Tip: The Bottled Water Scam

You too can become a bottled water entrepreneur and make scads of cash by bamboozling gullible people.

The-bottled-water-scam

You want a tip? I'll give you a tip, a tip that'll make you Submarine sports car, gold-plated iPhone, drink nothing but G Spirits (look it up) rich.

Here's what you do: Simply walk down your alley the night before the recycling trucks come and scavenge every plastic water bottle you can find from the bins. Wash them out if you're so inclined, and then... wait, is anybody listening to us? No? Okay, good. Then fill those bottles up with plain tap water.

Now come up with a name that gushes purity. Don't get too cute. Don't emulate Evian, because sooner or later, customers are going to figure out that Evian is just naïve spelled backwards and they're not going to like being mocked like that.

Next, sell your bottled water for up to 2,000 times what tap water costs! Maybe sell if for even more, as there's a company that sells Norwegian "iceberg water" for $90 a bottle. Brilliant, right?

And it's not even illegal! It's not even that unethical. How could it be? That's exactly what corporate paragons of virtue like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo did when they found out that the water didn't have to come from natural springs.

Granted, they "filtered" their water first, but you can do the same thing by slapping a carbon filter on your faucet.

And don't worry that the competition is too fierce. The world spent about $160 billion on these bottled waters in 2019 and the market is expected to grow to about $308 billion by 2025. There are still plenty of suckers out there willing to buy something that most of the world can get for virtually free from the tap.

Blatherskite and Tommyrot

Most people drink bottled water for the convenience, the presumed healthiness of it, or a combination of both. Yes, it's convenient, but get this straight: Despite my unserious explanation of how you can get into the bottled water business, bottled water is mostly pure blatherskite, flapdoodle, tommyrot, or whatever colorful word you prefer to use to convey nonsense.

Eric Goldstein, co-director of National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), says that, "...no one should think bottled water is better regulated, better protected, or safer than tap."

In fact, the nonprofit organization Food & Water Watch reports that tap water in the U.S. is subject to more testing than bottled water. Maybe that's okay, though, because more than 25% of bottled waters come from municipal water supplies.

And while it's true that some bottled waters come from springs, wells, and other pristine, virginal settings no doubt populated by fairies and elves, there's really no way of knowing quite what you're getting in bottled water.

In one well-known case, water from a well situated near a hazardous waste dump was marketed as spring water. In another, water that was advertised as pure Alaskan glacial water was simply water from the public water system of Alaska.

Some even contain phthalates, which are potent endocrine disrupters that could potentially lead to fetuses with squirrely reproductive organs. Now, most bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate, indicated by a 1 or PET or PETE on bottom. These bottles are generally safe, unless you store them in warm or hot temperatures, e.g., the cup holder of your Honda during summer days.

That's when they might start leaching chemicals like antimony into the water, which is a potentially toxic material. No one is quite sure what the effects of these chemicals could be in the long run.

Then there's the issue of plain ol', not-necessarily endocrine-disrupting plastics in general. A 2018 study found that out of 11 globally sourced brands of bottled waters, 93% of the bottles showed signs of microplastic contamination, more than double the amount found in some tap waters.

As far as bottled water regulation in general, the big problem stems from the fact that while the EPA regulates tap water, the FDA oversees bottled water. However, FDA oversight doesn't apply to water bottled and sold in the same state, which leaves upwards of 60 to 70% of water totally unregulated.

Of course, both organizations have lately been gutted of finances anyhow, so things are probably even more dire than before.

Polyethylene Terephthalate

What About Taste?

Most people can't tell if they're drinking pricey bottled water or Jus de Jersey, fresh from the tap. Case in point, a 2010 study found that most of the participants couldn't tell the difference between six different bottled mineral water and six municipal tap waters (when the tap waters were chlorine free, at least).

And even if your tap water doesn't taste as good as some bottled waters, it doesn't mean it's because of any alleged contaminants. It might just be, as pointed out immediately above, that it contains chlorine, or a higher mineral content.

Recommendations

I get that bottled water is sometimes a necessity. Flint or Puerto Rico or any disaster-ravaged place can attest to that fact. Still, for most of the rest of us, bottled waters are a complete waste of money.

Buying a glass or metal canister or canteen and reusing it makes a lot more sense, finance-wise and, sometimes, health-wise. Just make sure you wash that thing.

If you do, however, choose to drink bottled waters, keep them out of the heat, including storing them in your car on a hot day. Additionally, look for brands that have NSF (a third party, independent safety monitoring service) certifications or that belong to IBWA (International Bottled Water Association). You can check the label for NSF certification or check the label for the NSF logo.

References

  1. Sherri Mason, et al. "Synthetic Polymer Contamination in Bottle Water," Front Chem, 2018; 6: 407.
  2. Eric Teillet, et al. "Consumer Perception and Preference of Bottled and Tap Water," Journal of Sensory Studies, 07 June 2010.

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