Bottled water and tap water are strikingly comparable when it comes to the discussion of water quality and safety. The decision comes down to personal preference, aside from cases of contamination which can occur in both bottled and tap water.
The safety standards for each type of water are similar but are regulated by different agencies. Bottled water gets its rules from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Tap water is regulated by the government known as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The EPA requires that all public water sources and providers publish a consumer confidence report each year. This report outlines the water quality, testing results, and any known possible contaminants.
Private wells are not regulated by the EPA. Private wells represent the one case where bottled water is inherently safer. Most homeowners that use well water neglect to have safety studies done each year. This can lead to unknown contamination of varying severity.
The FDA is equivalently strict with their requirements of bottled water producers. The rules regulate the storage and shipment of water, the source quality, and frequent testing of the water quality.
There are some naturally occurring elements that make their way into tap water that can lead to discoloration. Many municipal treatment facilities use chlorine as a disinfectant, which makes the water safe but can cause a poor taste.
Anyone with a compromised immune system due to illness or treatments for illness should consider boiling water or using bottled water, as tap water can contain very minimal levels of bacteria that could impact those with immune deficiencies.
The Tap vs The Bottle
Tap water often gets a bad rap because of certain high-profile contamination problems like those in Flint, Michigan. As in the Flint case, the contaminant is lead being leached into the supply by antiquated plumbing systems - not a water source problem.
Bottled water certainly has a place in situations where public supplies are experiencing issues or there is no nearby source of clean water. However, from a general perspective tap water is just as safe as bottled water.
With the safety issue settled, there are reasons consumers might consider leaning back toward choosing tap water over bottled products. First, bottled water typically costs about $9.50 per gallon. Tap water? Comes in at a .005 cents per gallon. Bottled water is often 2,000 times as expensive as the water from your tap.
Bottled water is impacting the environment far beyond simply clogging waterways with empty bottles. Four billion pounds of plastic per year is used to produce bottled water. The production of plastic requires the use of large volumes of oil. Estimates suggest 64 million barrels is required to create four billion pounds of plastic.
The choice between tap and bottle is up to the consumer in most scenarios. Bottled water companies have done a good job of marketing themselves as a better option. Bottled water is best suited for convenience and emergency use.