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We’ve all been told how important water is for our bodies to function properly, and access to clean and safe drinking water is something that many Americans don’t think twice about.
However, with water crises popping up in various areas of the country, i.e. Flint, Michigan, it has become increasingly clear that maybe our water isn’t always as safe as we thought. This fear has caused many people to turn to water bottles, but is bottled water any better?
In this article, we explore bottled water vs filtered water, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each choice, and ultimately determine which one is better for you.
When you think of bottled water what do you picture?
Do you imagine clean, spring water, bubbling brooks, natural springs, rushing waterfalls? That is certainly what I imagine – and that is the picture that water bottle companies want you to see. In the U.S. alone the water bottle industry is worth up to $16 billion.
Is Bottled Water Filtered?
Bottled water is considered a food product in the United States. Therefore, bottled water is subject to regulations by the Food and Drug Administrations (FDA).
The FDA is in charge of ensuring that bottled water is safe to drink and is truthfully labeled. That being said, bottled water is often branded as “mountain,” “spring,” or “glacial” water, but that is often not the true source. Surprisingly, many popular bottled water brands such as Aquafina, Dasani, and Nestle Pure Life, are just filtered tap water.
These misleading marketing tactics have come under fire recently and some companies, such as Aquafina, have been forced to re-label their bottles to state, “public water source.” So, let’s discuss the advantages and disadvantages of bottled water.
Advantages of Bottled Water
While bottled water is often the same thing as local filtered tap water, there are some reasons why people choose to use bottled water vs tap water. These reasons include:
- Convenience – Bottled water is portable. You can bring it wherever you go and if you forgot to bring one with you, you can always pop into a store and buy one.
- Safer than tap water – Yes, it comes from the same source, but bottled water is still filtered. Also, bottled water is subject to more testing than municipal water systems are, so there is less of a chance of contaminants being present.
- Tastes better than tap water – Some people claim that bottled water tastes/smells better than tap water. This is likely due to the filtration of the water. The bottled water has to be filtered of chlorine and other chemicals which can cause a foul smell or taste.
Disadvantages of Bottled Water
Now that we have discussed the advantages of bottled water, let’s talk about the disadvantages of bottled water, which include:
- Price – With bottled water, you are essentially paying more for tap water. Yes, it is filtered, but when you look at the price breakdown, bottled water can be thousands of times more expensive than tap water. On top of that, water bottles are single-use, so you will have to continue to buy bottled water multiple times. The price of a package of bottled water can quickly add up.
- Chemicals – While the FDA has to regulate the water within the bottles, they do not regulate the plastic bottles themselves. Studies have shown that some bottles can leach harmful chemicals into the water.
- Environmental Impact – It can take approximately 1000 years for a water bottle to decompose. On top of that, burning plastic bottles produces toxic fumes that release into the environment. It is estimated that about 2 million tons of plastic water bottles alone are currently in U.S. landfills.
What is Filtered Water?
Now that we have discussed water bottles, let’s talk about filtered water. Filtered water is tap water that has been filtered and is safe to drink. Essentially filtered water is the same as bottled water, without the price, chemicals, and environmental impact.
Advantages of Filtered Water
There are many reasons that filtered tap water is a good choice. They include:
- Tastes/Smells the same as bottled water – If one of the main reasons you choose to buy bottled water vs tap water is because of the smell/taste, then you will be happy to know that filtered water smells/tastes the same as bottled water. Both filtered and bottled water come from the same source and are properly purified.
- Price – Unlike bottled water that can be expensive, filtered tap water is much more cost-effective. Americans average about $100 per person per year in bottled water costs. This number can go up even more if you tend to drink more water, or if you have a large household. Once you break down the cost per person, filtered water becomes a much more budget-friendly option.
- Convenience – Similar to bottled water, filtered water is also convenient. You don’t have to constantly ensure you are stocked up on water bottles because you have water available to you as soon as you want. You can even fill up a reusable water bottle and have water on the go.
Disadvantages of Filtered Water
As with everything in life, there are always going to be some disadvantages. These are some of the disadvantages of filtered water:
- Investment Cost – The initial up-front cost of a filtration system can deter some people. However, there are many different options available to you in terms of filtration systems. If one doesn’t quite fit your budget, try out another option. Even after taking into account the initial investment, the overall cost of a filtration system is much less than bottled water.
- Maintenance – After you have a water filtration system installed you will have to stay on top of changing the filters themselves. How often you have to change the filter depends on how much water you drink and the type of filtration system you have. In most cases, you will not need to change your filter for several months.
