ZeroWater Knowledge Center

Is bottled water better than tap water?

If you choose bottled water because you think it’s healthier, you may be surprised to learn that it contains some of the same chemicals found in tap water. In fact, regulations on the quality of bottled water are less strict than those controlling tap water. So is bottled water really better for you? In this article we’ll compare bottled water and tap water to find out which one is best – for your health, for your wallet, and for the environment.

  • Bottled water is less regulated than tap water: Regulation controlling bottled water limits 16 substances in the water. Regulation controlling tap water limits over 60.
  • Research has found bottled water can contain over 300 microplastics per litre.
  • Bottled water sometimes comes from the same sources as tap water.
  • It is not as pure as you might think: PFAS are also present in bottled water.

Where does bottled water come from?

Bottled water may come from:

  • A natural spring
  • A natural underground water reservoir
  • The public water supply (also know as your tap)

Let’s explore this further.

We first need to make a distinction between the various types of bottled water: spring water, mineral water and bottled water.

Both mineral water and spring water are extracted from underground water sources. Mineral water is extracted straight from natural underground water reservoirs, while spring water has flowed naturally to the surface from an underground spring and is collected at the surface. [ref] In both cases, labelling laws mean that the source of the water will be clearly marked on the bottle.

But wait a minute… where is tap water extracted from? Well, in 60% of cases, tap water comes from the same sources as mineral water. [ref] In that respect, there isn’t much difference between what flows from your tap and that expensive bottle of water.

The difference is that they are controlled by very different legislations. More on that in a moment.

A third type of packaged water needs to be mentioned. Bottled water, also known as “table water”, can be bottled from any source, including public and private water sources. This means that it can be bottled from… the tap. [ref] These waters are easy to spot: nowhere on the bottle will there be the words “mineral” or “spring”, but the clever marketing may mention the words “natural”, “distilled”, and “hydrating”. They may also contain added vitamins and flavourings.

Don’t be fooled, however. Bottled water – whether mineral, spring, or other – is subject to fewer regulations than tap water. It isn’t as pure as you might think.

Are there chemicals in bottled water?

The marketing may tell you it’s pure, but the truth is that bottled water can contain harmful chemicals such as PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances). As a result of the production and use of these “forever chemicals”, many European drinking water sources, including underground water reservoirs, have become contaminated. [ref]

New research has revealed that even rainwater almost everywhere on earth is now unsafe to drink because it contains high levels of PFAS. [ref] So it isn’t a surprise that PFAS have also been found in bottled water. [ref]

The other chemicals commonly found in bottled water are microplastics. Microplastics end up in the water partly because of contact with the plastic bottle, and partly due to the bottling process. A shocking study by the State University of New York found that 9 out of 10 bottles of water are contaminated with plastic particles. Researchers sampled 259 bottles from 11 brands and nine different countries, and found an average of 325 microplastic particles per litre. They also found microplastics in water from glass bottles. [ref] [ref]

Are there chemicals in tap water?

Just like bottled water, tap water contains unwanted chemicals. Both PFAS and microplastics have been found in tap water. Other chemicals found in tap water include copper, lead, pesticides and PVC
However, the legislation controlling the quality of tap is more stringent than the one controlling mineral waters. European legislation sets limits for 65 chemicals and heavy metals, whereas the legislation on mineral water sets limits for just 16 substances. [ref] [ref] This means that in some cases, there may be fewer chemicals in your tap water than in a bottle of mineral water.


The World Health Organisation has an international regulation framework for packaged mineral water. Its Standard for Natural Mineral Water sets limits for 16 substances (antimony, arsenic, barium, borate, cadmium, chromium, copper, cyanide, fluoride, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, nitrate, nitrite and selenium). [ref] [ref]

Bottled water in Europe is controlled by the Directive on the Exploitation and Marketing of Natural Mineral Waters, which focuses on protecting the mineral content of the water more than on limiting pollutants. [ref]

In order to be labelled as such, mineral water must contain enough minerals such as iron, sodium, calcium and magnesium. The legislation sets out requirements for the water’s composition and labelling. For example, a bottle can only be labelled as “Rich in mineral salts” if it contains more than 1500 milligrams of mineral salts per litre. [ref]

Mineral and spring waters can be purified only via the following treatment processes:  

