Tap or cap?

By Bystander

I wrote recently about the myth that we should drink at least two litres of water a day (PJ, 12 October 2013, p390). Another myth is that bottled water is better than tap water. But tap water is preferable for many reasons.

One clear factor is price. Tap water typically costs around 0.25p per litre. But the cheapest supermarket bottled water costs at least 10p a litre, and some brands cost many times more.

Tap water also clearly wins on environmental issues. Bottled water is sold in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) containers. Their manufacture releases around 100g of carbon dioxide per one-litre bottle. On top of that, discarded bottles can take up to 400 years to decompose.

How about health? One problem with PET is that it can leach chemicals into bottled water. The health risk is still unclear, but there are fears that one substance, bisphenol A, may be linked to female reproductive disorders, and PET itself may be a carcinogen.

And although the law requires all drinking water to be safe to drink, bottled water is far less stringently tested than tap water and is more likely to become contaminated with chemicals or micro-organisms. In 1990, Perrier had to recall millions of bottles after traces of benzene were found. In 2004, Coca-Cola withdrew hundreds of thousands of bottles of Dasani (which was actually “purified” tap water) because its processing had introduced illegally high levels of carcinogenic bromates.

And what about taste? In 2007 the wine connoisseurs’ magazine Decanter conducted a blind tasting to compare London tap water with 23 expensive mineral waters. A panel of sophisticated drinkers voted the tap water third equal. The two priciest waters (costing a ludicrous £40–£50 a litre) were ranked 18th and 22nd.

And next time you eat out, note that Section 136 of the Licensing Act 2003 requires restaurants, pubs and clubs to give diners free tap water on request.

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