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Monday, January 31, 2011

The best things in life are (relatively) free

This is a post about water. When we were little (and wasn't that long ago) and thirsty, life was simple.  We would run into the kitchen and turn on the tap.  If we were outside or at the park, (as kids most often were), we would find the nearest water fountain and slurp away, all the while being careful not to let our lips get too close to the actual spout - but not really caring if they did.  And then, suddenly, without anyone really noticing, a third option emerged, a social phenomenon - the bottle of water. 

In our last post Economia Nia spoke about how she gets annoyed having to spend money on un-fun but necessary items like toilet paper and tampons.  Well, this post is about how annoyed we get at other people... for spending money on things that are, in our humble opinions, a waste of money.  Bottled water SO tops that list.  Come on people - buying bottled water is tantamount to buying a bag of air..and air of questionable quality..but we'll get to that!

We know, we know....there are those of you out there who are convinced that bottled water is just...better!  It tastes better and it's better for you. And of course you believe that!  The bottled water market is incredibly competitive and companies need to create great marketing strategies. Although bottled water was originally meant to be used for drinking, it has also been marketed as ideal for infant formula preparation, for use in reconstituting other foods, for cleaning contact lenses, for skin care, and for filling humidifiers.  Smart people those marketing guys and gals! 

So let's talk about taste.  Now, let us start by saying that we happen to love (really love) someone who is convinced, not only that bottled water tastes better, but that a certain bottled water tastes better than others.  Could this be true?  Sure, we guess it can. Those of you who know us may think that we are the last people who should be commenting on the taste of water.  We are coffee drinkers by day, milk drinkers by evening and alcohol drinkers by late evening.  But still, water has flowed over our taste buds, and we just don't find the taste of tap water all that bad. 
Truth be told, the only bottled water that we have ever tasted - which actually tastes very different (and yes, we'll admit, better) from tap is FIJI (and the bottle is darn cute!).  But is it worth close to 3$ for a small bottle (regardless of how cute)?  We don't think so.  The cost is however understandable when you visit the website for FIJI Water, which describes in detail the very complicated and sophisticated water bottling process.  The FIJI Water people are also proud to declare that their water is "Far from pollution. Far from acid rain. Far from industrial waste."  Well, guess what folks?  Unless you live near the lovely island nation of Fiji in the is also FAR FROM YOU!  So, although your water is far from pollution, you're helping to pollute a whole lot more water, (and air, and land) by transporting these pretty bottles all over the world.

Still, taste aside, what we're really confused about is why people would spend money on something that they could get for next to nothing!  We figure that there could be a couple of explanations for this:

1. Folks really believe that bottled water is better for you than tap.
2. Folks really believe that bottled water is just a lot more convenient.
3. Bottled water is considered a status symbol...for example: "I can afford to spend money on something I don't have to spend money I must really be moving up in the world". 

We'll get to assumptions 1 and 2 in a for #3...really, that's a sad excuse for a status symbol!  Save your money and buy designer shoes.

Now, let's talk about quality... and safety. 

We're sure that you know that not all bottled waters are created equal.  Luckily, the FDA and Health Canada require that each brand of bottled water be labeled according to type. But do you know what these types mean? 

Let's start with purified water.  Sorry to tell you, but purified water is essentially tap water.  Yup, purified water is surface or underground water that has been treated in order to be suitable for human consumption.  It differs from tap water only through the way it is distributed (bottles versus pipes) and in cost.  So, if you have ever purchased some AquafinaTM or DasaniTM, keep the bottle.  That way you can refill it from the tap and have, pretty much,  more of the same.

Spring water (like EvianTM) is underground water protected against pollution hazards. To qualify as spring water, it must be collected only at the spring or through a borehole tapping the underground formation feeding the spring. If the collection process uses some type of an external force, the water must be from the same stratum as the spring and must retain the quality and all of the same physical properties of water that flows naturally from a spring to the surface. Sound complicated.

As for mineral water...well, it contains not less than 250 parts per million total dissolved solids and is defined by its constant level and relative proportions of mineral and trace elements at the point of emergence from the source. No minerals can be added to the water.

