Which One Is Safer? Bottled Water or Tap Water?
Pros and cons of tap water
Tap water offers both advantages and disadvantages worth considering when comparing it to bottled water. Key factors to ponder while making your choice are water safety, flavor, cost, availability, and environmental impact.
Pros and cons of tap water
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has certified that tap water in the United States is among the safest worldwide. Furthermore, independent studies conducted by the nonprofit organization Food & Water Watch reveal that tap water undergoes more frequent testing compared to bottled water.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in charge of identifying and regulating contaminants in tap water and groundwater. These contaminants include a wide range of chemicals and microorganisms.
The Safe Drinking Water Act establishes the guidelines for acceptable levels of contaminants in tap water. Water companies are required by federal law to notify the public as soon as any safety concerns about tap water arise.
It's important to note, however, that not all contaminants are currently regulated, as the Environmental Working Group (EWG) points out. Furthermore, the EWG reports that some contaminant limits have not been updated in over two decades.
Numerous blind taste tests consistently show that the majority of people cannot tell the difference between tap water and bottled water.
For example, in a 2010 study published in the Journal of Sensory Studies, participants were unable to tell the difference between six different brands of bottled mineral water and six samples of municipal tap water when the tap water was chlorine-free.
Surprisingly, regardless of whether the water came from a bottle or the tap, people preferred water with medium mineralization. Only 36% of the participants correctly identified the difference between bottled and tap water.
It's important to note that the perceived difference in taste between some tap water and bottled water does not always imply that the tap water is of lower quality. The difference in taste can be attributed to factors such as chlorination or higher mineral content.
Using a filter to improve the flavor of tap water is one option for improving its flavor. Alternatively, adding ice and a slice of lemon to each glass can give tap water a refreshing twist.
Cost and convenience
The advantages of drinking tap water are convenience and affordability. To obtain a safe and refreshing source of drinking water, simply turn on a faucet.
Furthermore, tap water is available outside the home. It is widely available in restaurants and public drinking fountains, providing a free way to quench your thirst.
Water companies use various chemical treatments and processes to protect against contamination before storing treated water in holding tanks.
Similarly, after drinking a glass of water, most people clean it by hand or in a dishwasher, which requires the use of chemicals and energy, both of which have an impact on the environment. Nonetheless, when it comes to environmental impact, tap water outperforms bottled water, according to a report on the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority's website.
The most significant advantage is the lack of disposable packaging associated with tap water, which eliminates the risk of such packaging ending up in landfills or recycling centers.
Read Next: Do You Really Need 8 Glasses Of Water A Day?
Pros and cons of bottled water
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) establishes bottled water standards to ensure that manufacturers handle and transport the water in sanitary conditions while employing processes to ensure its safety.
Bottled water is generally considered safe for consumption as a result of these regulations. Nonetheless, bottled water recalls may occur in rare cases due to contamination concerns. One major source of concern is the presence of plastic in bottled water. According to studies, a significant portion of bottled water contains microplastics, which may pose health risks.
One 2018 study, for example, tested 11 globally sourced brands of bottled water from nine different countries. The researchers found that 93% of the bottles showed some signs of microplastic contamination and that they contained double the amount present in tap water.
Findings indicate that the contamination in bottled water may stem partly from the packaging process. Researchers are now exploring the potential impact of these microplastics on human health.
Microplastics fall into the category of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, similar to obesogens, and can affect metabolism, reproduction, oxidative stress, and other factors in humans, animals, and marine life. Individuals with weakened immune systems should exercise caution with their drinking water, opting for bottled water treated to safeguard against the Cryptosporidium parasite.
Although FDA inspections of bottled water plants are infrequent, two brands, Safeway Select in 2001 and Sam's Choice in 2005 have been recalled due to contamination. Comparatively, consumer access to information and contaminant levels in bottled water is limited compared to the disclosure requirements mandated for tap water by the EPA.
Taste and source
While some individuals may have a preference for the taste of bottled water, numerous studies indicate that the majority of people cannot discern a difference between tap and bottled water.
When buying bottled water, it's essential to consider its source. Many bottled water products are essentially filtered tap water.
Water originating from underground sources or fresh springs will bear one of the following FDA-approved labels:
- Artesian well water
- Mineral water
- Spring water
- Well water
Furthermore, those who enjoy flavored or sparkling water may find bottled water more appealing. Several water brands offer citrus- or berry-flavored options, and sparkling water has gained popularity as a refreshing alternative to still water.
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Cost and convenience
According to some estimates, bottled water costs nearly 2,000 times more than tap water, and combining single-serve water bottles to make a gallon can cost nearly three times the price of a gallon of milk, which is the national average.
This observation is intriguing when you consider that bottled water is frequently just filtered tap water.
Despite the significant cost difference, people may choose bottled water for its convenience, especially when they are on the go and do not have access to a faucet. In such cases, having a readily available bottle may be preferable.
According to research, the bottling, refrigeration, and transportation of water, as well as the disposal of plastic bottles, cause significantly more environmental harm than tap water.
For example, water bottling in the United States consumed 4 billion pounds of plastic in 2016, requiring energy equivalent to 64 million barrels of oil.
According to the non-profit Container Recycling Institute, over 60 million plastic water bottles are discarded in the United States every day, with many of them ending up in landfills, waterways, and streets, causing pollution.
Furthermore, as these plastic bottles degrade, harmful toxins are released. While some people attempt to reuse plastic water bottles to reduce environmental impact, doing so may present long-term risks, including bacterial growth and the leaching of toxins from the bottles.
So which is better?
In general, tap water proves to be a superior choice for most individuals due to its convenience, affordability, and minimal environmental impact compared to bottled water.
Moreover, tap water's safety matches that of bottled water, and taste differences are hardly noticeable to most people.
While bottled water might occasionally be more accessible or convenient, carrying a reusable bottle filled with tap water and refilling it at public drinking facilities can be a simple solution.
For those who prefer the taste of bottled water, using a water filter can be beneficial, as much bottled water is essentially filtered tap water. Alternatively, adding ice and slices of fruit can enhance the flavor of tap water.
Certain individuals, such as those with weaker immune systems, pregnant women, or older individuals, should take extra precautions with their drinking water. Seeking advice from a doctor can help determine whether specific bottled waters or boiled tap water are suitable options for them.