Bottled vs. Tap Water – Revisited

Photo by Ricky Romero |

So, the bottled water vs. tap water debate. Where we left off, which side is right and which side is wrong? The answer...

... is sort of unclear. The best water for you depends on your own personal interests. In terms of safety, bottled water is regulated under Health Canada’s Food and Drug Act, but many researchers claim that the current legislation is not enough for the safety of Canadians. No license is required to sell bottled water in Canada and bottled water companies are not required to report the results of their safety analyses. In contrast, tap water in Canada is regulated at the municipal level, with a heavy push from the federal government. Drinking water is heavily tested, licensed and all adverse testing results are required to be reported.

On the production side of the debate, only a small amount of bottled water is checked as an indicator of the microbials inside a bottle, meaning that the water that gets put on the shelf may not be as safe as the test results report. However, people may argue that at least bottled water is tested before it hits the shelf because in some cases tap water can reach a consumer before safety test results are returned. Looking at taste, bottled water does not have chlorine added as a bacteriological control method whereas tap water does. While this means that bottled water requires greater precautions in transport, use and storage to ensure microbiological integrity, it also means that there is a residual chlorine taste in tap water.

From the environmental perspective, bottled water is more expensive, consumes more energy to produce and creates more waste. A 2009 study in the British Columbia Medical Journal found that the cost of tap water in Vancouver is on average 80 cents per 1000L, whereas bottled water cost on average $527 per 1000 L. In terms the amount of energy needed to produce bottled water, a 2010 study published in Environmental Research Letters found that on average bottled water requires 10-20 times the amount of energy required to produce tap water (depending multiple factors such as the size of the bottle, shipping locations etc). In terms of waste, bottled water produces an incredibly high number of ... you guessed it ... bottles, whereas tap water produces relatively few long term waste products (theoretically one could argue for the damages that dish washing the containers tap water is served in would cause, but that’s really a different discussion).

So in the end, there doesn’t really appear to be a clear winner. I am on the side of using tap water (which I’m sure you could have guessed, I do write for an eco-blog), but I will explain to you why. From the safety side of the debate, it is clear that tap water currently undergoes much more rigorous testing than does bottled water. However, one cannot discount the fact that in the past, there have been health problems with tap water in Canada and there have been no reported incidents with bottled water. From the taste side of the argument, it is clear that certain people have preferences for bottled water over tap water due to taste factors such as residual chlorine. In my opinion though, the true benefits of tap water over bottled water come from its environmental and cost impacts. With its greater energy saving, reduction of waste production and cheaper price, it is clear that tap water is the better choice in this category. So while tap water may taste a little more like chlorine and has had its health scares in the past, I personally chose tap water on a daily basis because of its benefits for the environment and my wallet! So the question for you when you choose between tap and bottled water, is what’s more important to you?