  • Filtration or decanting
  • Removing or adding carbon dioxide
  • Ozone-enriched air oxidation [ref]

Natural mineral water must be free from the following microbes and bacteria:

  • Parasites and pathogenic microorganisms
  • Escherichia coli and any other coliform and faecal streptococci
  • Sporulated sulfite-reducing anaerobes (present in human and animal faeces, waste water, soil)
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa (bacteria)

The legislation follows the WHO’s guidelines and limits the following substances in bottled water:

SubstanceMaximum (milligrams per litre) (mg/L)

For waters treated by ozone-enriched air, the following limits also apply [ref] [ref] [ref]:

SubstanceMaximum limit (micrograms per litre) (μg/L)
Dissolved ozone50

What are the effects of bottled water on health?

Minerals in bottled water

From ancient Roman times, it was believed that mineral water had medicinal powers. [ref] This is due to mineral water’s high content of calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium sulphate, which can contribute to improved cholesterol levels, better heart health and lower blood pressure. [ref]

Having said that, mineral water is not a panacea for wellbeing. It has to be consumed in combination with a healthy diet and an active lifestyle to offer any real benefits.

PFAS in bottled water

Even mineral waters contain some PFAS chemicals. [ref] The effects on PFAS on the body are worrying, to say the least. Research has found that they can impair the proper functioning of the immune system, and contribute to the development of cancer, reproductive health problems, and heart disease. [ref] [ref] [ref]

Microplastics in bottled water

That bottle of mineral water also contains plastics. [ref] The chemicals found in microplastics, such as Bisphenol A and phthalates, have been linked to fertility problems, cancer and nerve damage. [ref] [ref]

Neither PFAS nor microplastics are not mentioned in the legislation controlling contaminants and chemicals in bottled water.

Impact of bottled water on the environment

It is not surprising that a product that is packaged in plastic has a heavier carbon footprint than a product that doesn’t require packaging. We’ve all seen the dramatic images of beaches, oceans and rivers full of floating plastic rubbish. In Europe, only 46% of plastic bottles are recycled. The rest end up on landfill or in our environment. [ref]

Research shows that the CO2 footprint of a 1.5 litre bottle of water is between 323-447 grams of CO2. [ref] For comparison, travelling by car emits around 192 grams of CO2 per kilometre. [ref] When it comes to emissions, there is a clear winner. In an assessment of the impact of different types of drinking water, a study published in the journal Nature found that bottled water has 300 times the carbon footprint of tap water. [ref]

And glass bottles? Don’t be fooled by their eco-friendly halo. A recent study by the University of Southampton found that glass is more damaging to the environment because it is mined from rare materials and needs more fossil fuels to be produced and transported. [ref] As for recycling glass bottles, this is an energy-consuming process involving several steps such as cleaning, sorting, crushing, melting and reforming.

When it comes to protecting the environment, tap water is a clear winner.

Bottled water in the Netherlands

According to the Dutch Nutrition Centre, tap water is between 150 to 500 times cheaper than bottled water. [ref] Tap water costs on average €0,03 per litre [ref] while bottled water costs on average €1,00 per litre. 

Despite this significant price difference, bottled water consumption has dramatically increased in the Netherlands, from 330 million litres per year in 2011 to almost 500 million litres in 2020. That’s around 24 litres of bottled water per person per year [ref] , which is still much less than other many European countries.

According to statistics, the average tap water consumption in The Netherlands is 134 litres of tap water per day, [ref] but only 1,3 litres of this is used for coffee, tea and drinking water. [ref]

Thirteen different mineral and spring waters are available from sources in The Netherlands. You can check which ones here: 

Bottled water in France

France consumes 8,3 billion litres of bottled water per year, [ref] which equates to around 133 litres per person per year. Tap water consumption is at around 150 litres per day, but only 7% (10,5 litres) is used for food and drinks. [ref]

France follows the EU legislation on bottled water which sets guideline amounts for 16 substances. [ref] What’s more, for French mineral water to be labelled as such, it has to contain a certain amount of iron, sodium, calcium and magnesium, as well as therapeutic qualities recognised by the National Medical Academy (Academic nationale de médicine) [ref] such as osteoporosis prevention. [ref]

There isn’t much difference between tap water and mineral water in France, given that two thirds of the tap water comes from underground sources. [ref] In some places, like Thonon, 95% of the tap water comes from natural underground sources. [ref] In other words: mineral water flows from the tap!

