The Real Cost of Bottled Water

Thanks to Great Courses Plus for supporting PBS. Imagine there are two brands of the same product
that are almost identical in quality, but one costs 3,000 times more than the other…
which do you buy? Not exactly a brain-buster, I know, but millions
of Americans fail this test every day. What is this exotic product with the power
to warp people’s financial sense beyond recognition? Water. According to the EPA, the average price of
tap water in America is approximately $2 per 1,000 gallons. Which means that a 16 oz. glass of water will
run you about 3 hundredths of a cent–and it’s delivered right into your house, on
demand, 24 hours a day. So how did it become reasonable–fashionable,
even–to buy the same product at prices higher than milk or gasoline? Since the early 20th century, when advances
in engineering and chemistry enabled cities to process and distribute safe, clean drinking
water to millions of residents, bottled water has been seen primarily as an indulgence of
wealthy elites. However, in the last couple decades, bottled
water has had a remarkable resurgence, thanks largely to rising concerns over the health
risks of sugary drinks. As sales of Coke and Pepsi have declined,
these companies are trying to make up the difference by encouraging consumers to buy
bottled water as a healthy alternative. And it’s working. In 1975, the average American only drank about
a gallon and a half of bottled water a year. Today, that figure is around 30 gallons! In 2016, sales of bottled water surpassed
even soda, but tap water remains bottled water’s biggest competitor, with a price advantage
that seems hard to beat. So bottlers’ marketing strategy is to present
their product as safer, tastier, and more convenient. But is it? Municipal systems typically draw their water
from sources like wells, rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. Chemicals are added that bond with dirt and
particles which settle at the bottom of the tank. The water is then filtered through sand, gravel
and charcoal, and one last round of chemicals is added–like chlorine to kill any remaining
parasites, and fluoride to prevent tooth decay. Most systems are quality tested dozens of
times a day in accordance with the Safe Drinking Water Act, and notwithstanding some recent
tragic contaminations, it’s considered to be overwhelmingly safe. So, where does bottled water come from? Well, about a third of it comes from the same
place! Many companies just fill their bottles from
municipal taps after a quick extra filtration. After all, 90% of the treatment has already
been done by the city, and they’re selling it for less than a penny a gallon! The rest of bottled water comes from natural
sources like springs and groundwater, which can be even cheaper, depending on local regulations. In California, Nestlé pays the Forest Service
about $525 annually to extract over 30 million gallons–which they will eventually sell for
192,000 times more! While there are health and safety regulations
placed on the bottled water industry, they are actually less stringent than municipal
ones. Bottled water companies are typically allowed
to do most of their own testing, and unlike municipal water systems, when they do find
contaminates, they’re often not forced to do recalls or even alert the public. If bottled water isn’t necessarily safer
than tap, what about the taste? Well, this may depend on where you live. Tap water in some cities, like Los Angeles,
tends to get poor scores on taste surveys, even though tests show it to be as clean–or
cleaner–than bottled water. New York’s tap water, on the other hand,
routinely beats the pants off bottled water in blind taste tests. The difference has less to do with quality
and more where it comes from and how it’s treated. Convenience outside of the house may be the
only contest that bottled water’s got locked up. 12 ounces of ice cold H2O prepackaged in a
lightweight container you can toss in a trash can is definitely easier than hunting around
for a public water fountain. But that convenience comes at a pretty steep
social cost. About 3.8 million tons of plastic are used
to make water bottles every year, and only a fraction of that gets recycled. Manufacturing them uses the equivalent of
17 million barrels of oil and 3 times as much water as actually goes into them. All in all, it’s estimated that bottled
water takes about 2000 times more energy to produce and distribute than tap water. Now, there are some (rare) situations where
bottled water makes sense. For instance, anytime a natural disaster compromises
municipal supplies, residents have no choice but to rely on bottled water. Besides, we drink way too much La Croix to
make any judgements. Is it Croy? I thought it was Cwah. Cwah. Croy. La Croix. Croix. Not Croy. Not Rue de la Croy. Croix. And if you’ve ever been told by your city
to boil your water before drinking, you know that city water systems do sometimes fail
safety standards. This can be caused by pollutants seeping into
the groundwater, or storms washing waste into reservoirs, but the primary culprit is crumbling
infrastructure. Most of the municipal water systems in the
U.S. were built about a hundred years ago, and designed to last about a hundred years,
so today America has literally millions of miles of water pipes that need fixing or replacing. And with federal funding for infrastructure
at historically low levels, cities are scrambling to find the money to do it. That’s essentially what happened in Flint,
Michigan in 2014. City officials tried to save money by switching
to a new water source, and then tried to save more money by not using corrosion inhibitors
in the aging lead pipes. Neurotoxic heavy metals seeped into the drinking
water, affecting hundreds of thousands of residents. Other cities are trying to avoid Flint’s
fate by raising rates to generate maintenance funds, leading to an overall increase of 30%
in the average American water bill over the last decade. That’s a faster increase over inflation
than gasoline or groceries! But even if you live in a place like Austin,
where water bills have skyrocketed over 150% in recent years, it’s still much, much,
much cheaper than bottled water. If you’re still worried about the safety
or flavor of your town’s water, you can request a Water Quality Report from your water
company to find out where it comes from and how its treated. Or buy a simple water filter for your home
and a reusable bottle to carry with you, effectively manufacturing the same product yourself that
sells in stores for thousands of times the price. The problem of how to deliver clean drinking
water to millions of consumers was effectively solved a hundred years ago. When you buy a bottle of water, you’re only
solving Coke’s problem of how to make up for lagging soda sales. And that’s our two cents! Thanks to Great Courses Plus for supporting PBS. The Great Courses Plus is a subscription on demand video learning service with lectures and courses from professors from top universities and institutions. Through your subscription, you get access to a library of lectures about anything that interests you… science, math, history, literature, or even how to cook, play chess, or become a better photographer. For example, in “Unexpected Economics,” you’ll learn the surprising ways that economic theory can shed a light on social phenomena from traffic to crime to addiction. To learn more, check out or click on the link in the description below to start your trial today. Thanks to our patrons for keeping Two Cents financially healthy. Click the link in the description to become a Two Cents patron!

