Putting Tap Water Back on Top

By Dr. Mark LeChevallier – May 26, 2016 – Comment

It’s not often that you’ll hear a bottled water company’s CEO advocating for more people to drink tap water, but that’s what I was pleasantly surprised to read from Grace Jeon of Just Water, a company doing a lot of things right in their approach to selling bottled water. As this article relates, the company is setting a great example in terms of reducing their carbon footprint, creating water bottles out of responsibly harvested paper, boosting the local economy and sourcing their water in a way that doesn’t put further stress on an aging water infrastructure and, in fact is financing infrastructure repair. 

But suddenly my focus shifted from Just Water’s better-bottle innovation to what brought us to a bottled-water-dependent society that is such a threat to our environment in the first place. I thought back – and didn’t have to go all that far – to the era before the bottled water consumer craze. It’s generally agreed upon that the magic year is 1977, when Perrier launched an advertising campaign credited with “heralding a rebirth in water popularity.”

So, that’s not even two generations ago that tap was the ruler of the water-drinking world! I began to consider, is it possible to get back to that pre-bottled era of water? And if so, what would it take to start shifting society back to looking at tap water more favorably? I’ve outlined four starting points.

#1: Myth Busting – Bottled Water Is Not Better for You. U.S. tap water is considered to be some of the safest in the world. Moreover, tap water is regulated by the EPA which has much more stringent regulation and frequent testing than the FDA-monitored tap water.

#2: Looking at Dollars and Cents. Fascinating fact – nearly 50% of bottled water sold in the U.S. is – you guessed it – reprocessed tap water. In some instances, that tap water is sold in bottles for as much as 3,000 times more than the cost of getting it straight from the tap.

#3:  Environmentally Responsible.  Tap water has a lower carbon footprint – a lot lower – than bottled water.  Consider the amount of energy to bottle, transport, and refrigerate bottles of water when most places already have cool clean water flowing from the tap.  And that’s not considering that most plastic water bottles are not recycled, but end up in landfills!

#4: Bringing Sexy Back. Bottled water has evolved into a “sexy” product. It’s become a bit of an image-builder for those drinking it, especially those walking around with brands evoking exotic getaways among artesian springs. Admittedly, I’m not sure tap water was ever considered sexy, but its image is slowly building with the trend shifting to reusable bottles. Moreover, sleeker reusable bottle design and even corporate branding can help accelerate the image-building.

#5: Greater Convenience. Bottled water took off due, in large part, to its convenience. But I believe the diminishing convenience of tap water also came into play. For example, how many public drinking fountains do you see these days? Once a staple, massive facilities are being built without them. And, remember lunch boxes that came with a thermos “Mom” could fill up for the kids? You don’t usually see those sold as a set like that today. The return of such conveniences could go a long way in tap water resurgence.

I think there’s a great deal of hope in the fact that bottled water hasn’t been on top all that long – there are still many of us living today who’s first way of doing things was “straight from the tap.” Like so many of the environmentally friendly changes being made today, it just takes a slight lifestyle change, supported by awareness and partnerships.