16 July 2007

You're paying for the bottle, not the water

A couple weeks ago I came across a suspicious-sounding claim that New York City tap water costs 24 cents a gallon; the correct figure is 0.24 cents per gallon.

The New York Times gets it right today; in an article about how people drink more bottled water and less of just about everything else, they claim that

THOSE eight daily glasses of water you’re supposed to drink for good health? They will cost you $0.00135 — about 49 cents a year — if you take it from a New York City tap.
As I said before, NYC water rates recently went up to 0.27 cents per gallon; assuming that "eight glasses" means "eight [measuring] cups", or half a gallon, this is correct. They then go on to point out that buying bottled water at the same rate would cost about $1,400 yearly. If you work it out, that's $4 a day, which values a 16-ounce bottle of bottled water at $1; that seems about right if you buy them individually, not in cases.

But with bottled water, you're really paying for the bottle, not the water.

On a related note, the Philadelphia Water Department is now giving out free bottles of tap water for events. The thinking is not financial, but environmental; they figure that if people are aware that tap water tastes good, then they won't use as much bottled water in the future. Bottled water is bad for the environment, because it's packaged in plastic containers and is often transported very long distances. Yesterday I saw someone buying FIJI water at the store on my corner. This comes from -- you guessed it -- Fiji, which is eight thousand miles away.

Personally, I buy bottled water for the convenience when I'm away from home but would never consider buying bottled water for my home. I've also been known to refill empty bottles with tap water, although there are rumors that that's unsafe.


dan said...

You're not paying for the bottle. You're paying what the market will bear. This bears minimal resemblance to the cost of either the bottle or the water...

(That said, I was very amused when I learned that the most expensive ingredient in movie popcorn is, in fact, the container.)

The Probabilist said...


by "you're paying for the bottle" I didn't mean that you're paying for the plastic that the bottle is made of. I meant that you're paying for the fact that the water comes in a nice, convenient container, and you're paying for the convenience -- i. e. "what the market will bear", as you put it.

Actually, it wouldn't surprise me if the price of making the bottle is dwarfed by the price of transportation, especially with the current high fuel prices.

dan said...

Ah, yes. Now I understand. You're paying for it being in a bottle. :-)