Bottled Water


By Matthew Yglesias

I walked into the office kitchen a bit earlier hoping to buy a Diet Coke from the vending machine and what did I see lying around but a half-full box of liter bottles of Gerolsteiner mineral water — my favorite mineral water in the world. Naturally I grabbed one and scurried back to my desk. My water connoisseurship is a relic of the extremely pretentious phase I went through in the years 1998–2001 or so. Since then I’ve mostly stopped being an extremely pretentious teenager, but damnit I still do like a good water. Which reminds me that Mark Bittman decided to round out his interesting list of kitchen items you should ditch with a supplementary blog post that propagated shameful anti-water myths:

Bottled water. It takes a lot of energy to produce a bottle to contain something that you can get by turning on the tap, and the quality is not necessarily better — and may be worse! (Buy a Brita, if you must . . . )

Look. It’s true that the quality of your bottle water “is not necessarily better” than what’s in your tap. And the quality of some vegetables you just cooked “is not necessarily better” than an Amy’s Organic Burrito. Which is why it’s better to buy good produce than bad produce, and why we have people recommending recipes and so forth. Obviously it’s dumb to buy water that’s worse than tap water (cough—Aquafina—cough) but that shouldn’t cast aspersions on the many fine waters out there. As for the energy, the salient point is this. Bottled water has a bigger environmental footprint than tap water. But bottled water has a smaller environmental footprint than do all other beverages you’ll find in a bottle or a can. Soda or apple juice or milk has all the energy costs associated with bottling water, but also involve various energy intensive agricultural processes. So if you want to be really monastic about your energy usage then, yes, you should be drinking tap water. But not tap water instead of bottled water, tap water instead of everything. If, as in my case, a delicious bottle of mineral water tempts you away from a soda, then you’re doing the environment a favor.

Last but by no means least, heavy mineral waters are a decent source of some crucial life-sustaining minerals. The US Department of Agriculture, run by dairy lobbyists and assuming that the entire American population is Vikings, thinks you should eat “to to three servings of dairy a day” in order to obtain an adequate quantity of calcium. But for the overwhelming majority of the world’s population not descended from northern European stock (or this one tribe in Kenya) it never hurts to find non-dairy sources of calcium.


7 responses to “Bottled Water

  1. Distance counts?

    Yesterday I got caught up at work waiting for some stuff to finish up on the database server so I worked my way through Ezra’s tab dump. The very amusing Lewis Black piece inspired an investigation of my local convenience store. They sell water in 5 various packages from 4 different vendors. Some of these varieties are better, from a carbon standpoint, than others. Poland Spring brand, a Nestle product, cites its source as Latrobe, PA. Not a far distance from Pittsburgh where I live (and not all that far from DC either). The other brands did not cite sources or had sources in more far-flung locales. I’m guessing that folks in wet places around the country can choose a locally sourced bottled water easily enough much of the time and enjoy it in good conscience when tap water is funky or unavailable.

  2. Bottled water is no safer than tap water. It has NO health or safety regulations on it. Often it IS tap water. So, not particularly relevant for you mineral water lovers out there, but VERY important for people who think their (heavily regulated,some of the safest on earth) tap water is going to kill them.

    Some of us fought like hell to get and keep the Safe Drinking Water Act. It would be nice if people used the fantastic public water system we created.

  3. Not to mention that if you want to have something to drink on a plane — a notably dehydrating environment — you can’t take a canteen of tap water, because TSA goons will take it from you.

  4. Pingback: Water Woes « The Internet Food Association

  5. While it is true you can’t take a canteen of water through airport security and expect to still have it when you reach the other side of the conveyor belt… Taking the canteen itself is no problem. The tap water to fill it is readily available at the many restrooms located throughout the concourse.

    For canteen purposes, I suggest SIGG bottles, but military surplus works just as well if you prefer to avoid trendiness.

  6. Isn’t there a substitution issue here though? Pop or juice is a bit different that water, while tap water is often incredibly similar to tap water. So while if you want pop or juice, you need to get it in a container, you can get easily get water from the tap.

    Captain obvious I know, but its still an issue here on the ease of actually doing something to save the environment.

    Plus, is there anything worse than water stuck inside of a sealed non-biodegradable container and removed completely from the water cycle?

  7. RoboticGhost nails the issue I think. There’s no particular reason to believe that locally produced milk or soda is more carbon-intensive than water that is bottled and shipped in from Italy or Fiji or something.

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