The True Cost of Bottled Water

Nice Amenity, Giant Markup

Bottled water is a nice amenity to offer your staff and clients, but it carries a huge markup for not much added value. Leaving aside the hidden environmental costs of producing (and disposing of) those plastic bottles, let’s examine what that bottled water does to your profits.

You can get a pack of 24 half-liter bottles of water for $15.18 (not including shipping). That works out to about $1.27/liter, or $4.81/gallon, a couple dollars more than a gallon of gasoline, depending on where you live.

My municipal tap water costs me $1.25 for 100 cubic feet, or about $0.0017 per gallon. If the taste of your tap water is unappetizing, you can use a filter. The water filters available at the grocery store are activated charcoal filters that adsorb (yes, ad sorb), or chemically attract, organic contaminants and chemicals like chlorine. Chlorine is added to most municipal water supplies. It kills bacteria and is the reason some people dislike the taste of tap water. A typical filter can process 100 gallons of water and costs about $20. Brita and PUR make good ones. That works out to a price of $0.2017 per gallon, or about $0.05 per liter.

Price of water per gallon. Note that the price of tap water is virtually nil.
Price of water per gallon. Note that the price of tap water is virtually nil.
Water: it's all over the place, but when prepackaged, it costs more than gasoline.
Water: it's all over the place, but when prepackaged, it costs more than gasoline.

What Bottled Water Really Is

You may be surprised by this, but the store-brand bottled water you're likely to buy is actually tap water. No, really: read the label. Chances are, there's a phrase something like this somewhere on there: "Purified water from a municipal source."

That's tap water, my friends. You're paying a markup of about 283,000%* for someone to filter some tap water and put it into bottles for you.

To be sure, it's possible that the water in question is distilled rather than filtered. Distillation is the process of evaporating water from one container, moving the water vapor into a different container, and condensing it there. The condensed water vapor is pure, and the (solid) impurities get left behind. If your bottle is full of filtered water, it's most likely that the filter in question is a reverse-osmosis type, in which the tap water is forced under pressure through a microscopically fine filter. The label will tell you if your particular bottle of water has been distilled or filtered.

But when it all comes down to it, you're probably paying for processed tap water that's not so very different from what comes out when you turn on the sink.

*No, really, it's that big of a markup. Get your calculator and do the math: $4.81 per gallon of bottled water divided by $0.0017 per gallon of tap water, times 100, equals an obscene price difference. I rounded off to the nearest thousand.

What Bottled Water Really Costs

For our purposes, we'll assume that you're the owner of a business that employs ten people, including yourself. Assume that a ten-person office staff office uses three 24-packs of bottled water a week. (One bottle per person for lunch works out to just under 50 bottles per week, plus any incidental drinking and bottles offered to guests.) That’s $45.54 per week, or $2368.08/year (not including the 3744 half-liter bottles your staff will have to recycle or otherwise dispose of). If you were to switch to using filtered tap water, you would pay $1.92/week, or $99.68/year for the same amount of water, or $199.36 if your water consumption were to double.

Bottled water is over 20 times more expensive than filtered tap water (do the math). Of course, there are times when you’ll want to offer bottled water to a visitor. With the money you save by using tap water for daily consumption, you could buy a 24-pack of Perrier® every month ($39.99, or $479.88/year) and still have $1788.52 left at the end of the year. What could you do with that extra money?

What you're spending, and what you could be saving.
What you're spending, and what you could be saving.

Opportunity Costs

There are plenty of things that a small business owner could do with nearly two thousand dollars. Here are some of them.

Top Ten Material Goods You Can Pay Cash For With Your Water Savings

2.
Star Wars Signature Series Force FX Lightsaber - Anakin Skywalker
Star Wars Signature Series Force FX Lightsaber - Anakin Skywalker

I couldn't resist putting in a lightsaber. You could buy one of these for each member of your 10-person staff for about half what you'll save by using filtered tap water for a year.