100 thoughts on “The Real Cost of Bottled Water

  1. @twocents was federal spending at its peak 100 years ago when you claim all the water pipes were put in? Are you talking inflation adjusted, or % gdp, or some work for food project?

  2. True, on sale, my brother and I have been stacking bottles at the cost of 12.33 cents on average per bottle….

  3. A couple things this video didn't consider. One is that home water filters tend to accumulate bacteria which affect the taste and might make you sick. Another is that the pipes to the home may be lead, so even though they're sending you good water, it may not arrive that way.
    Another thing they could have mentioned on the other side is that bottled water tends to have microplastics – especially Nestle.

  4. Only reason outside of convenience to drink bottled water instead of tap is if you’re in Mexico

  5. The dislikes you see on this video are from bottled water companies! You go 2 Cents team

  6. YES! Thank you so much for this video. Preaching to the choir here, but there's clearly plenty of people out there who don't know.

  7. good timing with this, so many people out there stockpiling water right now. I get that it’s a necessity and people are scared but there’s nothing wrong with the tap water and corona virus isn’t going to change that

  8. Amazing what branding does when it comes to nearly identical products! Luckily, I like to save money on bottled water and stick with a Brita Filter 👍

  9. We refill 5 gallon jugs for 32 cents a gallon filtered, cheaper than bottles but more expense than tap. Buuuut, tap isn't really an option for us anyway

  10. Bottle water taste better than tap or other water sources. And it's good for any other countries

  11. Why you guys gotta at me like that😅 buying bottled water is probably my boyfriend's and I's worst habit. But going to buy us some filtered reusable water bottles now. This is the push I needed

  12. Please tell me I'm not the only one who got thirsty watching this video xd

  13. I only buy bottled water once(when there's no alternative) and then refill it from home in the future

  14. In Germany the industry found an excellent reason, why to buy bottled water: it's sparkly. And I (as almost every German) love sparkling water, that's why I buy those. Yes, it's expensive and useless but it's sparkly. In the US on the other hand, I used tapped water a lot, because even the bottled water tastes like clorin, so why to bother with it.