And now, for safety.  In a 2003 study published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, looking at risk factors for Campylobacter infection (the most common cause of bacterial gastroenteritis worldwide), it was found that there were 5 risk factors which, taken together, could account for most sporadic cases of the runs.  They included .....drumroll please...drinking bottled water !  In 1974 there was a very significant cholera outbreak in Portugal transmitted through bottled mineral water. Published reports have shown bottled water to be the source of the causative agent not only in cholera but also typhoid outbreaks, as well as traveller's diarrhea. 

In Canada, prepackaged or bottled water is legally defined as a "food." So, when offered for sale to the consumer, it must comply with all of the provisions of the Canadian Food and Drugs Act and pertinent Regulations (Health and Welfare Canada 1982), just as all foods must.  That's good, right?  Well, although it's good that there are regulations and provisions, it doesn't mean that they're doing all they are meant to do.

In 1992 there was a review put out by the Canadian Food Directorate, Health Protection Branch, which looked at the microbiological quality of bottled water sold in Canada.  What he found was scary.  If you want to read the whole's the link:

If you don't want to be up all are a few key points:

During production and distribution, the cleanliness of the source water (which could be the cleanest you can imagine) can change dramatically at each step of the manufacturing process and during storage in bottles on the retailer's shelves. These changes can occur due to contamination.  Also, the sleeping little microorganisms living in that clean, clean water can suddenly wake up when the environment of the water they were snoozing in changes (with a change in temperature, oxygen exposure, and other stuff)

Contamination can occur at the bottling plant. Sources of contamination, other than the water, include equipment used to pump or transport the water from its source to the bottling location, equipment used in the
processing or bottling process (such as deionizing columns and filters, whatever they are), as well as bottles, caps, and other environmental sources.

Now, you may be thinking..."Yeah, but these things are regulated...and if we're going to worry about water..then I guess we should worry about all food".  Well, maybe we should, but that's not for this post.  Actually, we should be especially concerned about bottled water for 3 reasons:

(i) Up to 50 mL of water, when taken between meals, can pass immediately through the stomach into the intestine.  This quick run of water means that gastric juices in the stomach don't have time to kill off any dangerous little bugs before they reach your intestines and cause a whole slew of problems.
(ii) You don't need to ingest a lot of pathogens in order to get ill, particularly between meals.
(iii) Consumption of bottled water by vulnerable populations, such as the elderly or chronically ill, will probably increase as these populations increase.  Contaminated water supplies might actually be a more significant source of infection than foods, especially for infants.

Truth is, we don't know how large the problem is, because contaminated water supplies often cause intestinal problems that go unreported, since the problems may be short lived (in healthy people) and are probably not associated with the water. Also, the great review we mention was published in 1992, that a long time ago.  The author concluded his paper by stating that more work and follow-up needed to be done...for some reason, we couldn't find an updated report ! This makes us say "yikes".

And now, moving on to assumption #2...that bottled water is convenient.  Really?  Since when is it convenient to run to the store when you're thirsty?  Since when is it convenient to carry your pile of empty water bottles to recycling (please, please, tell us that you are at least recycling these things!). Nope, we don't buy it (literally).  It is really much more convenient to rely on the tap.  And, if you think you'll be in a place where there is no sink in sight, invest in a portable, re-usable water bottle.  We've included two links to sites that you can visit (and purchase from) on-line, although you can certainly find these and other brands in stores.  We recently changed our water bottles and bought some Kleen Kanteens through eCause.  They also have a website.

And, as a final thought, the motto for EvianTM is "Live young".  We find that really cute, because if we lived young (or like we did when we were young), we would still have our mouths hovering over the spout of the water fountain with water dripping down our chins, and some extra change in our pockets.

Whew...all this typing has made us thirsty :)
The Tightwads


  1. i love you... and knew all this before. I fully agree with all this...other than needing some water for a car ride, or when you are on the your money! and the earth! buy diet coke! (okay, okay just joking!)