 
3.
- Marco Air-Blast Pot - 1.5 Cubic Ft., Model# 155344
- Marco Air-Blast Pot - 1.5 Cubic Ft., Model# 155344

Sandblaster. For blasting sand. In case you need to do that on a regular basis.

 
4.
Schwinn 431 Elliptical Trainer
Schwinn 431 Elliptical Trainer

Do you have a fitness area at the office? You can. Buy two of these with your water savings and you can have a brainstorming session while you sweat.

 
5.
Callaway Diablo Forged 8-Club Iron Set (Right Hand, 3P, Graphite, Regular)
Callaway Diablo Forged 8-Club Iron Set (Right Hand, 3P, Graphite, Regular)

I don't know this firsthand, but I'm told that a lot of deals get made on the links. Your water savings can get you some mighty nice clubs. Beware of the water hazards.

 

Of course, you don't have to use the extra cash for stuff. With the nearly two grand you'll have left over at the end of the year, you can give your ten person staff each an extra $200 in their year-end bonus check. You could buy some radio ads. You could hire someone to make your website look professional. You could sponsor a Little League team. You could donate to your favorite charity. You could make a bigger contribution to your Roth IRA or your kids' college fund. Think about the possibilities.


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Comments 33 comments

festersporling1 profile image

festersporling1 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

I always thought it was crazy bottled water cost more than gasoline, yet the planet is 3/5ths water. Is that not an epic scam? $1.79 for a 1 quart arrowhead bottle of water at any gas station.


Earl Cook profile image

Earl Cook 6 years ago from Michigan, United States

I like where you are going with your argument, but I'd like to have seen discussion of using alternatives. For example, we have switched form bottled water to a pitcher with a built-in filter and we have reusable bottles that we fill.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 6 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Refilling and reusing bottles is a great idea, Earl, but those bottles do need to be washed--even if only one person uses each bottle--or they'll develop a "biofilm" that can host nasties that'll make you sick.


Charles James profile image

Charles James 6 years ago from Yorkshire, UK

In the British Treasury (our Government Finance and Budget Office) they have bottled water at meetings. They are glass bottles and are refilled from the tap.

Everyone thinks they have the amenity of bottled water, but it costs nothing.

Gordon Brown when Chancellor noticed a bottle label was torn and asked about it. The civil servant concerned got a pat on the back and somehow the story leaked to the press.


Cathi Sutton profile image

Cathi Sutton 6 years ago

Another great Hub! Thanks for sharing!


Mark Moller 6 years ago

Great hub! Invest in a water filter and a reusable water bottle! You will save so much money! Check out http://advancedwaterfilters.com/ for the filter.


Raven King profile image

Raven King 6 years ago from Cabin Fever

Hi I followed your link from your forum post. Well, I think bottled water is a very hot button issue.

I live in the desert and I don't drink my own well water.

Most residents in town depend on bottled drinking water.

Even when you go the restaurant the tap water served tastes very yucky, over clorinated.

Water is a hot topic issue.

Why ban water bottles from people who can't drink their own tap.

You could mention the cons of tap water. On NPR a few days ago a writer mentioned the problems in Pennsylvania of water combusting from the tap.

Those of us who depend on bottled water know that those PET bottled might not be so healthy but you can build homes and schools with them like a German architect did in Nicaragua.

So you could expand this article considreably.

Add more links.

Pet bottles: future building material?

What's in your tap water?

What's in your well water?

Are water filers safe?

Ask yourself.


SteveoMc profile image

SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

This is a good hub and explains the wasted money people spend to buy tap water. Pretty funny really. Perhaps we could sell bottles of country air in LA or NYC? Might be a market for it. Getting your hub more action is partly exactly what you have done: bringing it to a forum. I followed your link here and I am leaving a comment. This will make the hub have new content and it will come back up in the traffic. Nice job.