  15. In El Salvador, the government serves contaminated water in some cities =( bottled water is a need

  16. I just keep a 5 gallon bottle at home and save my plastic water bottles and fill it up daily. I spend money on the 5 gallon and it usually last between 2 weeks to a month

  17. I use to make hella fun of people that drank Smart Water, but god damn that shit tastes amazing.

  18. Depending where you live, you can find local springs… We've been getting water from a local spring all the time, and once checked a Deer Park label, they get it from the same spring! 😉

  19. (sweating out of guilt and shame) me drinking my San Pellegrino while watching this

  20. Hey, Environmental Engineer here. I cannot thank you enough for compiling a video like this!
    Yes, many people are concerned about what comes out of their tap water. They think about the chemicals and the many miles of pipeline that the water has to travel through before it reaches their sink, but fail to realize that what is inside their water bottle can be just as dangerous. The water inside their plastic bottle literally comes from the same place, has the same treated chemicals, and also now has an extra ingredient (BPA, a known hormone disruptor) due to the plastic bottle degrading over time. Note: That "plastic taste" from a water bottle might be this dangerous substance.

    If you want to be extra cautious, I'd recommend just buying a Brita filter and filtering out what comes out of your tap water and using a metallic, nonrustable water bottle or glass water bottle. It's safer, healthier for both you and the environment, and saves you A LOT of money in the long run.

  21. In nothern Germany we have delicious high quality tap water! 🥰
    Nevertheless people are bying expensive water in plastic bottles. I don't get it.

    I never liked the tap water with chlorine in the U.S. It's awful. Sorry! 😓

  22. I had a girl that doesn't trust tap water in my class and buys bottled ones.

  23. Even if it was the exact same cost, tap water all the way : their ENVIRONMENTAL cost is way too high.

  24. $1.39 for 1 water bottle?! That’s crazy. In the UK, a water bottle is just 19p!

  25. This is exactly what I've been trying to tell my friends and family. Just buy a good water filter and if you're really concerned, but in sink water filters for $35-$60 that filters out 99.5% of all contaminants and last for 6-8 months!

  26. You say nothing about getting bottled water by the gallon. My family has always bought water in those 5 (or 10 or whatever they are) gallon jugs they use in office water dispensers. Not very expensive from what I know (about as much as a subscription to Spotify or something). And the bottles get picked up and reused when new ones are delivered, so the recycling part is moot.

  27. Well if I drink tap water I will literally die of sickness or at least I will eat some dirt, so not an option for me here in Mexico

  28. Yeah. It's not safe to drink the tap where I live because a company nearby has been draining it's chemicals in our waters for years. And filters don't clear genx out.

  29. My family doesn't buy bottle water but we buy the big bottle water that you can refill its because we cant drink tape water because the chlorine

  30. I use to do pure life, I do drink Deer Park and Fiji water. Might stop buying bottled water

  31. I don't like the taste of bottled water, but in 2010 I tasted Nestle water in Egypt and it was amazing

    Nestle water is not sold in my country, I only drink tab water

  32. Now you have an influx of "Premium" water brands, with their fancy bottles and marketing hype. Not buying it AND……not buying it.

  33. I went on my mission to the Long Beach area…. that water smelled horribly of the sewer and would give you montezuma's revenge on occasion… even in the huntington beach area. We were warned to either filter the water or get bottled water.
    Most of Utah were I am from thankfully has safe water in most areas and you could even drink from garden hoses sometimes… though not recommended for other reasons. I will never take tap water for granted ever again.

  34. We can't drink tap water here. So We use gallons. I rarely drink bottled water, I refill my reusable bottle with that gallon of water.

  35. I can't help it but I feel like getting financial advice from Oswald Mosley.

  36. Should've done, Real cost of hand sanitizer!
    3:31 not forcing recalls just means to marketers is, it's "organic cholera"

  37. I try to avoid bottled water, and carry my own bottle with me, but if I forget my own, I see the purchase not as a waste of money, but as a saving on health to the sugary alternatives, I also try to reuse the bottle as much times as possible to reduce the environmental cost

  38. Not a fan of tap water, which is why I drink filtered water at home, but bottled water is even worse. Just blech.

    So my parents have a filter in our water jug we use all the time, yet they still buy packs and packs of bottled water because…reasons?

  39. Buy a bottle of water is something so crazy, i undestand that a year ago, prefer been thirsty all day if i forget my thermo.

  40. Could you please address people panic buying and blowing thru their credit cards to stock food in our current pandemic?

  41. I think it was Penn and Teller who demonstrated most bottled water tastes no better than water straight from a garden hose.
    Edit: Here we go

  42. 07:06 > 07:07
    HE: Same haircut, same mustache, pretty much the same guy
    SHE: HOLD IT RITGH THERE! I can't look the same, when the video makes a cut!!

