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What’s in your bottled water?  A comprehensive new Environmental Working Group (EWG) report found that you really don’t have any way to know.  What’s on the labels?  Bucolic scenes of mountain streams and crystal clear lakes adorn the plastic bottles along with vague claims about the pristine source and purity of the water.  The unfortunate reality is, there is no such thing anymore.  All drinking water needs to be properly treated before it is consumed. 

EWG studied the “transparency” of 173 varieties of bottled water.  That is, they evaluated how well the bottled water companies provided information about the water’s source, purification methods and results of purity testing.  Turns out, for over half of the brands, very little is revealed about where the water came from, how it was treated, and what’s actually in it.  The bottled water companies like it this way.  They have been fighting hard against labeling even in the midst of serious public criticism for lack of accountability.

The most shocking finding was that 8 of the 10 best-selling domestic brands earned a D or an F.   So the mainstream brands (can you say Coke, Pepsi, and Nestle?) that you may have thought you could trust are resisting accountability.  What do they have to hide?  What is in their water?

In 2007, California passed a law requiring basic information on bottled water labels.  Of the 96 brands inspected there, only 24 complied with this new law.  Surprisingly, the California bottled water labels were less forthcoming than brands sold elsewhere!

If you’d like to see how your bottled water stacks up, you can visit the EWG report card.   Hopefully, your brand didn’t earn itself a place on the EWG “Shelf of Shame”!

The only A went to filtered tap water.  If you are drinking bottled water because you think it’s “better” than tap water, think again!   Unlike bottled water, tap water quality is strictly regulated.  Consumers have access to reports about their water’s source, testing protocol, and test results.   If you want to drink the best tasting, healthiest, cheapest, and most carbon-conscious drink, fill your reusable stainless steel water bottle with your own tap water, filtered if you like!

Reusable metal water bottles are popping up for sale all over the place these days. At the Go Green Festival in New York City last April, I spotted a stainless steel bottle for $27. At local grocery stores, I’ve seen metal bottles for just $10. Custom logoed bottles can cost anywhere between $3.00 and $13.00. So what’s the difference? It turns out, plenty.

I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying: you get what you pay for.  There are some serious quality issues with the cheap metal bottles – we know because we tested lots of them in the process of choosing a bottle for Back2Tap. We encountered leaking caps, paint that literally peeled off after a few weeks, logos that were printed poorly and faded quickly, thin walls that dented very easily, and poor polishing/finishing on the bottle.

Then there’s the question of what the bottles are made of – a cheap bottle may not be made of food grade materials. If you choose stainless steel rather than aluminum, you won’t have to worry about a cheap liner that may allow unwanted constituents to leach into your beverage. Back2Tap bottles are 0.5mm thick, printed with safe and resilient paints in the USA, and are tested to ensure that they comply with FDA and ASTM standards.

An acquaintance of mine sheepishly admitted to me recently that she had supplied her whole swim team with cheap stainless steel water bottles last winter, and now regrets it. The bottles are so junky no one wants to use them anymore! At the Watchung Hills Green Day event in October, a customer who bought a stainless water bottle at our exhibit table admitted that she had just purchased a cheaper steel water bottle at another table. She bought it solely to support the soccer team even though she knew she would never actually use such a poor quality product.

These two stories highlight the main reason Back2Tap doesn't offer cheap reusable bottles – and we have considered doing so, believe me!   Plenty of suppliers have contacted us hawking their wares. Low quality bottles just don’t perform well and don’t last so they are not durable and useful, key requirements for sustainable products. Back2Tap doesn’t want to be fostering a throw- away mentality by selling cheap stainless steel water bottles because that is exactly what we are trying to combat. We hope that schools selling Back2Tap bottles for a fundraiser do so with the understanding that they are promoting sustainability and environmental stewardship as well as raising funds.

In sum, there are numerous significant differences between cheap, low quality reusable bottles and better more expensive stainless steel water bottles. If you buy an inferior bottle that doesn’t last or doesn’t get used, your effort to be “greener” or live more sustainably will have failed – so don't even bother!  A good reusable bottle can save you hundreds of dollars over its lifetime so it is worth investing in a high quality bottle that you will enjoy using every day.