The Advertising And Economics Behind Bottled Water

We really do love our bottled water. We love our bottle water so much that we are paying somewhere in the neighborhood of a 99% markup per gallon over the cost of ordinary tap water.  Yes, we are actually paying a 99% markup to purchase something we already have. Makes one curious as to why that is.

Unless you are getting your water from the guy that sold you The Statue of Liberty, the cost of getting tap water into your home is less than a penny per gallon! So cheap in fact, most people do not even budget for the water bill. They just pay it and keep moving.

I thought my math had gone way south and my iPhone calculator had concocted a virus when I did the cost per gallon math on a 5-gallon bottle of water sold by a very famous retailer. It turns out that, no, nothing was wrong with the iPhone calculator; $20.99 for a 5-gallon jug of water is $4.19 per gallon. That is just the 5-gallon jug itself. I found another popular beverage, a brand of beer, selling for $4.50 a gallon via keg. In some cases, bottled water is more expensive than beer.

Then there are the convenient 8, 12, 16, 24, 32, ounce bottles. I looked at a 48/ 8-ounce bottle case sold at a major office supply store for $12.99 to see just what the final breakout was. Forty-eight bottles, is a lot of water right? Not really, it’s only six gallons. It seems if you don’t mind getting your water bottle by bottle, at $ 2.16 per gallon, it is somewhat less expensive than the 5- gallon version. Similar comparisons can be made between all sizes and quantities and all arrive at the result: bottled water is more expensive than tap at any turn.

There is also backend and residual costs that inadvertently find their way back to our wallets in one form or another. The industry’s impact on natural rivers and streams, distribution, and discarded packaging‘s impact to the environment. The manufacturing process releases toxins into the environment, such as nickel, ethylbenzene, ethylene oxide and benzene Oh, and bottled water requires another valuable natural resource to get itself into a bottle. Annually about 1.5 million barrels of oil are consumed to process the plastic required for bottled water.

Most of us are aware of some or all of the above, but still prefer our water bottled at what is obviously any cost.


Advertising. No third world underdeveloped water supply system can be blamed here. Oh sure there are some areas throughout the country where the water is truly undrinkable and bottled water is to only option because of local toxin seepage, fracking or the like. However, those numbers are a minuscule percentage of the 58 gallons of water consumed per capita by Americans this year.

Advertising is a powerful mind altering weapon. In this case, it has convinced most of us to pay a 99% or more markup for a natural commodity that we already have on tap. It’s convinced us that adjectives such as “spring”, “sparkling”, “falls”, “crystal” applied to a commodity we already have makes it healthier, trendy, and pure. Pure versus your tap has been the focus of some eye opening observations in the past. The Natural Resources Defense Council‘s scientific study showed over 1/3 of the tested bottled brands contains contaminants like arsenic and carcinogenic compounds. Scientists do admit the contaminants were negligible amounts and all of the bottled water was safe to drink, but importantly the study clearly showed how “bottled water purity” can be misleading.

Tap water is treated with chlorine to kill bacteria. There obviously is a filtration process, which is similar to the method the bottling industry uses. There are only so many ways to filter water, and the tap locales have been filtering water long before the bottled water companies nailed down the procedure. Unless your tap water is coming out of the tap brown and reeking of chemical or some other strange odors, it’s pretty much a safe bet you can use it without harm.

Yes, advertising. Would you buy a bottle of water with no label, or labeled simply “Tap”? Of course, you wouldn’t. You would swiftly realize, “I have that at home”. However, if the bottle is labeled ‘spring water” with a background image of a crystal clear spring and green foliage wrapping the bottle, our minds think fresh, pure, invigorating, healthy, all the things that most tap water is however, that water coming out of that tap is just not as romantic. Advertising sells the bottled water.

This is not an article for or against bottled water. The purpose of this observation is to create a venue of awareness among everyone about the powers of advertising and how it can persuade us to make impractical and unnecessarily costly decisions.


Author: Geo Gee

I'm a curious one that finds politics, social issues, and diverse progressive solutions interesting. I believe information and education are the most powerful weapons one can arm himself with. Those two dynamics alone open the doors to opportunities. I also subscribe to each one teach one for a better world for all.

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