saving water - bottled water

Is bottled water better for you?

09 June 2022 | Facts & Curiosities

As you’ve probably figured out, here at Hero Labs we’re pretty darn passionate about water conservation.  We’re also pretty passionate about saving you money, so here is yet another environment, wallet-friendly hack that you might just want to get clued up on.

Bottled water

Bottled water has become a bit of a status symbol in recent years. From the Instagram feed of Paris Hilton to the “Fiji Water Girl” who stole the show at the Golden Globes, bottled water usurped expensive vodkas and artisanal smoothies to reign supreme as the unexpected must-have designer drink of 2018. Hollywood now has “water sommeliers” to match your caviar to your Canadian glacier water, and rumour has it that Cameron Diaz will only wash her face with Evian. Madonna supposedly fills her radiators with “blessed water” at £5000 a pop, and some celebrities are reportedly even sipping on $60,000 a bottle “Acqua di Cristallo Tributo a Modigliani” (apparently it has a “nice mouth-feel”).

“Premium water” was the fastest growing drinks market worldwide at the end of the last decade according to “Beverage Daily”, who sound like they ought to know their Pepsi from their Perrier, and sales rocketed to almost $20 billion last year. But we wonder if Khloe Kardashian or Jennifer Aniston, clutching their neon flasks of Vitamin Water, have ever stopped to think about the harmful effects of bottled water – for the environment, for the drinker, or their poor bank balance?  Let us folks at Hero labs give you the low down – we’re pretty sure you’ll be as shocked as we were.

Bottled water is healthier, right?

Water that is pulled from the air instead of the ground; seven-step filtration processes, added vitamins and minerals and antioxidants and electrolytes – bottled water must be better for you, right? Well according to a study by the American Food and Water Watch, 64% of it comes right from the tap. That’s right – it’s literally tap water, marked up 2,000 times. The report also found that bottled water from major brands like Coca Cola contained “phthalates, mould, microbes, benzene, bromate, trihalomethanes, milk allergens, pieces of plastic, e-coli and even arsenic”. That does sound delicious! In fact, it was only recently that the US Food Authority decided that manufacturers probably ought to test the water they bottle for E Coli after all, but even then they decided to frame it as a “non-binding recommendation”.

It might surprise you to know that tap water generally undergoes much more rigorous testing than bottled water, and as a public service rather than a commercial product it’s usually is subject to far more stringent regulation too. Professor Paul Younger, a world-renowned hydrologist based at Glasgow University, says “tap water is simply better for you. Particularly here in the UK, water coming from taps is the most stringently tested in the world”. And to really cap it off – a double-blind study of over a thousand people found that they simply couldn’t tell the difference between tap and bottle water, and rated them as “equally pleasant, pure, natural-tasting and refreshing”.  You can’t count on bottled water being a healthier alternative to the stuff that comes straight out of your tap, or even tasting better – but you can count on it being a whole lot more expensive.

Hey Big Spender

If you love to splash the cash, bottled water should be right up your… river? An average bottle in the UK is 500 to 1000 times more expensive than tap water,  or for our US readers, often more like 2000 times.

The UK market for bottled water was worth 1.6 billion British pounds in 2020. Industry advertising shamelessly channels the language of makeup and beauty products to convince you to buy – claiming bottled water “improves skin tone” – and designing bottles to resemble the “ideal hourglass figure” many gym bunnies aspire to obtain. You now know that the health benefits of tap water are the same (or greater), so stick it to the man and turn on the tap! If not for yourself, for our planet:

Think environment

In Britain alone we get through 8 billion single-use plastic bottles a year – and only about two in ten of those ever make it into recycling bins. Public awareness of the amount of plastic plaguing our planet has perhaps never been higher, thanks in no small part to documentaries like Blue Planet 2, but scientists still believe there will likely be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. I know what I would rather see when I’m snorkelling in crystal clear waters, and it isn’t an old bottle of Evian.  

It takes a quarter of a litre of oil to produce a single one-litre water bottle. Next time you reach for a bottle of water, imagine one quarter of it full of crude oil. That’s how much was used to manufacture it.

But I need to drink 8 glasses of water a day

I’m here to free you: you do not need to drink 8 glasses of water a day. This is a myth. Arguably, the most persistent myth in medicine.

The British Medical Journal published a paper debunking the “8 glass myth” in 2007. It swiftly became the most visited article anywhere on their site, garnering significant media coverage and more than a few shares on social media. The McGill Office for Science calls it a “untrue and a fundamental misunderstanding of basic physiology”; the American Journal of Physiology says there are “no scientific studies that support the 8 glass assertion”, and a review of all previous studies concluded there was “no evidential basis for the claim”. And yet somehow, in the pages of well-intentioned health blogs and nutritional guides, the myth persists.  

Some people believe that the source of this myth was a 1945 Food and Nutrition Board recommendation that said people need about 2.5 liters of water a day. That’s true, but it also ignores the fact that the next sentence is “most of this quantity is contained in prepared foods.” Fruit and vegetables are full of water – so is juice, tea, and even coffee (no, it doesn’t dehydrate you). Beer contains water and low-strength beer can even create an isotonic effect that rehydrates you slightly more than water. Cucumber is 95% water, eggs are 70% water, even jacket potatoes are 60 – 70% water. Chicken is 65% water.

Don’t take me wrong, water is great – but it’s certainly not your only source of hydration, and you definitely don’t need to buy bottled drinks to top it up. 

So what do you do if thirst strikes while you’re out and about? You may like to know that it’s a legal requirement for any alcohol-serving establishment to also provide free tap water. If you’re gasping for a glass of the wet stuff, pop on down to your local public house and procure yourself a glass of H20; served with a smile (the smile is not a legal requirement).  This is particularly great at airports, where you can forget getting your hands on a bottle of water for anything less than £3 – and any supplies you may have brought with you are ceremoniously confiscated at security! Pluck up your courage, head to a bar or restaurant and ask them nicely for a glass of water – if you’re lucky they may just add a slice of lemon.  We just can’t wait till those £3 bottles of water become a thing of the past.

I don’t want Delhi belly

We don’t want that for you either. Drinking water in foreign countries isn’t always advisable, and there may be times when that bottle of water to brush your teeth with is a hard requirement.  But just in case you hadn’t heard, there are many amazing alternatives out there to save you money and save the planet.  For less than £30 you can pick up a ‘water to go’ bottle – using technology that was originally created by NASA, these bottles will filter out pretty much all the nasties you can imagine. Not only does it quickly pay for itsel, you can rest easy on your sun lounger knowing you kept thirty bottles of plastic out of the ocean, too. Now that’s something we can raise a glass to.

Hopefully we’ve reignited your love for humble tap water, so perhaps double down on the love affair with handy Home Hacks to Save Water or Easy Ways to Tell if Your Home Has a Leak.