Save Money by Understanding the Economics of Bottled Water

by Lynn B. Johnson on February 12, 2010

save-money-on-waterBack in August of 2009, Yian Mui of the Washington Post reported that “sales of bottled water have fallen for the first time in at least five years.” Its meteoric rise to popularity was astonishing: sales of bottled water “swelled 59 percent to $5.1 billion between 2003 to 2008, making it one of the fastest growing beverages.”

So, economically, if you owned shares in a company that sold bottled water, you probably received a tidy return on your investment.

But was it worth it?

Water corporations privatize water supplies; these private utilities “charge an average of 30% more for water than public utilities,” according to Food and Water Watch.

Think you’re not affected by that? The National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), an organization that “represents all aspects of the private water service industry,” reports that “Every day nearly 73 million Americans – almost one in four — receive water service from a privately owned water utility or a municipal utility operating under a public-private partnership.” The organization’s Web site also states that “private water companies own nearly 16 percent of the nation’s community water systems.”

Are you paying more for a shower because your water utility has been privatized? Are privatized utilities more concerned about the safety of your water or the payoffs to their shareholders? Do you think that might be worth looking into?

Let’s table your tap for a moment — your tap being a source of cheap water, especially when you tote it with you in a reusable bottle — and focus more closely at the delivery of bottled-water products. According to Food and Water Watch, “bottled water production and transport uses as much as 2,000 times more energy than it takes to produce tap water.” Additionally, it takes “more than 17 million barrels of oil — enough to fuel 1 million cars for a year” to produce the plastic water bottles sold annually in the United States.

Looking for some even more horrifying statistics? “Nearly 86% of all empty plastic bottles end up in our landfills rivers, or oceans,” according to Food and Water Watch.

You’ve probably heard of the floating continent of plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean — here is a first-hand account from Transpac sailor Charles Moore, who says “estimating the debris at half a pound for every hundred square meters of sea surface… the weight of the debris was about 3 million tons, comparable to a year’s deposition at Puente Hills, Los Angeles’s largest landfill.” And that was 12 years ago, in 1998. Moore’s report, which was published in Natural History v.112, n.9, November 2003, includes a heartbreaking photo of a decomposed Laysan albatross: bottle caps and other plastic objects are visible in its stomach chamber.

Yes, bottled water is convenient. But at what cost? Are the economics of convenience more compelling than the economics of enough fuel for a million cars each year, of trashed oceans, of landfills overflowing with plastics that will never biodegrade, and oceans filled with plastic polymers that “are sponges for DDT, PCBs, and other oily pollutants”?

Compare the convenience aspect of bottled water with the Food and Water Watch report that pre-packaged water costs “$.89 to $8.26 per gallon, while tap water costs $.002 per gallon.”

From an economic standpoint, it’s hard to argue with that kind of cost savings. So, do you want to save money, resources, AND the environment? Stop buying bottled water. Today.

Instead, you can choose from 32 BPA-free, reusable water bottles as tested by the Good Housekeeping Research Institute. Their #1 choice, a 24-oz. bottle from Nalgene, costs $10.20.

And, if you put your ear to it, you can almost hear the Pacific Ocean marine life, thanking you for your wise choice.

Discussion

Lillie
This is interesting information. Thanks for offering the alternative for the bottled water that is BPA-free. I will definitely investigate the option.
February 23 at 09:41 am
Neesha
Cool article, makes you think. Never disappointed by these guys. Am going to check out their #1 choice, a 24-oz. bottle from Nalgene right now.
February 18 at 13:31 pm
Lynn B. Johnson
Thanks, Neesha. Let us know how the Nalgene bottle works out for you!
March 5 at 09:50 am
ParisGirl111
I didn't realize that it took that much energy to create the plastic bottles. Maybe a better method would be to buy 24 re-usable containers, fill them with filtered water, and keep them in the fridge. Then, you have the convenience of bottled water while still being friendly to the environment and you wallet. :)

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February 17 at 09:19 am
Lynn B. Johnson
Yes, exactly! Also, I find that when I keep a large bottle of water on my desk (rather than an 8 oz or 16 oz glass), I drink more water throughout the day. Healthy AND convenient.

You are safest with a BPA-free bottle, as suggested.
March 5 at 09:48 am
ParisGirl111
However, I have heard that those re-usable bottles become unsafe after they have been exposed to certain amounts of heat or freezing cold.
February 17 at 09:20 am
Mark
12 years ago would this plastic island in the Pacific Ocean have more likely been made up of soda bottles rather than water bottles? Where is any reference to soft drinks, and other plactic containers in the bottled water debate - and isn't soda just bottled water with acid, preservative, coloring, flavoring and other stuff addded?
February 13 at 17:40 pm
Jim
Can you get soda from your tap?

The debate is can you drink the SAME thing while saving money and the environment??
February 18 at 10:40 am
Lynn B. Johnson
Exactly. Thanks, Jim.
March 5 at 09:49 am
G. Ray. Dody II
Agreed Wes and well said. I've never understood why these nuts chose to pick on water bottles instead of Coke or Pepsi bottles. Soft drinks remain the nuimber one seller.
February 13 at 16:58 pm
Lynn B. Johnson
Yes, but soft drinks aren't available from a typical household faucet.
March 5 at 09:48 am
Wes Strickland
Private water companies do not exist because of some attempt to "privatize" water. They have grown up historically because government-owned utilities either could not or refused to provide service. Private water companies are regulated by the states in all their actions, and their water supplies are "dedicated to the public" which means that they cannot be used for any purpose other than serving the public. This public v. private water utility debate is merely fearmongering.
February 13 at 16:06 pm

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