Aficionada profile image

Aficionada 6 years ago from Indiana, USA

I love your descriptions of the items that can be purchased with the water savings. Great article!


penguingirl 6 years ago

I work in the public drinking water industry and would like to add 2 points to your discussion. 1) if chlorine taste & odor from your tap water is bothersome, then an open pitcher (without a top) of water kept in the refrigerator overnight might be the answer. The chlorine will dissipate. Remember to keep it cooled though; lack of chlorine leaves the water susceptible? to bacteria. Think of it now as a food. 2) new EPA drinking water regulations that go into effect in 2012 may be pushing drinking water utilities (like mine) to invest in GAC (granulated activated carbon) as part of the treatment process. This will reduce taste & odor problems that occur because of seasonal changes or source water greatly.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 6 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Thanks for the comments, PG! It's good to get input from insiders.


Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Excellent Hub! By not buying the bottled water you also are helping the environment as so many of those plastic bottles just get buried.


ken 5 years ago

I buy about 3 gallon bottles of water a week. This water comes from a Mt. Shasta spring. It costs 1 dollar a gallon. The tap water in our area has flouride in it and I cannot afford a reverse osmosis filter to remove this crap. So not all tap water is safe they have found prescripton drugs in some. So not all bottled water is as you describe. I might be wrong but I can't find gas for less than a dollar a gallon, can you?


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 5 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Ken, does your water come in half-liter bottles, or in gallon jugs? Most municipalities add flouride to the water. Why do you call it "crap?"

Gallon jugs of water are not what I've written about here. I've shown the inadvisability of buying water packaged in half-liter bottles.

Can you get water packaged in other ways? Yes, of course. You can also get those five-gallon carboys of water that you turn upside-down over the dispenser. Tap water is still cheaper: your $1/gallon is five times as expensive as $0.20/gallon filtered tap, and over a hundred times more expensive than unfiltered tap.

Of course, if you feel that the expense is justified, nobody can stop you from pouring your money down the drain.


ken 5 years ago

Jeff

I gather you haven't done any reasearch on flouride. You might check out the flouride action network.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 5 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

That's one possible interpretation of my question. Another might be that I know about the 'concerns' and have dismissed them as paranoia.

Guess which?


ken 5 years ago

If it's paranoia then why has the scientists at the EPA (not the EPA it self) come out against it? Why has the CDC recommended a lowering of flouride to .07? Why are some cities putting warnings in their water bills to not use flouradated tap water for making baby formula? Why is it that studies in China show that the higher the flouride levels the lower the IQ in children? You talk about clean water then why do you support putting a drug like flouride in it? Read your toothpaste tube. If you swallow a pea sized amount of toothpaste (which is equal to about 1 glass of water) to call the poison hotline! Maybe you just drank too much of it when YOU were in school.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 5 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

See, people who understand chemistry understand that there's this thing called "concentration," which tells you how much of a given chemical there is in a given medium. For example, in the air around us, there's rather a lot of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is poisonous. OMG! We're all going to die? Well, no, because the levels aren't highly concentrated enough to cause any harm.

Just like the levels of flouride in in most municipal water systems. Too much is detrimental, of course, but too much of anything is detrimental.

Further, nothing you've said has even challenged the fact that tap water, whether filtered or not, is way cheaper than even your $1/gallon spring water.

Finally, while I profoundly respect your right to disagree with me, I will not put up with continued insults. You've accused me of not doing my homework, and you've implied that I'm stupid (as a result of a flouride overdose). Don't do it again.


ken 5 years ago

Sorry if you didn't like my comment I guess it was a little strong.

The problem with concentration is that there is no control over how much flouride you get. Since water is in most beverages and since most of that water is flouradsated tap water we are getting it from everwhere which makes an indivduals dose uncontrollable. Plus the flouride that most water systems use is waste flouride used by industry like ferilizer companies. Why is this put in our water? Because it is to expensive to put in toxic landfills! I agree tap water is cheaper than my spring water but just because something is cheaper doesn't mean it's good for you.


