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Liquid assets: how the business of bottled water went mad (theguardian.com)
75 points by thoughtfox on Oct 9, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 83 comments

The World Health Organization has a report titled "Health risks from drinking demineralised water". The main problem is that water without minerals upsets the osmotic balance and leads to lysing (rupture) of the cells lining the stomach.

The WHO has moved stuff on their site, but I think this document is one source:


Coffee grounds are a good filter for removing heavy metal contaminants from water:


>water without minerals upsets the osmotic balance and leads to lysing (rupture) of the cells lining the stomach

I've heard many people claim this but I've never seen any convincing evidence that it actually happens in vivo. Even if you pour it directly down the throat, ultra-pure water stops being ultra-pure as soon as it hits the stomach. There's no way it can touch any gastrointestinal cells before it's contaminated.

Your linked article even acknowledges this. "currently available data have not unambiguously demonstrated a direct negative effect of low mineral content water on the gastrointestinal mucous membrane." It also cites an animal study showing no damage: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8434446

Water can be an important source of dietary minerals, but the health impact of this depends on what else you're eating. I agree it makes sense to have minerals in drinking water, for the taste as well as the possible health benefits, but missing them is not actively dangerous.

It just gets more and more complex, doesn't it. Now we have to worry about remineralizing RO water.

    [Tap Water] 
    [Water Softener]------------+ 
         |                      |
         V                      V
    [Reverse Osmosis System]  [Showering & Washing] 
    [RO storage tank]

In Len Beadell's book "Blast the Bush", he describes a solution (pun?) developed while building the Woomera Rocket Range. Apparently the groundwater had a terrible taste; so they built a distillation facility. But the distilled water was unpalatable because it was too pure. So, they experimented by mixing distilled water with small amounts of groundwater, eventually arriving at a drinkable ratio.

Yup. Potable vs. Palatable drinking water.

Yeah, I always wondered why there isn't simply one line running to the bathrooms + laundry room with softened water, and a separate line which goes through RO for everything else. Putting a RO + tank under the sink but the softener in the garage / basement seems backwards to me; I know nothing about plumbing but it would seem to make more sense to have a small softener under the bathroom sink just for the shower.

You put the softener at the inlet to the house because you don't want to have hard water flowing through the pipes in your house. Hard water precipitates minerals that ruin the piping, hence you put the softener at the main inlet.

The softened water is for more than just comfort of use though. It keeps the hard water from depositing in the pipes and any of the devices that have water pass through them. It was interesting when we installed a better softening system that our water heater started putting out hotter water since the elements got cleared of the deposits. It also stopped making creepy sounds.

From what I've gathered, hard water also lowers the life expectancy of the RO system.. Also you may want softer water for cleaning dishes, since softer water means better lather with less soap, saving your detergent.

That's actually exactly what I came up with when designing how I'd do it some years ago. I didn't bother as our tap water is good out here. The only difference is I had a greywater (or whatever they call it) system in the design for reusing stuff for garden, toilet flushing, water guns used on non-household people with minimal filtering, whatever.

Who's drinking demineralized water though? All of the bottled water commonly available for sale is not demineralized, at least to my knowledge.

> He liked the can, too – more environmentally friendly than a plastic bottle

Say what? Plastic bottles are much more environmentally friendly.

Sigh, if people can't even agree on what is and isn't good for the environment there is zero chance of actually improving it. (Or maybe we've reached the max and the only things left to argue about is little irrelevant things.)

Yeah, I'm kind of wondering where that comes from... I guess because PET is a petroleum product? There's so much more to it than that though, it's silly to simplify things that far.

Literally made from carbon!

I on average drink 120-150 oz of water a day (sometimes a portion of this is unsweet iced tea, or diet soda), since I started doing this, I've lost weight and generally feel healthier. So several years ago, I got in the habit of lugging around a large beverage container (http://www.whirleydrinkworks.com/productinfo.php?prod-code=X...) 9 times out of 10 its just tap water I put in the thing. I only drink bottled water when I'm in a position where I can't get access to fill my beverage container from the tap - or when due to security or other factors I'm unable to bring my large beverage cup, but bottled water is allowed.

Bottled water (usually purchased in a 1.5l, 2l or 1gal container) is something I purchase only for convenience when I simply don't have access to any tap water at all.

Pretty much same as you, although sadly a lot more of my fluid intake is in the form of coke zero which I'm trying to break. I only keep bottled water around in case of emergency. I've found that after I bought a large Nalgene bottle I drink a lot more water.

