The great bottled water rip off

Bottled water or tap water? The answer very much depends on how much you believe the hype.

Many Brits certainly do. Bottled water is a £2 billion business annually in the UK, and brands from across the world compete for precious shelf space.

It’s big business, and it’s global: About a quarter of all bottled water is exported to another country, or about 22 million tonnes of it annually.

So why buy it? A study by Birmingham University found that people tend to believe that bottled water is somehow healthier, but don’t know why.

Perhaps because it costs more. Bottled water costs around 500 times more compared to the stuff that comes out of the tap. A survey of bottled waters by consumer watchdog Which even found a bottled variety that cost 13,000 times more than tap.

Manufacturers would have you believe that bottled water is naturally cleaner, tastier and more “microbiologically wholesome,” than tap water.

You can’t begrudge them their wily marketing, but many in fact get their water from – wait for it – municipal water systems, the same place that your tap water comes from.

And there is nothing natural about the way many bottled waters land on your restaurant table or shop shelf.

Aside from the oil used to manufacture the plastic containers, bottled water has a much higher carbon footprint per litre than tap.

Bottled water
Bottled water

Producing and transporting bottle water results in hundreds of times more CO2 emissions per litre and that’s before considering the impact the plastic bottles have on the environment – only around a quarter are recycled.

Ok, so it’s not ‘green’ to drink bottled water, but what about health? Isn’t tap water full of bad stuff?

If you live in a country where water standards may be poor, or even dangerous, then you have cause for concern.

But if you live in Britain, you can rest assured that it has been filtered, chlorinated and tested extensively, and is perfectly safe to drink, in fact, one of the safest in the world.

You may buy bottled water because it tastes so much better than the tap stuff.

But does it really? Two studies conducted in France and Northern Ireland found that water tastes like… water.

The majority of people in a blind taste test could not distinguish between bottled water and chilled tap water.

In the Irish study, the researchers wrote: “The findings from this study indicate that people cannot correctly identify bottled water on the basis of its flavour.”

This “suggests that the currently high consumer demand for this beverage must be based on factors other than taste or olfactory perception.”

That said, tap water can taste from different region to region. It may contain different amounts of minerals such as calcium and magnesium, which can affect the flavour. Some parts of Scotland have particularly soft water with low levels of calcium compared with other parts of the country.

If it bothers you that much, the solution is to pour tap water into a jug and put it in the fridge, or even buy a water filter. This ought to make it more palatable. Then smile smugly at the thought of the money you have just saved.