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Bottled Water? What Was I Thinking?

This article was written by in Economy. 33 comments.


A few years ago, when I started paying attention to my diet, I found that drinking at least a liter of water a day kept my brain functioning better, and in the case of two liters a day, kept me from gaining weight. Where I was living, the tap water was unpalatable, so I made a habit of stopping at the Kwik-E-Mart and buying some bottled water for the road trip and the rest of my morning.

I’ve been a fan of recycling since I was a child, so none of my bottles ever got thrown away, but they hardly ever saw a second use. What I didn’t realize (and please forgive my lateness in arriving to this party) was how many of the Earth’s natural resources went into making, filling and then shipping each bottle so that I can buy it in the morning. Let me sum up: a lot.

Some alarming statistics from Wikipedia:

  • The Pacific Institute estimates that producing the bottles for American consumption in 2006 required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil.
  • Once the bottle is created and filled with water, large amounts of fossil fuel are expended delivering the water from its source to end user by means of ground transportation.
  • If a container holds 1 litre it requires 3 to 5 litres of water in its manufacturing process

bottled-water

When people hear “petroleum,” we think “I use gas in my car”, but food costs and petroleum prices are so tightly knit. I am embarrassed that I never realized that before. If only to help reduce our dependency on oil (foreign or otherwise), I have stopped drinking bottled water.

My wife and I finally hooked up the water line to our refrigerator, which has a filter and a water dispenser (it was not an expensive refrigerator), and I started looking for a resuable mug for my water. I wanted something that could fit a liter, but I settled for the 32 oz. Eddie Bauer model in the picture over on the side. I found it at Target on one of our increasingly-consolidated shopping trips.

The mug cost about $16. The water line was at Lowe’s for $7. I imagine our water utility bill will be higher than it was, but annually, I bet I’ll still be saving money over $1.09 / day. More importantly, I’m helping reduce our need for oil. Please consider joining me in this effort.

Published or updated August 4, 2008. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Smithee formerly lived primarily on credit cards and the good will of his friends. He is a newbie to personal finance but quickly learning from his past mistakes. You can follow him on Twitter, where his user name is @SmitheeConsumer. View all articles by .

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Kevin

Welcome to the party :)

$16 seems a bit much for me, but I guess it gets the job done. I got some generic 32 oz. water bottle for $3.47 at Target about 6 months ago. I’ve been using it ever since.

Have you heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Really sad.. our oceans are our landfills for plastic.

More info:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_Garbage_Patch
http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/02/great_pacific_garbage_patch.php
http://discovermagazine.com/2008/jul/10-the-worlds-largest-dump

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avatar Julie

This probably isn’t the place to encourage spending more money, but I’d invest in a metal bottle like SIGG instead of using the plastic bottle. Research is still being done, but harmful chemicals have been found to leach from polycarbonate plastic into the drinking water in the bottle (and onto other dishes if the bottles go through the dishwasher and are heated). Better safe than sorry – the SIGG bottles are pricey but worth it.

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avatar Miranda

We got a water filter about a year ago so that we can get water straight from the tap. It took about three months to recoup the cost of the filter (it’s kind of expensive — but we wanted something that wouldn’t break down and we don’t have a filter in our fridge), and our water use bill hasn’t gone up that much overall.

I love our filter, love that we’re saving money over bottled water and love that we are a little more earth friendly than we used to be.

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avatar Twiggers

The research on the plastic bottles has not been confirmed, and the harm is typically to fetuses. You can get plastic ones that are free from the chemical.

I don’t ever pay for bottled water, biggest waste of money I can think of. I use the water cooler at work, and at home I have a filter on the fridge and a filter on the tap. I drink about 100 oz. a day, so that would be about 5 bottles of water….so I’m saving a bit of money, and have been reusing the same plastic water bottle for over 6 months now.

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avatar Smithee ♦1,358 (Quarter)

We saw some SIGG bottles in a store the other day. They are gorgeous, but the mouth at the top is so small, it’s hard to imagine getting a sponge in there when it comes time to clean the thing.

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avatar Bill

You’re a moron. You paid $16 for a bottle? Are you serious? Maybe you meant $1.60

Either way… why not use any of the bottles that you found perfectly fine when you drank out of them from the Kwik-E-Mart?

Dumb dumb dumb.