  43. Thanks for the fantastic video! Can to please consider making a video of toilet paper versus using a bidet/ hand held bidder or faucet? I think holder paper is a rip-off and a waste of paper and further, less hygienic.

  44. This might be an obvious question, but what do you replace bottled water with

  45. Americans talk about Climate Change but they keep buying bottled water. Smh.🤦‍♂️

  46. I generally avoid buying bottled water, though I will keep a couple cases on hand for emergency situations

  47. I used to go buy the filtered water from the organic store…now i just have a filter at home. If i want added minerals I just add trace minerals.

  48. I can see why we have bottled water in times of trouble or if your local water source is not good.

    I drink both tap and bottled water. I recycle most of the bottles.

  49. I just drink tap water. I put it in a insulated stainless steel bottle with ice. It saves money and I keep hydrated.

  50. Nestle was the one responsible for moms deciding formulas are better than breast milk as well. But they're everywhere and hiding behind different names. So hard to avoid buying from them.

    Also, been on a Berkey filter for two years now, hadn't even had the need to change the filter. There are worries when you live in buildings/areas that are older. I live in an older apartment complex. More so on the pipes/corrosion and I have my reserves on having chlorine in my body over time.

  51. Come on down to Phoenix and give our tap water a try. Suddenly bottled water will make sense…

    Which is why most everyone here has a reverse osmosis system. Surprised that wasn’t part of the video!

  52. To be honest I hardly bought bottled water in south Africa. The tap water is sweeter nd fresher. But when I got to America the water was unthinkable! It tasted dirty and soil-like. I thought I was the only one, but my friends from all over also complained about the taste of the water.

  53. I freakin loved this video. SO informative and isn't afraid to show the "emperor with no clothes" of some pretty powerful entities. You GO

  54. I was drinking tap water my whole life. Then I moved to NJ, where the pipes are old and water tastes like shit…
    After buying bottles for a year or two, I discovered reverse osmosis, and life is beautiful again,

  55. It's crazy how americans are buying bottled water, even for home use. In the Philippines, we only buy bottled water when we go out somewhere. At home, we use water filtration system to clean our already potable water supply.

  56. As an environmental microbiologist who has been to Flint so many times the lady at the Enterprise counter knows me by sight, I can't thank you enough for this episode!! We're not perfect, but never in the history of mankind have so many people had such inexpensive and easy access to potable water. It's practically free people!! Why do you feel the need to pay for it?

  57. I've saved so much money on water since switching to tap, but I live in Southern California. Not the tastiest selection.

  58. if you live in 3rd world country drinking tap water is a huge no no unless you wanna get dysentery

  59. I try to avoid bottled water, and when I do use one I refill it several times on my faucet filter. Where I live I’m on well water which has heavier sulfur in it. It’s safe to drink and my landlord and I test it for safety monthly, but I use a faucet filter anyway to avoid stinky water and particulates in my older pipes

  60. Hey if you have watch the big short dr. Micheal burry next invested in water after shorting housing market and economy.

  61. "Millions of Americans fail this test every day"
    isn't that the anthem of he US?

  62. Probably your best video so far! this needs to be played in all public schools, colleges, universities and the subway!

  63. Videos like this really miss the point of bottled water… sure buying bottled water regularly when you have access to clean tap water is a bit stupid and wasteful, but when you don't have access to good tap water like when when you are travelling, or camping etc it's clean, safe, healthy, tastes good and comes in a convenient reusable container. btw i never buy bottled water when i am at home or at work in my regular routine but when i'm out and about its great, and beats sugary soft drinks or soda any day!

  64. Okay- but how do you avoid consuming clorine and floride? Drinking bleach and toothpaste is bad for your digestive system.

  65. I got hooked on the bottles when I was deployed in the military and haven't been able to kick them. The only excuse I have is that I like having a bottle of water on my nightstand in case I get thirsty and I've had too many gulps of funky water in the middle of the night. As dust settles during the night it gets in an open glass and can be gross sometimes. I'm also surprised they didn't mention anything about BPA and disposable water bottles. I always notice a strong taste in a bottle of water that sat in the sun for a bit and assumed the heat was allowing more of the chemicals from the plastic to leach into the water.

  66. Could you do one on privatized electricity companies too and how our bill is really made up.

  67. “Safe, Clean , drinking water” except when it’s not. Especially in other countries around the world & even some cities in USA.

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