Try switching to green tea + l-theanine. I went from coke -> coffee -> tea without a problem. The main addiction is to the caffeine.

> The main addiction is to the caffeine.

I'm not so sure. I think there is something else about it that makes it habit forming. When dieting I sometimes get into a 10 can a day habit with fairly strong cravings despite a high caffeine intake from coffee.

The cravings are not too hard to overcome - a few days of abstinence and they go away. I don't notice health/well-being differences with or without it. The main motivation to quit is because lugging crates of the stuff home is a damn nuisance!

For me I think it's the carbonation which makes me wonder how carbonated tea would fare.

Perrier too!

With all due respect to your freedom of speech, but who cares? I want to read responses about the article, not anecdotal weight loss data and about your daily habits.

I stayed at a hotel that offered complimentary bottle of water in the room, I think this was in Dallas. I read the label and they stated that the water source was the municipal water supply - so it was the same as tap water...

Coca Cola's brand "Dasani" is bottled tap water.

I'm from Britain, where the product was withdrawn after terrible publicity, and following that it was never launched in the rest of Europe. I hadn't realised it still existed in the USA: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dasani

("Can't live without spunk" is unbelievably bad advertising too. Spunk is slang for semen...)

Time to point out what Evian spells when read backwards...

Time to point out that Evian is a place in France where the company originated


Capitalism metastasized when bottled water replaced public drinking fountains in the 90s and 00s.

My family owns a water company in Lake Tahoe, I've been wanting to bottle it for years, but there is a law that won't allow us to do so.

I live in alameda, and I drink the tap water - I love it. I have kleen canteen I keep with me almost always with water in it, and I try to avoid bottled water as much as possible mostly because I don't like the plastic waste

I live in the countryside in Ohio. We have a well and a water softener. But my kitchen sink has a second faucet that goes directly to the well, bypassing the softener - I always drink from that one because it tastes better.

I fill up my Nalgene before I leave and only buy bottled water on rare occasions.

I used to live in San Mateo, they had pretty good tap water to.

Interesting -- most water softener setups I have seen are only plumbed into the hot water, I've been told that this is because drinking softened water is not recommended.

Hum. This is the first house I've ever owned, and this is the 3rd or 4th thing I've been told wasn't "normal" about it. The previous owner also ran a construction company, and I'm pretty sure he did a lot of work on this house himself, so it wouldn't surprise me if this is another instance of that.

For the most part, though, everything works well enough. So I'm happy overall.

What I don't get: why is a bottle of Coca-Cola better than a bottle of water?

And, well... what else are you supposed to do if you aren't going to be near a faucet for a while?

Uh. You fill a purpose-made reusable container with water and take it with you. What do you think people did before bottled water became a thing?

Or, y'know, just wait, also like people used to do. One won't die without frequent sips of water.

I remember once seeing a women in a church service with her mandatory stylish bottle of water. Now, it's certainly possible that she had an actual medical issue requiring frequent hydration, and it's certainly possible that she was also of a social class such that the stylish water bottle was the reasonable way to address her medical issue — but Ockham's Razor suggests not.

Water's great. Honestly, I like the idea of a water sommelier: having the opportunity to taste different waters sounds cool. I love the idea of drinking water thousands of years old (although I wonder how trustworthy the supplier are: it'd be a lot cheaper just to distil tapwater than to net chunks of iceberg). But the social signalling aspect is just weird.

We pay millions of dollars for good, clean drinking water. And it is — outside of hellholes like Flint, MI — pretty damned good stuff. Why buy it as a matter of course?

Tap water is awesome when you are home and it doesn't taste like crap. Bottled water is awesome when I am at the gym, or out and about.

I really don't get why the left hate water bottles so fucking much, it has become quite tiresome.

I really don't get why the left hate water bottles so fucking much, it has become quite tiresome.

What I don't get is this lazy, ridiculous partisan politics bullshit. That has become extraordinarily tiresome. "The left hate water bottles". WTF are you talking about? A water bottle is a device for putting water in. WTF does left-leaning politics have to say about that? Did the British labour party have elimination of water bottles as one of their manifesto pledges? Did the Weather Underground declare war on water bottles? Maybe I missed the bit where Al Gore [1] invoked a committee examining how to remove the scourge of water bottles. When Baader-Meinhof assassinated a banker, did they have a parallel plot to take out a bottle factory? Did the Comintern have a working party identifying water bottle plants to eliminate after the revolutions?