CWanamaker profile image

CWanamaker 5 years ago from Arizona

I always knew bottled water was a waste. I really can't understand the appeal of paying that much for something you can get basically for free. Thanks for putting things in perspective.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 5 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Thanks for stopping by, CW. Yeah, bottled water is a big waste of money, as well as a waste of water. I recently found out that it takes three liters of water for a bottled water company to make a one-liter bottle of water. Crazy, right? I say, filter your tap water and pour it into your own bottle. Much cheaper and just as good.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Great Hub. Pretty interesting comments as well. I am always puzzled by people's indignation, as if you actually had the power to take their expensive water away from them.

About fifteen years ago I picked up some bottled water for one of my kids, read the label which said "municipal water supply" and that was the end of buying bottle water.

Well written hubs with well developed information. A pleasure to read. Thank you.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 4 years ago from Deep South, USA

Only the most expensive water filtration systems, such as whole-house reverse osmosis, will eliminate fluoride from city tap water, or another type that requires changing multiple $30 water filters very frequently. The less expensive filters don't get rid of fluoride. If I'm going to spend money, I'd rather buy gallons of Kentwood Artesian Springs water. (I've been drinking that water since I was a child and my family could get it directly from the source near where I lived...for free before someone realized a fortune-to-be-made was bubbling in those underground springs.)

I've read extensively about the dangers of fluoride and really do not want to ingest it. I realize that by not having a whole-house filtration system, I'm showering in it, which also isn't good. Fluoridation doesn't even do what it was supposed to accomplish when the powers-that-be decided to put it in municipal water supplies (rather than toxic landfills).

Of course, I'm referring to water for a household rather than a business....

Now I wish the distributors of Kentwood water would put this wonderful-tasting and safe water in BPA-free bottles so I didn't have to worry about the dangers of BPA! If anyone in the U.S. government gave a damn about American citizens, they'd clean the corruption out of ALL of the federal agencies that are supposed to protect US, but, instead, protect only the bottom line for companies that poison us for profits!

Okay...rant's over. Won't do any good, anyway.


Rusti Mccollum profile image

Rusti Mccollum 4 years ago from Lake Oswego, Oregon

Well I'm headed for my bed bath and beyond store for a Brita. I am amazed at how much math you did. I'm sorry I'm one of those that math confuses me. The way you wrote this I understood the math. I just went to my frig, and looked at my bottles of tap water(well, bottle it's all the same brand) it sure does say municipal. I hate the taste of plain tap water,yes, to some of us it has a taste. It tastes like METAL.I always tell people I can taste metal which not being a genius, I attributed to tasting the metal from the pipes. It plain doesn't taste good.I live in Oregon a state that prides ourselves on our recycling program and replanting a tree for everyone cut down. When I think of those that don't take a minute to throw plastic (for instance) in another can or bin for the garbage service to recycle. Think of how long it takes for a plastic grocery store bag to be completely gone from our soil.When it so easily can be sent to a place to be used for all sorts of things. I guess I'm another tree hugger. lol I found this informative and educational. Great job! especially at the math!Oh we now are trying to get rid of the plastic bags, people bring cloth ones and we are reverting back to paper. Just some good ways to not pollute the earth more than we have. I am thinking of all my son's baseball, socccer and my nephews football,how many people drink and discard water bottles. To think we are just drinking filtered water and paying for it twice.Once from your water bill and once for the store.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 4 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Hello there!

phdast, yeah, I don't know why people get upset. I'm not talking about banning bottled water, but rather showing why buying bottled water is a silly thing to do. To be sure, there are some companies that bottle spring water, but it's wise to double-check.

Jaye,

Good point about BPA-free bottles. And even if you're frequently changing a filter, you're still paying less than you would for bottled tap water. If you can reliably get bottled spring water, you're actually getting something different from what comes out of the tap.