I have a bridge I’m selling if you’re interested.

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avatar Smithee ♦1,358 (Quarter)

Hi, Bill. $16 is actually pretty average for a solid, reusable bottle (like in this collection of bottles on Amazon).

I’m not re-using the otherwise-single-use kind because it would melt in my dishwasher.

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avatar Jason Kratz

A metal bottle like a SIGG is definitely a better idea but putting that aside to answer Bill: those bottles are not intended for reuse.

I’m happy to see someone else realizing just how ridiculous bottled water really is. I’m not sure how tap water has become so maligned over the years because in most cases it tastes just fine (municipal water that is). If you really think a filter is necessary something like the PUR filter that screws right on to the faucet works quite well.

Smithee: your water costs are not going to go up enough to make you notice. Municipal water is *cheap*. You’re paying cents per gallon vs dollars in those small bottles.

It would be nice if more people would realize that petroleum doesn’t just equal “gas in the tank”. Its used in so many products it’s kind of scary. When you factor in the petroleum required for fertilizers, etc. for agribusiness the whole thing becomes even scarier. These are the reasons why we need to find alternative sources of energy to power our homes, our vehicles, etc. It’s not just gas in the tank.

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avatar Industry and Frugality

I keep all of our leftover plastic bottles and try to find uses for them. If I start to accumulate too many, I take them to the recycling drop off. Some things I’ve used plastic bottles for are a holder for a toilet brush, a funnel for oil changes, a bird feeder, and of course a reusable container. I’m sure there are many other uses you could come up with. Great job changing from bottled water to tap water. It’s definitely cheaper and better for the environment and I think it’s supposed to be healthier too (depending on the quality of your local water).

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avatar DavidtheZombie

For a insightful and funny view of bottled water see this Penn and Teller’s movie http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfPAjUvvnIc enjoy! congrats on your conversion Smithee

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avatar KC

I open a plastic bottle of water every so often as I might buy one at a convienance store or a ballgame. Then I reuse it with refill tap water for about a month. Then recycle. Our tap water is some of the finest in the country – the city actually sells it to bottlers in other parts of the country. So we’re fortunate in that regard.

But I’m always going to be drinking bottled water in some capacity. Like I said if I stop at a convienance store I’m probably going to buy a bottle. I know its more expensive, but I’d rather put it in my body than a Coke.

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avatar Paul

I agree completely. So many people think drinking bottled water is more healthy or more pure, but really it’s not that much different than if you get a good filter. The amount of money you save and the harm to our environment and economy that you prevent makes it more than worth a small investment.

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avatar Dan

FYI, SIGG refuses to confirm whether the lining they use on the inside of their aluminum bottles is BPA-free or not. So you may not be any safer drinking from a SIGG. Most new bottles are BPA free now, anyway (e.g. Nalgene and Camelbak). If you’re that concerned, just keep a glass at your desk and fill it up when you get to work, at lunch, and right after lunch.

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avatar Osri

The reason one might ask the question ‘what was I thinking’ – is because

1. We let others do the thinking for us.
2. We believe everything ‘they’ tell us.
3. We’re afraid to act on our original thoughts.
4. We’re afraid to use common sense (may be different than original thoughts)
5. We accept blame for things that our not our fault.

The business owner who asks the factory to make the plastic bottles to sell convenience size portions of water so he can fill a need and make money at the same time is at fault.

The auto manufacturer who makes the gas guzzlers is at fault.

The consumer only buys what the business is selling. We have no control over what they make – only they do.

Ah, but we can stop buying…..don’t go there – that’s the vicious guilt circle.

You can certainly buy the better alternative – such as a filter for your home water tap (you’ll save money in the long run and you’ll be saving the planet from the burden of your waste) – but it’s only the awareness or the consciousness of the business owner who can make a change.

Look at the millions of iPods being sold – only to be obsolete next year or the year after. Steve Jobs needs to make a long lasting iPod. As they say ‘they don’t make’em like they used to’. Take the common cooling fan for instance – almost everybody has one – and it lasts for years and years – it fills a simple need and works for a long time.

Hopefully you get the picture.

Great article by the way.