[1] Who actually represents a right-wing political party, but WTF, I'm already flowing [2].

[2] Pun intended.

Why not fill a bottle with tap water from your home and take that with you when out and about?

Because they are an environmental disaster with no need for them. Get a refillable water bottle and take that to the gym.

Why does the US continue to let plastic bottles of water (or anything) be sold? I agree that it's terrible for the environment. I'm guessing that the reason is "lobbyists" :(

Is the US somehow unique in selling plastic bottles? Why don't those environmentally conscious countries ban plastic?

Paper bottles failed to catch on. ;)

I think part of this is to do with the 'hydrate' word. Years ago, before water was advertised on television there was this word 'thirsty'. Sometimes, on a hot day or after some strenuous activity you might be 'thirsty' and need to have a drink of tea or maybe just plain water for instant refreshment. The water came from the tap, where else?

But then times changed. Nowadays people don't listen to their bodies and drink accordingly. The advertisers have told people that they need to buy water and drink it to avoid getting dehydrated - 'mustn't get dehydrated'... Tapwater is inconceivable to this demographic, it has to be the stuff in plastic bottles (water cooler included).

I also like the way old-fashioned drinks are a slightly sociable thing. If I make tea I do it for everyone, we take turns. Meanwhile the 'hydrationists' sort their own bottled water arrangements out, it is not a shared thing.

I also like the way that tap water gets to your door. There are pumping stations, pipes and this thing called gravity!!! Meanwhile, the 'hydrationists' need little men driving big lorries full of water across continents, more little people in shops stacking shelves with this stuff, time out of their day to go to the shops to buy this stuff and the money to pay for it. I don't see myself as that special, tap water is more me (60% or so...), you are what you drink.

Many people don't drink from the tap because they are convinced it's bad water (which is true in corner cases at least in the US). Everyone I know who drinks bottled does it because of this and it has nothing to do with this 'hydration' ritual you are theorizing.

I live in Zürich.

The water company here says that it's unfair to compare the tap water with bottled mineral water; the tap water is substantially better.

(I had a tour of the plant. They are a serious group of overachievers. The source of the water is mostly the local lake, and is purified by, two grades of sand filter, activated charcoal, ozone purification, and a bacterial bed. They actively manage the biofilms in the water pipes; the water itself is so clean that chlorination is unnecessary. They also actively manage the local aquifers so that the underground water flow near any industrial site flows away from their collection wells. There are two separate distribution networks, one for emergencies, plus a warehouse full of bagged water ready for distribution. And, best of all, it tastes great.)

Update: Dammit, I forget to mention the coolest thing about Zürich water!

After treatment, the water flows through a glass tank with some daphnia in it (water fleas). These are watched with a video camera and motion analysis done by computer.

Apparently, they aren't just able to detect impurities by detecting differences in the way the daphnia move, they are capable of detecting individual compounds because they affect the daphnia differently...

Ok, now that's cool.

Well it's just plain unfair to compare German efficiency and thoroughness with... anywhere else in the world.

Zürich is in Switzerland.

I wouldn't recommend calling them German. :)

Culturally/linguistically German/Germanic?

'The official language of Zürich is (the Swiss variety of Standard) German...' [1]

Northern Switzerland was founded by Germanic tribes, after all.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Z%C3%BCrich

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Switzerland#Germa...

We have multiple official languages, including an Italian derivative and French. Our history is as independently rich, tracing to the Holy Roman Empire, as that of the Germanic tribes.

Yes, but 'German' or 'Germanic' is still the accepted English word to refer to the shared culture and history of all German-speaking areas, of which northern Switzerland and Zurich are definitely part.

The term is not restricted to only refer to modern Germany (which didn't even exist as a unified state until the late 19th century).

Zürich is not german.

The culture of Switzerland, particularly Zürich, is more South German than it is North Italian or East French.

In the US, we switch water sources willy nilly because of capitalism and political maneuvering: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flint_water_crisis

I definitely don't trust the municipal water sources + local plumbing my landlords provide to be of the highest quality. I'd like to measure what actually comes out of my taps but I'm not aware of a lab which would affordable do contaminant level testing for just a few samples.

Well, I come from the UK. We don't have the same political issues you do, but to make up for that, we have special problems. While British water is completely safe, there are still some issues...

