It's difficult to pinpoint exactly when it happened, but sometime over the past decade or so, the general population of this country formed a belief that bottled water is better than tap water — and safer and healthier.
It's pretty ingenious, if not shocking, how bottled water suppliers created an entire industry by convincing millions of people to pay between 240 and 10,000 times more for water in a bottle than getting it from the supply we're already paying for in our homes.
TAP WATER IS CHEAPER
These days, a 16-ounce bottle of "spring" water goes for about a dollar, which works out to about $8 a gallon — twice the cost of milk and on par with bottled soft drinks. Home delivery of water in those great big, heavy bottles is less per gallon but still costs around $40 a month, according to online averages. How does that compare with the water coming out of your kitchen tap?
The average household cost for town water in the U.S. is 66 cents per cubic meter, which is 265 gallons, or 4,240 8-ounce glasses of water — enough to last the average person 530 days (consuming eight 8-ounce glasses per day). Another way to price it: Sixty-two 8-ounce glasses of water cost about 1 cent.
There's no doubt that people love their bottled water. There are dozens of brands, and new versions and advertising slogans are showing up all the time. In 2013 alone, Americans drank 58 gallons of bottled water per capita.
TAP WATER IS SAFER
This may startle you, but it is absolutely true: Tap water is safer than bottled water. How can that be? The reason is simple: The water supply in the U.S. is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, under very strict guidelines and rules that are heavily enforced.
Bottled water is subject to FDA rules, which are far less stringent. For example, tap water by law requires disinfection. Testing for bacteria must be conducted hundreds of times per month.
Bottled water, on the other hand, is not required to be disinfected. The frequency of bacteria testing is fewer than five times each month.
TAP WATER IS HEALTHIER
Tooth decay in children is making a big comeback. The culprit? Bottled water. It's not the water that's causing the decay, according to the World Dental Congress. It's the lack of fluoride.
Parents believe they are giving their children a superior product in bottled water, but in fact they are depriving kids of the fluoride and minerals they need to build healthy teeth and bodies. Despite all of the controversy, community water fluoridation has become recognized as a key preventer of tooth decay, according to the American Dental Association.
So the next time you feel thirsty, don't reach for a bottle. Instead, turn on the tap. You'll be drinking water that is just as safe — or safer — than bottled water and saving money, too. Get the kids to switch, and you just might head off big dental bills down the road.
Don't like the taste of your tap water? Invest in a filter pitcher or dispenser. Install an inexpensive faucet filter or a reverse-osmosis system. Taste comes from negligible amounts of minerals. Filtered tap water removes minerals and chemicals, rendering it with no hint of aftertaste, even at room temperature.
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at [email protected], or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.