About Me

My “Bottled Water”

Back in 2003, I remember being a house guest to a gracious host. He had some other guests over and one asked “is the water safe to drink?” This was a local yuppie asking about the tap water in Oakland, CA. The Bay Area has some of the best tap water in the nation. Even so, I had to resist the urge to point out that when I was in France I had treated a bout of homesickness by skimming the “Lonely Planet USA” guidebook, which explained that, in fact, tap water in the United States is safe to drink in 99.9% of localities, and that anywhere that the water isn’t safe to drink there will be plenty of warning signs: it is reasonable to assume that any American tap water is “safe”.

A few years later, my then-wife and I were guests at my Boss’ house, and dinner was served. Bottled water was made available at each place setting–nothing fancy, just standard, probably-from-Costco bottled water. In Washington, DC. I rationalized that the Boss’ wife is from India, where serving a meal with bottled water could merely be customary. No need to make an ass of myself by offering my own cultural critique of the Boss’ family’s hospitality.

I read that San Francisco recently enacted a ban on spending any further money for bottled water by city departments–currently the city spends $500,000/year on bottled water. This figure seems excessive and wasteful, but then, I read that Muni was a big spender, and I figured those guys out in the street or running vehicles don’t have easy access to tap water. It needn’t be trucked in from somewhere else–just, you know, water-in-a-bottle can be convenient, when you’re not near a tap . . .

I don’t know that you can buy municipal tap water in San Francisco or if you’ll have to bottle your own. I have a feeling that the ban will result in an increase in purchases of bottled soda and other beverages, for those cases where it isn’t a question of bottled versus tap water, but beverage-in-a-bottle versus access-to-a-tap.

My Own Collection of "Bittled Water"

For me, the most valuable aspect of bottled water is the water bottles, which can be refilled and reused to deliver fresh, delicious tap water whenever you like. These bottles are rugged and last for years of normal use.

My favorite is the “New Zealand Eternal”–I snagged this during a job interview. On the one hand, bottling water in New Zealand and transporting it to North America is–frankly–immoral. On the other hand, since it is so flamboyantly wrong, they supply the nicest bottle!

The “Tropicana” bottle is pretty rugged and has a nice, wide mouth. There is also no ambiguity–if you see me drinking water from a Tropicana bottle then its pretty clear this is some home-refill job, and I’m not some asshole who has to maintain the purity of his bodily fluids by importing water from New Zealand!

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Categories: About Me

  • Having spent some time in India recently, I get the bottles of water at dinner. Everywhere, even in the big cities, if you didn’t have a very fancy and well-maintained filter system, your faucets were delivering hot and cold running poison.

  • I’m all for reusing the plastic bottles, but I wouldn’t do it for years at a time. There was a study a year or two ago that talked about the bateria buildup and bottles not designed or designated to be reusable. All the bottles you have in the picture prob1

  • (Dinah hit my keyboard as I was typing and caused premature posting…)

    All the bottles you have in the picture probably are only designed for single time use and aren’t designed to be bacterial resistant or really washable.

    If you want something infinitely reusable (and dishwasher safe) you can get something at pretty much any store. A few years ago Sarah and I bought some tupperware re-usables and use those ALL the time.

  • sam

    I stopped drinking the water at work years ago when it came out of the tap smelling funny and having a yellow tint on more than one occaision. Could just be sub-standard plumbing, but yuck. Also after going through the cryptosporidium outbreak in Milwaukee in 1993 I’m always wary of unfiltered water sources.

    I do think it’s funny to look at some of the sources of bottled water. And we all know what Evian spells backwards :-)

  • Keith makes a good point, I reckon, about bacteria-resistant bottles. I suppose for now this is acceptable target-practice for my immune system, but when I have kids maybe I want fancier.

    Sam– The urban water supplies are fine, but that “last mile” to the tap, especially the on-site plumbing, can get scuzzy. As far as I can gather, the best practice is to let it run a wee bit to get the crap out before you drink–I had the same yellow thing in my first Mountain View apartment, but if I let it run a bit the water was just fine. Besides, at work you have a reverse-osmosis dispenser! :p


  • -berto

    Dannyman, not only is there a bacterial risk from introducing microbes into the reused containers, but also a chemical risk. Low quality, mass produced plastic bottles can react with the chlorine in tap water and will break down into the water you drink. Even prolonged exposure to sunlight will cause a sealed bottle to react with the water inside. High quality plastic bottles that are designed to be reused are available for about $5-$10, and some are even “hardened” against the acidic effects of fruit juice and soda. Truth is, sooner or later some of the plastic will break down into your drink, regardless of the plastic used, but getting a bottle that can reused and rewashed does make sense for a good chunk of the population, especially if they have access to a filtered water source, and can clean the bottle on a regular basis.

    On a side note, it would be interesting to see if the SF ban on bottled water would lead to an increase of consumption of fruit juice or soda. If that is the case, one set of problems (litter, environmental/economic costs) could be traded for another (increased sugar consumption and subsequent health effects, dehydration when working or doing recreational sports, etc). As usual, nothing in the world is cut and dry.

  • Alright kids, I’ll score some “tougher” bottles next time I have a good opportunity. Killjoys.

    Berto, the ban only applies to city departments. I agree it is silly and often wasteful to purchase bottled water. If people simply moved to bottled beverages other than water, the waste problem stays, too.

    Maybe they should just require all “bottled water” to be sold in really high-quality reusable bottles, and levy an appropriate deposit on the cost of the bottle. Say, $1.50 or so for a really nice bottle. It is, after all, IMHO, the bottle, that is the most valuable component.


  • Erik

    I figure the chemical contamination from ‘low-grade’ plastic bottles is probably far less harmful than the cocktail of other pollutants were are exposed to in our modern-day urban life, although this is just a guess. In any case I’m not worrying about drinking tap water, as far as I’ve always heard the quality is very good; there are perhaps more checks on tap water than bottled water.

  • Ben

    I found it kind of funny when I was in northern Germany that you could buy 1L bottled water for 0,30 Euro, of which 0,25 was the bottle deposit.

    Our offices have pseudo water coolers – it’s got the same light-blue plastic jug on top, but the jug is filled from a filter system on the back of the cooler – basically the same as one of those multiple-cylinder whole-house filter systems. No one’s had any issues on it, and I hear we saved a good chunk, given that there are about 15-20 coolers in our building that each went through a bottle every few days.

    I dunno about Bay Area water, but I just got my local water quality report – residual chlorine averaged 0.37 ppm in ’06, with a range from 0.36-0.38 ppm.

    @berto – I have a hard time buying the chemical breakdown argument if Coke can put something with pH ~2.5 in a bottle for up to a year. The debunkers over at Snopes claims the breakdown argument is urban legend as well (http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/petbottles.asp). They do concede the bacteria issue though, but that’s more a function of good sanitation – even if you use/re-use a good Nalgene bottle, you can still get all those fun bugs growing out if you don’t clean it right.

  • Damn. I heard on the radio on Saturday that there are bacteria in my gut helping digest my food!

    Worrying about bacteria is overrated, and yeah, those bottles have a multi-year shelf life in the first place. I an I just aint gonna worry.


  • Hilarious that aquafina water shows up in your ad space at the top of the post, given their recent attention in the news!

  • Jessi,

    If they want to put municipal tap water in bottles and sell that as a convenience, I’m there! Of course, I have plenty of bottles already. :)