If you’re drinking out of your kitchen tap, you might want to reconsider. A study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) shows that there’s a 25% chance that your tap water is either unsafe or hasn’t been properly monitored for contaminants in accordance with federal law, and the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) Infrastructure Report Card has graded America’s drinking water a D every year since 2013.
The EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act identifies contaminants and sets limits on each type of contaminant to determine what is safe for public health. While these EPA regulations in place to protect our drinking water, this is not a fool-proof system. Tap water still has remnants of chemicals, toxins, and contaminants that aren’t meant to be ingested.
Bryan Laird, Water Quality Expert at Primo Water, notes “All tap water is not unsafe and most tap tests meet the current EPA standards. However, there are contaminants such as lead, perfluorochemicals (PFCs), arsenic, chromium, nitrates, and more that are sometimes found in drinking water. Some of these contaminants are caused by industry and agriculture and some are naturally occurring. PFCs and lead are the major concerns.”
Homes built before 1986 are more likely to contain lead than are homes built after, and this lead can seep into drinking water depending on how long water stays in the pipes, the amount of lead the water comes into contact with, temperature of the water, and the level of protective coatings within plumbing materials. The Environmental Defense Fund estimates that as many as 10 million homes in the US get their tap water through lead pipes.
You can find out what contaminants have been found in your local tap water by entering your zip code into the Environmental Working Group’s Tap Water Database.
Knowing that your family may be exposed to contaminants like arsenic, chloroform, and lead in tap water— what can you do to change how your family drinks water?
Switching to purified water is one way to avoid dangerous chemicals found in tap water. Single-serve plastic water bottles, gallon jugs, filters, or pitchers are all tap alternatives, but these come at a great cost and contribute to unnecessary plastic waste. There is evidence that purified water in bulk—that is, water in multi-gallon bottles or run through a dispenser—is not only safer, but buying it at this volume can also be quite sustainable. Let’s take a look at four benefits of purified bulk water that may surprise you.
Typically, water that can be purchased in a store or from a delivery service has been purified using a filtration or distillation method to remove harmful substances found in tap.
Filtration systems such as those that attach to your tap water spout, built-in refrigerator filters, or filtered pitchers of water are good at removing some toxins, but they’re not designed to do the heavy lifting of removing bacteria and viruses that distillers and reverse osmosis systems (RO) do. While water filtration systems work to remove only sediment, taste, and odor, and possibly reduce the presence of certain contaminants found in water, RO systems work by pushing water under pressure through a semipermeable membrane.
Laird explains, “Purifiers such as reverse osmosis and distillation units “filter” to a molecular level. RO membranes reject dissolved solids such as mineral salts and metals in addition to bacteria, viruses, and cysts. Distillation systems boil the water and then capture the cooled water vapor as pure condensate. Impurities aren’t vaporized and are left behind and microbiological impurities are killed by the heat.” In fact, according to the CDC, water purification systems like these rated highly effective in eliminating contaminants, including bacteria and viruses, from water.
While the initial cost of buying an in-home water dispenser may seem like a big investment, it can actually save money long-term. Let’s run the numbers.
A 24-pack of single-serve bottles costs between $5 and $10. On average, a family of four drinks about 15 gallons of water per month, equaling approximately five cases of single-serve bottles (many of which are not BPA free or recycled)—that’s almost $50 dollars a month, or $600 dollars per year. But consider that these single-serve and gallon water bottles are commonly made from polyethylene terephthalate (Pet), which take 400 years to naturally decompose.
With bulk water, buying a high-end dispenser at, say, $300 dollars plus the cost of bulk water for one year is approximately $540. The bulk option is slightly cheaper than buying certain brands of plastic single-serve bottles. After the initial cost of the dispenser, the yearly cost of bulk water can be less than $350, almost half the cost of the single-serve bottle option.
According to a plastics report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, plastic production increased 20 fold from 1950 to 2014 and is expected to continue to rise.
Single-use plastic bottles and gallon jugs are undoubtedly problematic for the environment. Plastic sits in landfills for nearly 400 years or ends up floating in our oceans, and it’s predicted that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans. In single-serve bottle terms, 15 gallons of water consumed by a family of four would waste about 568 single-serve bottles each month, or 1,440 per year.
Americans shop first for taste, then price and health. After these factors are considered, convenience is key.
In 2017, the average American family took about one and a half trips to the grocery store each week. And as pick-up and delivery services become more common at grocery stores like Walmart and Target, there’s no doubt that convenience matters, especially when it comes to grocery shopping.
Having a supply of purified water in the home can not only save you trips to the store, there is also evidence that bulk water can increase the amount of water you drink. In a study conducted on behalf of Primo Water, it was found that bulk water families drink 25% more water than non-bulk households.