One marked difference is the price. While the cost of tap water is around €0,03 per litre, bottled water retails at between €0,30 (in supermarkets) to €2,50 (at a terrace). That makes bottled water 100-300 times more expensive than French tap water. [ref]

Almost 90 different mineral and spring waters are produced from sources in France. You can check which ones here: 

Bottled water in Italy

Italy is the highest consumer of bottled water in Europe, with an intake of 200 litres per person per year. [ref]

Tap water in Italy is controlled by ASL’s or Local Health Units (ASL – Azienda Sanitaria Locale), and has to adhere to Italian drinking water legislation that matches Europe’s. Mineral waters are regulated by the EU’s legislation on bottled water, which means they can contain higher amounts of certain substances (such as arsenic, manganese or sulphates) than the limits allowed for tap water. [ref]

Even though Italy has one of the lowest prices per litre of mineral water, at an average of €0,20 per litre, it’s still much more expensive than tap water, [ref] which costs around €0,01 per litre. [ref]

Italy produced over 200 different mineral and spring waters. You can check which ones are approved by the EU here: 

Bottled water in the United Kingdom

Since its exit from the European Union, bottled water in the United Kingdom is controlled by different legislation. [ref] However, this legislation matches Europe’s in so far as it sets limits for the same substances, and requires mineral water and spring water to be clearly labelled. [ref] [ref]

Latest statistics show that 2,514 million litres of bottled water were consumed in the United Kingdom in 2021 [ref], which equates to around 37 litres per person. [ref]

In the United Kingdom too, the price of bottled water far exceeds that of tap water. Bottled water costs on average £0.65 (€0.74 ) while tap water costs around £0.02 (€0.01). [ref]

Bottled water in Ireland

Ireland follows the EU’s Directive on bottled, spring and mineral waters. [ref]

Just like other countries, bottled water in Ireland is much more expensive than tap water. Bottled water retails at around €1 per litre [ref] whereas tap water costs just under €0,02 per litre. [ref]

There are currently three natural mineral waters from Ireland. You can check which ones are approved by the EU here: 

Bottled water in the United States

Bottled water consumption in the United States has increased by 40% in the last ten years, going from 33 billion litres in 2010 to 57 billion litres in 2021. The average consumption is 177 litres per person per year. [ref]

Statistics show that most Americans do not trust their tap water, with 15% drinking exclusively bottled water. [ref]

Bottled waters in the United States are regulated by the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), which may or may not follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) guidelines on drinking water. [ref] [ref]

Tap water in the United States costs between USD 6.07 per cubic metre (around €0,06 per litre) and USD 0.96 per cubic metre (around €0,01 per litre). [ref]

Bottled water in Germany

Germany is the second highest consumer of bottled water in Europe, at 168 litres per year per person. [ref]

In Germany, tap water costs around €0,03 per litre. [ref] The average cost of a bottle of water is €0,60 per litre. [ref]

Bottled water in Spain

Bottled water consumption in Spain is 135 litres per person per year. [ref] Tap water in Spain costs around €0,02 per litre. [ref] The average cost of a bottle of water is €0,70 per litre. [ref]

Bottled water in Poland

Bottled water consumption in Poland is 114 litres per person per year. [ref]

Tap water in Poland costs around €0,01 per litre. [ref] The average cost of a bottle of water is €0,30 per litre. [ref]

Is bottled water better than tap water?

More environmentally friendly and cheaper, tap water seems to be a better option for the planet and your wallet. That being said, tap water is not perfect either

Research shows that both bottled water and tap water contain chemicals you may not want to drink. The best way to ensure that you’re drinking clean, pure water is to use a filter designed to remove pollutants and contaminants from tap water.

Better than bottled water: ZeroWater purifies your tap water

Tap water might contain fewer contaminants than bottled water, but it isn’t perfect either. If you want to make sure that there are no unwanted substances in your drinking water, you need to filter them out. ZeroWater filters remove lead, glyphosate, PFAS (PFOS/PFOA), copper and more. Interested? Take a look at our webshop.