Is Buying Bottled Water a Waste of Money?

Bottled water vending machine
AtanasBozhikovNasko / Getty Images/iStockphoto

On a hot summer day, grabbing a bottle of ice-cold water is as refreshing and thirst-quenching as can be. As you gulp the water, you aren’t thinking about the cost — only how great it tastes.

You’re paying for that convenience of bottled water, for sure. But just how much more are you paying to drink bottled water than to fill up a glass or reusable container from the tap? You might be surprised.

Is buying bottled water a waste of money?

The Difference Between Bottled and Tap Water

Before it becomes tap water, municipal water goes through an extensive treatment process to make it safe to drink, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The water is sourced from surface water — which collects in a river, lake, stream, reservoir or ocean — or ground water, which is collected from below Earth’s surface, the CDC says.

When you buy bottled water, you’re purchasing either spring water or purified water. The website of Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water says its water is filtered and bottled at the source of a natural spring, while tap water — also known as municipal water — comes from sources such as reservoirs and streams but rarely springs.

What many consumers don’t know is that several brands of bottled water go through the purification process that municipal water does because it’s exactly that. In 2019, Coca-Cola Co. said most of its Dasani water was obtained from municipal water systems and purified. Aquafina, a division of PepsiCo Inc., comes from public water sources and then is put through “a rigorous purification process,” its website says.

Make Your Money Work for You

The Cost of Bottled Water

How much you’ll pay for bottled water depends on whether you buy it per bottle, say at a convenience store or fast-food restaurant, or by the case. One bottle costs about $2.

Prices for a 24-pack case vary by the brand and store. At Walmart, the house brand Great Value purified water costs $3.48, or 13.3 cents per bottle. At 7-Eleven, Ozarka spring water runs $4.99, or 20.8 cents each.

At Ralphs in Southern California, you’ll pay $6.49 — or about 27 cents each — for Dasani. The prices are before taxes and any applicable bottle-redemption fee.

If you’re a fan of flavored water, you already know that costs considerably more. Costco sells a 15-pack of Hint for $14.99 – a dollar each.

The Cost of Tap Water

In New York City, the average single-family household uses about 70,000 gallons of water each year. Water is measured per 100 cubic feet, which translates to 748 gallons. At a cost of $4.10 per 100 cubic feet, that NYC household spends about $384 a year on water for all uses, according to the city.

In Minneapolis, the rate is $3.68 per cubic foot, plus a nominal fee of $10 per household per year to go toward safe drinking water. In Denver, where rates are tiered depending on water usage, the rate ranges from $2.44 to $5.86 per 748 gallons. In Los Angeles, residents using the amount in the highest tier pay $12.79.

Adding It Up

Since we don’t drink water in cubic feet, just how much would it cost to fill that 16.9-ounce bottle with H20?

Make Your Money Work for You

Let’s use that high mark of $5.86 in Denver to figure it out. Remember that rate is for 748 gallons, which equals 95,744 ounces. That ounce total would fill 5,665 of our bottles.

For $5.86, you could consume 15 bottles per day, for an entire year.

Even the staunchest bottled water fan can’t deny that deal.

So here’s an idea: Instead of throwing your empty bottles in the recycling bin, fill them with tap water. Let them get good and cold in the fridge; and, when you’re really thirsty and gulping it down, see whether you notice a difference.

You might not. A 2018 report posted by PubMed, a division of the National Institutes of Health, said a test of two groups — one that was pro bottled water, the other that favored tap water — showed that “neither consumer group was able to distinguish tap from bottled water samples.”

If you can’t either, maybe it’s time to ditch the bottled water and save big on your grocery bill.

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