Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Why Bottled Water Is Insane

Here’s a weird thing. If you are over, say, 30 years old, you likely remember a time before bottled water.

Bottled water as a concept has been visible for a very long time, of course, and most histories of the phenomenon mark the introduction of Perrier in 1976 as the genesis of modern bottled water. It wasn’t until the mid-‘90s, however, that bottled water became everyday and, you know, for the common folks. Those of us that remember this period are lucky enough to have witnessed one of the most insane events in consumer history, when the soda industry figured out how to sell the same thing in bottles that people already had piped into their houses.

The coup is this: while that bottle of Aquafina goes for $1.79, the same amount from your tap (which, if you are buying bottled water to begin with, is likely of the same quality) spits out water that might go for $.00063 for the same 20 oz. And that is at the upper end of the municipal water price-range.

It's hard to know the precise moment when regular drinking water first came into competition with itself, but some would place it at the arrival of Aquafina, PepsiCo's big foray into bottled water, in 1994. Not long after, Dasani, its Coca-Cola analog, came along, and drinking water had gone from well to reservoir to faddish luxury item to mass commodity—cultural symbol, office supply, omnipotent restorer of health. It is, after all, the stuff of life.

I stopped off at the gas station/convenience store last night in part just to actually take some stock of the water offerings. There were about a half dozen brands, and maybe another half dozen variations on those brands; from the ubiquitous Aquafina and Dasani to Fuji and even good ol’ Evian. These were a full third of all cold beverages on sale.

That last one, Evian, is probably the only one of these brands that to me has ever tasted very different from tap water. And that difference is only in taste, of course, because that’s the only real-world difference between most waters (taste comes from negligible amounts of minerals/chemicals). Water—the two-hydrogens-one-oxygen part of it that we need—does not actually change as long as it remains water. Water is water. In other words, there is no better water or worse water if we're actually talking about just water. Unless you're drawing from the Great Salt Lake, most anything water comes with won't make much of a difference in how much more or less good that water does your body.

It doesn’t matter if it’s in a cup of coffee, the most garbage-y soda ever, naked from a mountain stream, or sporting some small amounts of fluoride and chlorine from your city’s most likely excellent municipal supply; your body will use it in all of these forms. In fact, a large percentage of your water needs come from food. There's a decent chance that you actually get more water than you need, not less, barring an absolutely hideous diet of, like, Fritos and beef jerky.