In order to filter out as many impurities in tap water as possible (without taking out beneficial vitamins and minerals) there are a few different types of popular water filtering methods. Knowing which filtration method you prefer can help you determine which type of filter you would want to invest in.
Not all filtration methods are created equal, so it is common that some methods may be used in conjunction with one another in order to remove all the necessary contaminants.
There are four main types:
Activated Alumina Filters
Activated alumina filters are ceramic filters that are effective in removing fluoride and arsenic from municipal tap water supplies. This filter type is popular in water pitchers and relatively cheap.
Carbon filters are used to filter out large organic compounds. The organic substances get stuck (bonded) in the filter and are not released in the water as it passes through. This filter type is very common in water filter pitchers and whole-house systems.
While effective in removing the organic compounds in tap water, such as chlorine, carbon filters are ineffective in removing inorganic compounds such as mercury, lead, nitrates, fluoride, and arsenic. The taste of the water and smell of the water can be improved, but there is still a chance that water may contain trace contaminants.
These filters use water pressure and water molecule size to filter out any contaminants.
The filter is made with a material that has minuscule holes in it. This membrane allows for the water molecules to pass through and prevents larger molecules from going through. This process is very effective and removes more contaminants than the activated charcoal filter, but it leaves smaller contaminants (such as chlorine) in the water.
The effectiveness and the cost of these filters make them popular with many households and are often seen in an under sink, or countertop filtration system.
Water distillation is the process of boiling tap water, allowing the steam to cool, and collecting the cooled water into a container. This process is one of the oldest ways of filtering water and is also one of the most effective.
The distillation kills any live bacteria, gets rid of all contaminants, and leaves you with fresh and clean drinking water. This process does take a long time to create a small amount of water so it is not the preferred method for households that consume a lot of water, although you can find some products available should you need.
When it comes to softening water (removing or inactivating hard water causing minerals), it doesn’t get any better than this. The process replaces calcium and magnesium ions with sodium ions through ion exchange that happens within a resin bed. This essentially strips all hardness out of the water.
Types of Water Filters
Installing and maintaining a water filtration system can seem daunting at first, but there are many different types. There are five main types of at-home tap water filtering systems; so choosing one that works for your budget and lifestyle is possible.
Water Filter Pitcher
You have probably seen this option everywhere. They are readily available at most retail stores and they are budget friendly. Popular brands include Brita, PUR and Zero Water.
This option is popular because it is easy to use, portable, and budget-friendly. These filtered water pitchers do tend to filter a little slowly and because of this they can be tedious to refill and wait for drinking water if you have run out.
These filters attach directly to the faucet and filter the water as it runs through. The filters are incredibly convenient (no need to refill a pitcher) and are one of the most popular options.
They are small, easy to install, and inexpensive. Similar to the pitcher, the filtration system slows down the flow of the water significantly. This can be a little frustrating to wait for an extended period of time to fill up a gallon of water, but you will have safe and clean drinking water in the end.
Countertop Water Filter
If you like the idea of a faucet filter, but don’t like waiting for your water to filter, then a countertop filter is probably for you.
These filters attach to the faucet and sit on the counter next to the sink. The filter comes with its own faucet, and as you turn on the sink, the faucet will send out filtered water. This option is much faster than a faucet filter and it is also easy to install. The only downside is that it takes up a lot of counter space which may not be ideal if you don’t have a lot to begin with.
Under Sink Water Filter
This option is discrete, out of the way, and effective. Under-sink water filters are able to process a much larger amount of drinking water in a shorter amount of time. They are quick, efficient, and can filter out more contaminants then any of the above options.
These filters are installed underneath of a sink and attached to the water pipe. This means that the water that flows from your faucet will be completely filtered. Under-sink filters are a great option, however they are not portable, they are expensive, and they are difficult to install – often requiring professional assistance.
Whole House Water Filter System
The biggest, most expense, and most effective water filtration system is a whole house water filter system. These water systems are designed predominantly for areas where municipal water sources are not available.
They are typically installed professionally and attached to the main water line. This system filters all water before it is distributed to different areas of the home for use. This means that every sink and shower in your house is using filtered water.
Bottled Water vs Filtered Water – Which Wins?
Filtered water comes out on top. Hands down.
The only disadvantage of filtered water is the initial investment, and even that is an advantage these systems have when compared to bottled water.
Filtered water is clean, safe, cost-effective, convenient, and environmentally friendly. Even if you have to occasionally get a bottle of water when you forget your reusable one, you will be doing yourself, and the earth, a favor by investing in a drinking water filtering system.