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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.
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?
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
Mighty table saw. (Maybe your business involves woodworking?)
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.