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Price Wars: Bottled Water V. Tap Water!

According to an article headline from BusinessInsider.com (July 12, 2013), bottled water costs 2000 times more than tap water. I didn’t quite believe it, but I kept reading. Being a researcher myself, I decided to look into the ins and outs of both water sources for myself and see if that 2000X figure could be believable.

First, I decided to take a look at the top bottled water brands and investigate Google Marketplace for how much you could buy a case of each brand. I did this on purpose because everyone knows the retail price per individual bottle is much higher than when you buy in bulk Costco/Sam’s Club. The results weren’t too surprising given what I knew of daily retail bottle sales as high as $4.00 a bottle in some cases. In the case of buying in bulk, a la the 24 or 35 pack you buy at the big box stores, the cost per bottle is a bit cheaper, averaging around $2.41 per gallon if l ‘we do not take into account the outliers of the few expensive brands, which skew the data.

As for the major brands, what was surprising was the large cost discrepancy of some selected brands such as Fiji and Evian. They cost up to $37.00 per gallon. I thought water was just water? Maybe I’m wrong, but this article isn’t about where they get water, it’s about how much water costs.

So when I think of that number, 2000 times the cost of tap water, I personally think the math is wrong. What I believe is the overall figure of 300X that BusinessInsider.com further determines. It looks more realistic. My numbers put the average cost of tap water at $0.15 nationally, so $0.15 times 2000 would equal $300.00 per gallon. Not enough. But $0.15 times 300 is $45.00 per gallon. Better, but more aligned with really expensive brands. My research is much more conservative and strictly gets the brands cost per gallon from Google Marketplace, although as you can see $45.00 per gallon isn’t far off for the most expensive brands.

How does running water from the city tap sell in the marketplace? Much cheaper! Using 2014 statistics from CircleofBlue.org, the cost of tap water per gallon for major cities averaged just $0.15, ranging from a low of $0.06 per gallon to Phoenix to a high of $0.28 in Seattle. So the final verdict on the average cost per gallon for all major bottled waters vs. tap water is: bottled brand $7.79 per gallon (including expensive brands), tap water 0 $.15 a gallon.

But how much water do we use on a daily basis? Monthly basis? Annual basis? The good folks at the Mayo Clinic came up with a rebuke of the old adage of 8 8 fl oz cups of water a day for everyone. This is a good rule of thumb, but not precise enough. Instead, the Mayo Clinic states in its guidelines that the healthy water intake for men is 104 oz. or.8125 gallons and for women it is 72 oz. or .5625 gallons. I converted to gallons for ease of calculations in passing.

Since we just figured out the cost per gallon of bottled and tap water, we can easily work out how much a person would theoretically spend per year just to stay properly hydrated. Keep in mind that the bottled water industry is an $11.8 billion industry with 9.7 billion gallons of water consumed by Americans alone in 2012, which obviously makes brand water an American favorite for hydration. Let’s run the numbers.

With the most expensive bottled waters costing over $37.00 per gallon and the average cost per gallon of branded water at $7.00 per gallon (and with marketing data touting how much Americans love their branded water), is it any wonder that Americans are willing to spend over $2500.00 a year just to stay hydrated? Is bottled water much better than tap water? Well, that’s another article, but spoiler alert, in most cases over 25% of bottled water is simply from the same source as tap water. If you don’t believe me, go see the movie “Tapped”!

In closing, I invite you to run your own numbers to double-check my numbers. If a family of four only drank tap water every day to stay hydrated, they would be spending about $250.00 per year. If a family of four drank average brand water to stay hydrated, they would spend around $5,600 a year! For argument’s sake, let’s say that number is somewhere in between, so around $2700 per year. That’s still a lot of money we Americans are willing to spend on tap water to stay hydrated! How much does your family spend to stay hydrated?

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