- ancient Victorian infrastructure means that there are leaks. They're terrified of contaminated water getting into the system, so they crank the pressure up, to ensure that any leaks happen outwards. This, of course, makes the leaks worse.

- even so, the water has to be chlorinated, and in some areas, quite heavily. You will never forget the first time you turn on a tap and get gassed.

- some really old houses still have lead pipes. I was taught as a child that if I wanted to drink water, I should let the water run until it went cold before filling a glass.

- some not-so-old houses still have a low-pressure water system which runs things like hot water, bathroom taps, etc. Traditionally these run off a tank in the loft, filled from the mains. This tank is frequently unsealed, and so fills up with sludge, moths, dead rats, etc. Even today, do not drink water from the hot tap unless it's obviously at mains pressure (which means it's connected to the mains via a sealed high-pressure water tank or a heat exchanger). (The reason for this is to enforce a vertical drop between the water mains and the house system, so that if the pressure ever falls in the water mains, there's no risk of sucking contaminated water back up the pipe. In such houses, there is a single source of potable water, which is the cold tap in the kitchen.)

- even then the water out of some of the aquifers is so hard as to be nigh undrinkable. Soap works markedly better in Scotland than it does in south-east England, and if you go to Cambridge you might as well not wash.

Of course, a lot of this is now being fixed, although slowly and painfully --- I think lead pipes are now no longer a thing. But it really makes me appreciate how good the water is in Zürich.

This dual-system is one of the things that drives me crazy when in the UK. Oftentimes you get a sink with two separate taps, one hot one cold. So if you want to rinse your hands with warm water, you turn them both on and quickly move your hands between the two. If you're too slow, you get scalded!

Fun fact: mixer taps in the UK don't mix! There are two separate tubes, usually one inside the other, for carrying hot and cold water. So, what comes out of the tap is cold on the outside and hot on the inside, resulting in scalding your hands and freezing them at the same time!

...because you can't connect the hot water and cold water systems together (because of aforesaid risk of sucking contaminated water out of the hot system into the cold system).

Agreed - These are even worse than the dual-taps. It looks like you can get warm water out, but as you said, when you put your hands under the tap you're getting independent streams of very hot and very cold water. Strange (and painful) sensation!

Is it really that hard to add an anti siphon valve? All it is is a small one-way flap.

Or a backflow preventer - they are the law in many states. Put one on the hot and cold side.

> some really old houses still have lead pipes.

Where really old means "built before 1970".

>I think lead pipes are now no longer a thing.

There's been a lot of work to get rid of all the lead pipes, but there are still plenty around. Also, DIYers sometimes use the wrong, lead-based, solder for water pipe.

Ah! I always wondered why cold water tanks were a thing.

Agree with the rest of your statement but not this:

> this 'hydration' ritual you are theorizing.

You are lucky not to have encountered the whole "hydration" fetish. It's especially bad with kids (apparently they are so busy having fun they don't notice when they are thirsty -- and this has apparently only recently developed??) and spread via parents into the workplace. part of the pathology of helicopter parenting.

The water peddlers have successfully convinced people in places where the water is perfectly safe to drink (and tasty too) that it isn't. There are plenty of places in the world where the water isn't safe to drink but a very large portion of those is so poor the people there could not afford bottled water anyway.

But for places with old water lines and all kinds of junk in the water it can make good sense to use bottled water for consumption.

I'm from Germany and it's almost uncanny with _some_ people. Like in, you get a glass of water (from the tap, where else?) and (some) people act like "What the hell is he doing?! Is he insane? You can't drink that!"

n.b. Germany has some of the strictest regulations and accordingly the tap water is of excellent quality - everywhere.

Besides, at least here in Germany you can always get the latest lab reports right from the website of your local "Wasserwerke".


- Munich https://www.swm.de/privatkunden/m-wasser/qualitaet.html (the 1st PDF link)

- Nuremberg https://www.n-ergie.de/privatkunden/produkte/wasser/analysew... (click on the map, starts an interactive map, Flash unfortunately, from which the values for the four different areas they provide water for are available)

- Berlin http://www.bwb.de/content/language1/html/3255.php

I knew a woman who was a water engineer at the local waterworks. She drank nothing but tap water. You can trust a product when the engineers that made it use it.


