Tap versus bottled water

With thousands of Australians paying top dollar for bottled water each week, a CQUni researcher is asking – why?

By PhD Researcher Adam Rose

Recently consumers have turned to bottled water as a preference to good old-fashioned tap water. It may surprise some people to hear that research is now finding that the water coming from the tap is better quality than the bottled water you pay for. Tap water has had to pass strict drinking water guidelines, whereas, bottled water is not subject to the same guidelines, rather the Food Standards Australia Guidelines, specifically the Non-Alcoholic Beverages and Brewed Soft Drinks. Interestingly, there have been reports of more people in developed countries becoming sick following consumption of contaminated bottled water than those consuming tap water.

As a general rule, developed countries’ drinking water is considered safe. For the water to be considered safe all pathogens (bacteria, protozoa, helminths, cyanobacteria and viruses), metals, toxins, pharmaceuticals and pesticides are removed or lowered to an acceptable concentration. When the final product is delivered through the tap there should be no concern over the safety of the water.

Can you imagine what our forefathers would have thought about spending more on bottled water than petrol, or even God’s nectar XXXX Gold, when there is a cheaper safer option at home? The shift away from tap water to bottled water may be linked to convenience and perception, whether it be marketing, news stories or merely a change in consumers buying habits.

The developed world has now had generations who have only ever known safe water supplies. It is, therefore, no surprise people have become apathetic to the effort from researchers to develop new techniques for monitoring and treatment and government for infrastructure development. The safety of tap water in developed countries is continually monitored with constant improvements in supplies, unlike many developing countries.

Recently, however, the World Health Organisation has identified safe drinking water as a fundamental human right. With this proclamation developed countries are enthusiastically undertaking large national projects aimed at building and upgrading water facilities to improve the safety of the water supplies, both from a health and security perspective. To complement the development, researchers from around the world have collaborated to create a working document for communities trying to achieve a safe water supply. This document identifies the need to treat individual water supplies differently and consider local solutions to safety concerns.

Drinking water supplies throughout the world are as unique as the populations they service. Comparing tap water throughout Australia and indeed the developed world is like comparing fine wines. The French coined the term ‘terroir’ meaning the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate which contributes to a unique characteristic taste and flavour imparted to a wine.

This is a metaphor for tap water, considering each drinking water supply is drawn from a unique area with differing environmental conditions. An additional factor in the overall ‘terroir’ of drinking water is the treatment process. Depending on the condition of the water entering the treatment plant will depend on how much disinfection and other chemicals are used to make the water safe. Water supplies may require more intensive treatment to achieve acceptable results, however with modern treatment approaches drinking water in the developed world is considered safe.

Comparing Australian tap water to other developed European and North American countries, tap water is filled with subjectivity. Each water supply in Australia is unique, my favourite is the Baffle Creek water supply, albeit I may be somewhat biased. It is still in a relatively pristine condition and you could say it is the ‘champagne’ region for drinking water in Australia. Often people become familiar with their local water supply and any other supply just won’t cut it. Simply sampling water between CQUniversity campuses can often highlight this phenomenon. Objectively, Australia has a few advantages to our European and North American friends. Firstly, we have a smaller population spread over a large continent. Secondly, we have complete control over our water supplies, leaving aside the bickering between federal, state and local governments. Finally, our water suppliers in Australia are tightly monitored and run by some of the best equipped from an expertise and technological perspective.

With the onset of climate change, the emphasis on water security for many nations is becoming the highest priority. Australia is the driest inhabited continent in the world and is certainly not isolated from these complications. It is my hope that as a region we can start to prepare for the future and begin to look seriously at environmentally, economically and socially acceptable water storages that can be strategically developed to act as the foundation for the next generation to increase our productivity and jobs in the region.

CQUniversity Australia (https://cqunilife.com)


7 thoughts on “Tap versus bottled water

  1. I buy bottled water because I prefer the cleaner crisper neutral taste than the chlorinated fluorinated earthy aroma with a hint of antifungal from tap water.
    I would prefer to simply have filtered water rather than spring water. That is just pure H2O and nothing else.
    Reasons why people want bottled water is because they want a hydrating beverage with them in a transportable container, as you don’t know where the next tap/ water cooler is, an who knows if there is fecal matter on those. As for tap water being just as good, that depends where you are.

    https://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/investigations/hoosick/

    http://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/the-places-in-australia-where-you-cant-drink-the-water/news-story/e4eb54914663bc0dc49db3accf0980a7

    1. Hi Alexandra,

      Often people from affluent societies are choosing to turn to bottled water, due to convenience and taste. The article touched on “The developed world has now had generations who have only ever known safe water supplies. It is, therefore, no surprise people have become apathetic to the effort from researchers to develop new techniques for monitoring and treatment and government for infrastructure development.”

