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Bottled vs. tap water

Ever since bottled water became readily available over 20 years ago it has soared in popularity. Britain now consumes 2 billion litres of bottled water a year. But is it really better for you?

Woman drinking water

The bottled water industry in the U.K. is now worth £2 billion a year and there are many brands offering different types of water — from mineral to spring to purified to well water. There are strict guidelines for each type, and all these different brands have to meet them if they want to use that label. It has to be collected and treated in strictly laid-down ways.

There is a belief that bottled water is far healthier than tap water, free of bacteria and nasty chemicals and that this is reflected in the taste. “Pure” is a word that water companies like to include in advertising campaigns and slogans, knowing that many people attach it to health and superiority over other products. However, many people believe that bottled water is nothing more than a money-making scheme backed by clever marketing that the public repeatedly falls for. A growing number of people, headed up by several scientists, now think that tap water is actually just as good for you as bottled water. Here are the pros and cons of both tap and bottled water, so you can make your own mind up.

Pros of bottled water

Bottled water is very easy to transport, so is great if you are on the go a lot. A handy bottle in your bag will quench your thirst in no time.

It is monitored by the Food Standards Agency which has fairly strict guidelines on what can and can’t be put on the label. This ensures high-quality drinking water.

Lead levels in bottled water are reported to be much lower than those in tap water. Bottled water comes in many different flavours and you can opt for carbonated, if you wish.

Cons of bottled water

It is so expensive. With a single 330 ml bottle costing over £1, it is not cheap to regularly consume bottled water, and if you buy a couple of bottles a day, it can end up being a significant share of your budget.

Bottled water’s effect on the environment is huge. Only a small proportion of water bottles can be recycled, leaving the rest to be disposed of in landfill sites. This is the very thing the Western world should be discouraging and with many people simply throwing their empty bottles down in the street, we have a huge litter problem as well.

There is some ongoing research into the effect on the body of water stored in plastic containers. This is not a question of the quality of the water itself, but more about the possibility of chemicals leaching into the water from the bottle. Chemical Bis-Phenol A is present in some plastic bottles used to hold distilled water and a 2010 review at Tufts University Medical School, Boston concluded that Bis-Phenol A may increase cancer risk.

Pros of tap water

It is free! By switching from (say) two bottles a day to tap water you could save hundreds of pounds a year — a great way to tighten the purse strings.

Tap water is tested rigorously. Numerous tests take place every year to make sure tap water is as safe as it can be for human consumption. The legal standards in the U.K. are set in Europe under the Drinking Water Directive 1998, together with national standards set to maintain the high quality of water already achieved. The standards are strict and include wide safety margins including tests for micro-organisms and the presence of chemicals (such as nitrates and pesticides) and metals (such as lead and copper).

Tap water contains fluoride. Some people consider this a bad thing, but it is widely known that fluoride can reduce tooth decay and is great for all around oral health — this is why it is a major ingredient in toothpastes.

Tap water is readily available in every British household and many public areas have drinking-water taps. It is nearly always available if you need to quench your thirst, and doesn’t cost a penny.

Cons of tap water

It can contain lead, since old lead pipes in some people’s homes can leach into the water. Certain pollutants such as personal care products and pharmaceutical drugs have been found in tap water, after they were washed into rivers and sewers. It is illegal for companies to dispose of unwanted products and chemicals this way, but unfortunately this does still happen.

The quality of tap water can differ from place to place — there are many water companies that service different areas of the U.K. Add that to the varying condition of the water in different areas and the quality and taste can vastly differ from one area to the next.

If there is a breakdown in sanitisation, micro-organisms can get into tap water and cause health problems. However, this is very rare and shouldn’t be a reason to put people off drinking it.

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