Should I Drink Tap Water or Bottled Water?

Artur Pata and Kristjan-Julius Laak

University of Tartu students Artur Pata and Kristjan-Julius Laak promote tap water drinking among students. As a part of this environmental project, drinking water taps that are convenient for refilling bottles (unlike the one in the photo) will be opened at the university library on 27 April. Photo by Andres Tennus

Sales of bottled water are soaring. By 2016, bottled water is expected to become the number one packaged drink in the world. Last year, the average Estonian consumed 45 litres of bottled water — significantly less than beer, but more than any soft drinks.

The big question is whether bottled water that costs up to 1000 times more than tap water is actually any better?

Astrid Saava, an emeritus professor at the University of Tartu Department of Public Health, makes a distinction between bottled drinking water, mineral water, and flavoured water which is rather a soft drink.

“There is no significant difference between bottled drinking water and tap water in Estonia, because both originate from underground water pumped through artesian wells”, says the professor. “It’s just that the bottled water costs 500 to 1000 times more”.

The taste of drinking water can somewhat differ based on where exactly and at what depth the water is pumped. Long storage in plastic bottles can also influence the taste, because over time some plastic particles may dissolve into the water.

According to Saava, in most cases there is no point in buying bottled drinking water in Estonia, as tap water comes with equal quality. The difference can be felt in Tallinn, where tap water originates from Lake Ülemiste and its taste is inferior to that of the underground water. Also, if you suspect that your countryside well may be polluted, bottled water is a safe choice.

Some people buy bottled water because they like it carbonated. “Indeed, carbonisation improves taste and makes water feel more refreshing”, explains Saava. The professor warns, however, that in the longer term consumption of carbonated water may harm one’s liver.

Mineral water usually contains a higher level of minerals than usual — that’s where its saltiness comes from — and is sold as a health-enhancing water. However, if these health benefits are scientifically proven in experiments, then such water should not be consumed on a continuous basis, but by prescription over a certain course of treatment. No mineral waters  from Estonia are known for a curative effect that would come from drinking them; however, a particularly salty water from artesian well number six in Värska is used in the curative bath treatments in a spa.

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