On the other hand, I spent some time in Russia and in Ukraine. I don't remember all the places any more, but I think the worst was in Odessa, Ukraine - an incredibly beautiful city that I fervently recommend visiting (even for someone who used to live in the Presidio in San Francisco) - where I would not even brush my teeth with the water. I had tried to use it to prepare pasta, the result was disgusting. Those pasta went into the trash.

The US army camp in Heidelberg actually had their perfectly fine tap water chlorinated.

From a German point of view (chlorine tastes and smells horrible) this is just ridiculous.

The issue is that ozone purification cleans the water at the source, but it's free to pick up contamination in the pipes as it makes its way to the tap; chlorination works right up until the water is drunk. The downside is that chlorinated water does not taste great.

If one has a good pipe system, the ozonated water is fine. If there's any worry, though, chlorinated is safer. I'm not surprised that a military base would choose the safer alternative: no-one ever got fired for ensuring that the water is safe to drink.

Consider that most buildings built in the 1980s or earlier have at least some lead pipes in the building plumbing, not to mention the mains. In the Bay Area, how many of us live in buildings built in the 80s or earlier? With the way landlords act around here, I would be very much not surprised to see high lead levels coming out of faucets.

From 10 minutes of research it looks like SF is lead-free for water mains, but this talks about how fixtures even up until 2010 potentially contain unsafe levels of lead: http://www.bayarealeaddetectors.com/blog/

And this is just one contaminant: http://www.livescience.com/56210-what-is-chromium-6-in-tap-w...

https://www.epa.gov/ccl/types-drinking-water-contaminants // https://www.wqa.org/learn-about-water/common-contaminants

While I personally don't buy bottled water (lucky enough to have RO filtration at home and at work), I don't really blame those who do out of fear. Unless you get what's coming out of the actual taps you use tested regularly, you don't actually know what you're drinking.

or just filter the tap water yourself

I'm from Poland where I don't know anyone who drinks water from the tap, purely because of widespread belief that tap water is bad(which comes all the way back from communist times, when you couldn't trust what the government said). My mum drinks water from the tap if nothing else is available, but only after boiling it first.

Something that amuses me is at least two of the UK bottled water brands are selling untouched tap water. Not treated, filtered, or with additives as mentioned in the article. Just tap water put in plastic bottles. One of them was selling Manchester tap water, I think, and doing quite well with it.

I can understand wanting bottled water in London where tap tastes terrible, being 80% limestone, but for the rest of the UK bottled is a pointless waste of money.

Now I want to visit Manchester and try the tap water there. I live in London and for some reason have absolutely no complaints about tap water here, I drink it all the time.

I think it's just what you're used to -- I like London tap water, but dislike Manchester's water.

There's a water hardness map for England (PDF): http://www.dwi.gov.uk/consumers/advice-leaflets/hardness_map...

(But you should go to Manchester anyway.)

Interesting I'd not seen that map before.

After watching documentaries about America's crumbling infrastructure I've been paranoid about tap water. My thinking is that the less piping that the water travels through, the less risk of contamination. I've assumed that bottled water gets bottled right by the its source, minimizing the risk.

Depends on the water. The Coke/Pepsi waters (Dasani/Aquafina), among many others, are just purified tap water. So it goes through all the same piping that brings water to most American homes.



Beware, Poland Spring (owned by Pepsi) in New England famously bored a well in a property they bought -- that had previously been a paint factory. Because of the success of food regulation in the USA it took a TV station to find this out.

Poland Spring is owned by Nestle.

The previous use of the surface site doesn't necessarily make the aquifer unusable. It would be much more damning if their water was tested and found to have higher than normal levels of volatile organic compounds or whatever.

Thanks for catching the pepsi/Nestle error.

Yes, the paint factory was a superfund site. So this wasn't the "it's just tap water" story, it turned out to be an actual public health issue.

I think that the "paint factory" part is "amusing" due to lead. Oakland had lots of lead in the soil from previous industrial contamination: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lead_contamination_in_Oaklan...

Sometimes that source is a tap though, infamously Desani in the UK.

The tap water in my new apartment tastes terrible. Bottled water tastes so much better. But bottled water is so inconvenient and wasteful. So I bought a pitcher with a filter, and the tap water tastes bearable after that.

Where I live, the tap water is contaminated by herbicides (measured by the government to be multiple times over the norm) from nearby agricultural activities. I prefer to drink bottled water coming from known mountain sources.

Water coming from the tap is still tasty and I use it for other culinary purposes except for direct drinking.

> Nowadays people don't listen to their bodies and drink accordingly.


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