Rusti, lots of people have tap water with an unpleasant taste. It varies from place to place. And you might be right about the taste coming from the pipes, depending on what kind of pipes your water flows through. Those plastic bottles stay with us. Some of them find their way into the ocean. Do a google search for "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" and you'll see where lots of our plastic bottles end up.


Angela Brummer profile image

Angela Brummer 4 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

Wow I thought It was tap water. I will share this on twitter, google+ and with hub followers!


adoptivemomsvault profile image

adoptivemomsvault 4 years ago from United States, West Coast

Hi - I used to be addicted to bottled water, and never thought about it much. Then I got a nalgene (I think that is right) dishwashable, reusable bottle for water and have not looked back since. We have the GE fridge with the water filter built in, and it has saved us TONS of money every day. Your article is so on point. It is amazing - the comparison to gasoline prices! Thanks for the encouragement to continue!


JThomp42 4 years ago

Great Hub!! This is what I've been trying to tell friends and family forever. Words are not ALWAYS TRUE. The love for money makes people very deceptive.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 4 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Hi, folks! Thanks for commenting.

Angela--yes, most bottle water is "purified water from a municipal source." You can find honest spring water if you look, though. You have to read the labels. Perrier, for example, comes from a specific spring somewhere in France. Thanks for sharing this hub!

Adoptivemomsvault, the built-in filter is a wonderful thing, but it's important to change the filter as recommended. I don't use a built-in filter because things like that tend to slip my mind. Someone who stays on top of those things would find it a boon, though. Your reusable bottle is a great way to keep from wasting water. My family and I have a bottle for each of us, and we take them along to the zoo, the park, wherever.

JThomp, well, the words on labels are legally required to be at least technically true, but it's easy to say things that are both true and misleading. The bottled water industry likes to imply that their water is better for you than tap water, but municipal tap water is actually more stringently regulated (and more regularly checked/tested) than their bottled water is.

Well water, on the other hand, is a whole different ball game. If your water is pumped from a well on your own property, it's important to know that stuff that happens near your property can affect the aquifer that feeds your well. It's wise to test your well water periodically, especially if you live near chemical-dependent farms.

Take care!

JB


JThomp42 4 years ago

Very true JB.


AdamMich 3 years ago

The bottled water industry is so large now, and with their "creative" advertising, they continue to sell more and more each year, even though people are becoming aware of the dangers to the environment. I used to drink bottled water all the time, until I found out about the amount of waste was piling up, the chemicals in the plastics, and that it was tap water. I then came across a site called http://www.aquasafecanada.com who sold reverse osmosis water filter systems. I didn't even know what they were 3 years ago, until I did some research. While doing so, I realized how many contaminants were in our water, and reverse osmosis was the only way to remove them all. Now it is the only water I drink.


Henry Kogan 2 years ago

Hi Jeff, My name is Henry Kogan and I am a student journalist. If you don't mind, I have few questions for you.

1. What keeps people from drinking solely tap water?

2.What is the main reason for bottled water becoming more expensive than gas?

3.Is there really a difference between fancy bottled water like Evian or Fiji and a standard kind that you might buy in bulk at Costco?


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 24 months ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Hi, Henry,

I'll answer your questions as best I can. First, there are times when tap water isn't practical, like when there aren't many (or any) taps around. If you're having an event like a company picnic in a public park, you may need to bring in bottled water rather than make all 200 people wait in line for the one tap that's available for drinking water. Just one example of a situation where bottled water is a practical solution. These times are reare, though.

The main reason bottled water is more expensive than gas can be summed up in one word: MARKETING.

And yes, there are differences between (some) high-end bottled water brands and the kind you get at the big-box stores. Check the labels. The bulk no-name water usually says "purified water from a municipal source," while the high-end ones usually say "Bottled at the source at [place]." Perrier and San Pellegrino are examples of spring waters that come from a particular spring. But be careful--price is not a good predictor. Even some snooty-seeming water with a fancy label could be from a tap somewhere. Check the entire label every time.

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