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avatar Max

someone did you a favor (or maybe you did yourself one) by stumbling this page. you must have an appreciable amount of traffic to get so many comments in a day, so good work. I’ve done away with bottled water myself, but I’m sorry to say $16 is way too much to spend for a bottle (you paid for the name on the side I’m afraid). Nalgenes are the best bottles for me- they run about $7 (sorry, no Eddie Bauer badge) and easily hold the liter you were looking for. The were found to leach harmful chemicals, but they recently changed their production process to stop this.

By the way, 32oz isnt really a compromize for a liter- its only about 56 ml short.

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avatar Max

Oh, and @ osri, how are ipods obsolete the next year? I’ve had mine for over 2 years now and I don’t plan on getting a new one anytime soon. My mom’s is at least 6 years old, and it still works fine. I don’t get how you can put the responsibility on the business owner- if there is demand for a product, they would be foolish not to continue filling that demand and making a profit doing so. It is purely the consumer’s responsibility to eliminate the demand for irresponsible products. It is the consumers that must stop buying new ipods every year just because they look newer and shinier. If we get over our obsession with having the best and newest to nurse our image and sense of self-confidence, then there would be less of a demand and companies would have to reduce production. It is ignorant and irresponsible to blame companies for this- they are only producing things that will make them the most money. As soon as we, the consumers, turn our attention from convenience and image to responsibility and conservation, the climate of consumerism will begin to decline. Unfortunately, Americans are hopelessly obsessed with their ‘stuff’ and I feel the downfall of the country will precede this shift. Just my opinion though.

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avatar William White

I drink water all the time, from a glass from the tap or from a fountain. At home we keep a 2l glass jug in the fridge and usually empty it at most meals. What I don’t understand is the need to carry it around. If you can’t go 3-4 hours without a drink of water there is something wrong with you and you should see a Doctor. I’m a Carpenter, I do hard work and have no problem getting through till lunch without water. Sometimes I’ll have a Coffee at 10AM but if I don’t get one I don’t get all weird over it. These freaks that run around with water bottles like pacifiers are either not well or have entirely too much time on their hands. Look at me I’m trendy and stupid so I carry water. Arseholes!

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avatar Osri

Max says – I’ve had mine (iPod) for over 2 years now and I don’t plan on getting a new one anytime soon.

me — That’s just you. I have a fan that’s over 20 years old. Will your iPod still be around that long?

Max says – they (biz owner) would be foolish not to continue filling that demand and making a profit doing so.

me — Bingo! That’s why they keep doing it.

Max says – If we get over our obsession with having the best and newest to nurse our image and sense of self-confidence, then there would be less of a demand and companies would have to reduce production.

me — That’s the vicious guilt circle – I told you not to go there. The biz owner knows the human weakness better than we know ourselves – and it is ‘they’ who are taking advantage of our weaknesses. Just like people who are overweight – people need to eat – they eat what tastes good – fat/salt/sugar tastes good – so that’s what the biz owner sells. If the biz owner sells fruits, vegetables, meat and whole grains – that’s what we’ll buy and we’ll be healthier.

If you think ‘making the most money’ is what’s most acceptable – then you won’t understand what’s wrong with the opinions you hold.

If you think saving the planet from the burden of excessive waste is more important, then you’ll begin to see why biz owners are the ones who are really in control. I happen to be a retailer who sells the products that are available. I wish better products were available, I wish more earth friendly products were available – but they’re not. I have to buy what’s out there and you have to buy what I’m selling – like it or not. The only choice you have is where you buy your products. As soon as the biz owners who create the products we buy begin to have a conscious about what they’re selling, then the product will change.

The other problem biz owners have to deal with is the stock market. The biz owner is beholden to the shareholders – not the buyer. If they don’t produce a profit – then they have to change the way the product is made (make it cheaper) – or they have to design the newest, coolest gizmo or gadget (new iPod models) – so the buying process starts all over again.

…. as the world turns….

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avatar Tim in Oxnard
avatar Credit Addict

@Dan: Here’s a quote from the CEO of SIGG:

“Very thorough migration testing in laboratories around the world is conducted regularly and has consistently shown SIGG aluminum bottles to have no presence of lead, phthalates, Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), Bysphenol A (BPA), Bysphenol B (BPB) or any other chemicals which scientists have deemed as potentially harmful.”

The reason that they don’t disclose the contents of the liner is that it’s a trade secret.