      Maybe it is time to slow down and ponder on the impact we are having, and how sustainable these choices are into the future. How long does it take to fill up some water bottles at home? If you aren’t happy with the waters aesthetics there are many ways of improving.

      Unfortunately in nature there are no examples I am aware of where the water is made up of purely H2O. In fact, it is likely if you drink pure H2O that this will act as a solvent, and strip many important minerals and nutrients from your diet.

      As for fecal matter, tap water must have fecal matter completely removed, whereas bottled water has more relaxed rules.

      http://www.distilledwaterassociation.org/bottled-water-vs-tap-water-drink-it-with-or-without-poop/

      The web links in your comment refer to a fire fighting chemical. The man in the story was using bore water from his property, not sourcing water from a town supply. The chemicals in these articles are bad news, however to misrepresent them as being in our water supplies is simply incorrect.

      On a day such as this, International Water Day, I think it is important to look at some of our current habits and biases, and see if we can’t make some simple changes that may result in enormous benefits to us (our bank account) and the environment. Remember we are only here on this earth if we are lucky for 100 years, do you think it is acceptable to leave your plastic here for the next 1000 years?

    2. Hi Adam,
      The Rocky water has been disgusting for years. Once upon a time the Rocky council would post that it had the cleanest water in Australia. (You are probably too young to know this). But in the last 15 years probably longer it gradually has gone to the packs. There was a time not that long ago (inside of the last 10 years) that doctors around Rocky would tell their patients not to drink the water from the tap if they had heart issues due to the sodium content rendering their meds useless. At times when you turned on the taps in Rocky the water that came through was brown (not in an old house but brand new with brand new shiny pipes).
      The smell of the water at times was absolutely foul. We came back two years ago to visit friends and my husband became ill whenever he had a cup of tea or drank anything with ice in it either in private homes or in Restaurants.
      So yes we rather drink bottled water then risk our health. Do not tell me that your testing did not turn up anything you may want to go back and do it again, because Rocky water has not been and is not safe to drink.
      Sabine

      1. Hi Sabine,

        Again every water supply is unique, I lived in Rockhampton for my undergraduate years and can remember how “different” it was compared with my home town supply. After a few weeks I didn’t even notice. Like the article says “The developed world has now had generations who have only ever known safe water supplies. It is, therefore, no surprise people have become apathetic to the effort from researchers to develop new techniques for monitoring and treatment and government for infrastructure development. The safety of tap water in developed countries is continually monitored with constant improvements in supplies”

        I would argue your statement about “Doctors” telling patients not to drink tap water from Rockhampton. Any Doctor worth their “salt”, pardon the pun, would understand the amount of sodium consumed in the typical diet, and the amount added by tap water is negligible. Perpetuating “hearsay” is dangerous, especially when it comes to something as important as a towns water supply.

        There are circumstances in which some town supplies may need to add additional treatment steps and in extreme cases provide bottled water for a short period of time. This may happen following a cyclone or large rain event. This is Australia, and extreme events are part of our existence. The brown water event in Rockhampton following the cyclone was a natural event. I also measured this phenomenon. If you are interested the link is below:

        https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214581817301453

        As for getting sick upon your return to Rockhampton, correlation does not always equal causation. If the supply was indeed that bad, many others would have become sick and it would have been on every news channel in the Country. Again I would urge people to remain objective, to state that the Rockhampton supply is not safe is unfounded and quite frankly irresponsible.

        Basic rule: if you are receiving water through your tap in Australia from a treated supply, the water is safe, unless the water supplier states otherwise.

        Again, do you think it is acceptable to leave your plastic here for the next 1000 years?

        Adam

  2. Anywhere in australia you can drink water out of the tap. Some areas where there are bores that can have high concentrations of mineral content in it that makes it smell quite bad (Winton, Boulia etc ) so you noamally buy water or lots of BEER. I have bottles that I half fill and freeze and by refilling it I can have cold water for ages. If I am out and about and dont have access to tap water ill buy some. As for the last statement

    “Remember we are only here on this earth if we are lucky for 100 years, do you think it is acceptable to leave your plastic here for the next 1000 years”

    No, its not acceptable. We are systematically destroying our environment and it will be DISASTEROUS for us all. We are in the next level extinction event and we are causing it. Look at how many creatures we humans have destroyed in the last couple of hundred years that will never come back. Those species evolved over millions of years and we have taken them away in the blink of an eye. I dont know how we keep letting it happen. I saw an article recently on a whale in a harbour that was sick. It was destroyed and its stomach was found to be full of plastic bags…shopping bags. Its time we changed, we are passing the point of no return.

  3. It’s not just plastic bottles though. I admit that the amount of plastic waste is dangerous for ecosystems, but plastic bags and such are more prevalent

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