Message in A Bottle

This week’s blog is brought to you by Emily Bilcik, a WCO intern.

Society revolves around sending and receiving messages. Many messages we intercept are misleading while some messages are clearer than others, quite literally.

When it comes to drinking water not everyone is as informed as they could be. Bottles of spring water, mineral water, purified water, and sparkling water are all waiting on shelves for us to purchase and drink, but very few of us know enough about them to make educated consumer choices. People aren’t always aware about the potential environmental impacts of our consumption and we often fail to think twice about asking for more product information. The truth is not only sometimes hard to see, but it is also hard to swallow.

Do you know where your drinking water comes from?

If you drink tap water, then you can easily review a detailed annual water quality report from your public water supplier to find out. The report details where your water comes from, what it contains, and how it measures up to national standards. If you drink bottled water, however, it is possible you may never know where the water is sourced or what levels of contaminants are present. There are big differences between bottled water and tap water, especially when it comes to regulation. Tap water is strictly regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is only delivered to the public if it meets safety standards established by the EPA.

full_comic_water_trustContrastingly, bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Both tap water and bottled water are safe to drink permitting they meet the set quality standards. Tap water can only be delivered to a faucet if it meets the EPA drinking water standards, so you can always be assured of clean water from your public supplier. However, bottled water can be shelved and sold in stores even if FDA standards are not fully met.

How do bottled water companies get away with this you ask? According to the Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 administered by the FDA, bottled water companies can sell contaminated water products to their consumers as long as the label mentions a “statement of substandard quality.” So unless you read every bottle you sip from, you may be purchasing poor quality water. THAT should leave a bad taste in your mouth!

Take a quick look at some of the shocking label statements mandated under Title 21 when poor quality bottled water quality is marketed:

label statements

As you can tell,  bottled water is not always safer than tap water. In fact, according to the EPA, some bottled water is treated less than tap water or not even treated at all!  

Bottled water companies are crafty in product advertising.  Their labels are showered with pictures of pristine streams, glaciers, and other seemingly untouched water sources which make us, the consumers, secure in our thoughts that we are paying for a superior product. As disappointing as it sounds, your bottled water is often supplied from a municipal source instead of a mountain spring as the logo may suggest.

For instance, review this common bottled water label. If you can’t read the tiny print, the water comes from “public water sources” which means it originates from the same place your tap water does!

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According to the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), “If a bottled water product’s source is a public water system and the finished bottled water product does not meet the FDA Standard of Identity for purified or sterile water, the product label must disclose the public water system source.” – If you’d like to know the official IBWA definitions for purified water among other types of water click here.

Take this opportunity to practice reading bottled water labels before you buy them. Do you notice something in common between the two labels below? These companies both source from the tap which they denote on the bottle as from a “Public Water Supply” or “Municipal Water Supply.” Not only are the companies blatantly selling you filtered tap water, but they are also selling it to you at 1,000 times the price of regular tap water!! Would you buy a hamburger at 1,000 times the price?

Avoiding bottled water is easy if you want to do it. If you want to filter your tap water, then invest in a filtered pitcher or reusable bottle. Not only is this a simple solution, but it is also great for your wallet and the environment!

The EPA encourages all consumers to be well informed about the quality of their drinking water. It is important to read about both tap water and bottled water before deciding which to drink. The easiest way to learn more about tap water is by reading your local water supplier’s annual water report. Likewise, if you want to know more about bottled water, read the labels or contact the producers directly. Be sure to ask questions about the things you consume, because there is nothing worse than getting the wrong message.


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