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avatar TML

What also bothers me about the bottled water industry is that (a) it is now harder to find bottles with sport tops, meaning that it is more difficult to re-use the bottles and (b) some companies that do make sport tops are trying to make them non-reusable. Wasteful and anti-consumer to be sure.

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avatar Patrick

I use a stainless steel Kleen Kanteen, which I recently purchased. The water tastes better than from a reusable plastic bottle, and I think metal is better for the environment in the long run. Either way you go, reusable plastic or metal, it is surely better than buying a daily bottle of water. :-)

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avatar Matt

Let’s keep the liberal enviromental policy kool-aid out of the story. And focus on the aspects of saving money not make it some OwlGore rant about ‘saving the planet.’ After all God did put oil below his green Earth for mankind to utilize!

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avatar Sam

Agree, you could save more if you use filtered tap water. In our case, we even made money from it. We purchased a water purification system (3 huge containers each undergoing several purification process) and sold it to our neighbors using their own containers. It’s not yet attached to the ref but so far, we save earth and we earn cash too!

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avatar Jason Kratz

@Matt

Actually God had nothing to do with it…more like dead dinosaurs, etc. That being said the supply isn’t unlimited and shouldn’t be wasted on plastic bottles holding something that you can get from your tap (like everyone used to do…..the widespread sales of water in bottles is a very recent thing). Has nothing to do with “liberal enviromental policy kool-aid”.

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avatar joe

Kleen Kanteen is a rival to SIGG that doesn’t have a plastic/epoxy liner and also has a wider mouth so it is easier to clean and can fit regular sized ice cubes. Personally, I reuse glass containers. Nantucket Nectars juices bottles are perfect. I just clean ‘em out, remove the label, fill with tap water, and stick in the fridge.

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avatar Matt

back @ Jason

Actually God has everything to do with it in His master plan. That is why millions of years ago when all of the plants died and eventually turned into oil for us to use today. If you think about that…… oil is 100% organic since it is escentially created within the ground over time. Every single day…. all the plants that die in the forests and ocean will one day become this renewable resource of petrolem.

Think about it…just imagine how much of a fit that you liberals would throw if humans tried to put oil BACK into the ground. IE man is actually doing the planet a favor by removing this oil from the ground and disposing of it so it doesn’t pollute anything else.

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avatar joe

@ Matt:

Are you serious?! God’s master plan?! Okay, genius. Oil is organic but it is not renewable in the sense that we can tap into it tomorrow. It takes millions of years for the material to break down underground and be converted into pure carbon. However, man has partly broken this cycle. The petroleum that we are tapping into today was the result of undisturbed forests and jungles dying and being buried by years of soil accumulation and build-up. That is not happening today. Many forests and jungles are either being burned-down to be converted to farm land or harvested.

By the way. Oil underground is not polluting the earth. Only when it is tapped into and brought to the surface is it polluting…whether through spills or when burned and producing emissions. This isn’t a liberal / conservative issue. It is common sense. However, if the intellect that is just displayed by your moronic comment is indicative of all so-called “conservatives”, then God help us. Dumb, short-sighted, and selfish.

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avatar ChristianPF

Although I don’t have one yet – I am a fan of the Reverse Osmosis filters that you install under your sink. Great clean water every time and no bottles going to fill up landfills…

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avatar Jesse

We’ll buy bottled water, mainly for storage purposes and for taking on trips and things like that. I’ll reuse the same bottle for about a month before I actually retire it. I may consider just buying one of those SIGG bottles though and curb our use further.

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avatar garance

Hi!

Well, it is good to care about the environment. Yet, I am not sure that people will suddenly turn to tap bc U.S. is the country of the “take out”. So, for the ones who still wanna do sth good: Volvic is actually giving HUGE amount of clean drinkable water through UNICEF; Check it out: http://www.drink1give10.com

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avatar Sara

Your right on the money by drinking water from your tap. I’ve used a countertop filter for years now and wouldn’t go back. It’s a lot cheaper than bottled water, tastes better and of course is environmentally more friendly.

I think just like cigarettes, advertising really can make people do things they might otherwise think twice about. I was floored when I started my blog to find so much info about dangers and costs, like you mentioned, and wonder why I didn’t know any of this before. I never bothered to take the time to find out.

Keep up the good work.

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avatar Uncle Ray

We love our PUR water filter. It broke our addiction to bottled water and taste better. Saving us a ton of time and money to!

Great post!

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