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There are a lot of options - which type of bottled water should I buy?

Bottled water is one of the most convenient methods for having a drink of water on the go, I think we can all agree on this. Bottled water is everywhere where it is convenient for consumers to purchase - in the cooler in the checkout line at grocery stores, in every convenience store, and probably handy at your local fitness center, or office break room. Most of us purchase a bottle of water when we need it, like after a run or making a pit stop on a trip and we’re a little bit thirsty. A lot of us also keep a stock of bottled water in our homes to grab on our way out the door in the morning. Next time you’re perusing the bottled water options at your local grocery store or supermarket or even the convenience store cooler take a look at where that water comes from. Manufacturers must list the type of water in the bottle. Purified, municipally sourced, or spring water  are usually the heavy hitters you’ll find. Let’s take a look at what those three types of bottled water actually mean and where the water comes from. 

We’ll look at the most obvious one first - municipally sourced water. I’ve bought this before in the gallon jugs during hurricane season just in case we lost power and because everyone else had cleared the shelves of every other option so my choices were limited. Municipally sourced water is exactly what it sounds like - tap water. This option is 100% safe to drink, just like the water you cook with, shower with, and brush your teeth with. I don’t know why you would seek to go out and purchase tap water in a bottle or jug unless you had to, because you have access to this exact same water directly from your sink at home. Public water systems come from a variety of sources such as surface water (lakes, rivers, streams) or groundwater (pumping the underground aquifer) and is then channeled into the local water treatment facility to make sure it is safe for the public to consume. Once the water makes it from the source into the treatment facility, it is then typically treated to have any sediment removed, filtered down further, and finally treated with chemicals like chlorine and fluoride before making it to the tap. Bottlers who use municipally sourced water have it pretty easy - all they have to do is use the water that flows freely through the local public water system and put it in the bottle or jug that you buy in the store. I’m fine with this option, but like I said - why would you want to pay for tap water?

Purified water has a few more steps in production prior to making it in the bottle, but ultimately starts its life as municipally sourced water. Most companies who sell bottled purified water will process the water further with reverse osmosis to break the water down into the bare H2O form. When processing the water with reverse osmosis, the bottler pushes the water through a series of membranes or filters to remove sediment, contaminants, and anything else that may be present in the water. This seems fine, and it is definitely safe. However, processing the water through reverse osmosis removes minerals that give the water a palatable taste and are necessary for the body. This process also decreases the pH of the water, giving it an acidic taste that most of us wouldn’t enjoy. Once the bottler “purifies” the water through reverse osmosis, they will remineralize the water by adding in specific amounts of necessary minerals like calcium, magnesium, sodium, iron, and copper to give it the taste you’re used to. These companies use specific formulas of these minerals when adding them back in so that the bottle you buy from the supermarket in Los Angeles tastes the same as the bottle you buy in New York City. The process of reverse osmosis and remineralization is safe and many companies use it, however it creates a significant amount of waste water (sometimes up to 50%). Buying purified bottled water seems like a fine option, but you’re actually just buying tap water under a different name that a bottler has taken things out of and added back in. 

The last heavy hitter that you’ll see when looking at your bottled water options is a spring water. A natural spring is defined as an exit point where ground water emerges from the aquifer and flows to the surface of Earth’s crust. The water in the underground aquifer comes from surface rainfall, where the water is absorbed into the ground and filters through underground layers of soil, rock, and silt before collecting in the aquifer. The water from a spring collects naturally occurring minerals (like the ones they add back into purified water) from the layers of the Earth’s crust while it is on its way down to the aquifer and when it is on its way back up at the spring source. Springs have always proven to be a source of freshwater for human beings. When harvesting the spring water, bottlers will typically process the water in a few different ways, such as UV filtration, filters, and ozonation to remove any sediment, bacteria, or impurities. These steps allow the water to be treated and safe to consume without removing the naturally occurring minerals in the water that you’d get with a purified bottled water or adding in chemicals such as chlorine that you would get with municipally sourced bottled water. This option is the most intriguing to me when I’m choosing a bottled water because the water is how it’s supposed to be without stripping it down and adding things in. 

Now that we’ve run through the most common options on the shelf when you’re looking to buy bottled water, keep in mind which options might just be tap water (or glorified tap water) and which option offers you a water that’s how it is naturally supposed to be.