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Why Aussies Should Switch From Bottled To Tap Water Stat

Drinking bottled water is a money-wasting habit that Aussies need to kick, according to experts.

Pulling a plastic bottle of ready-to-drink, ice-cold water from the fully stocked fridge of a local cafe or service station is always an easy option -- it's safe, healthy, clean and convenient.

It's chosen by millions of Australians, with beverage companies raking in a cool $700 million each year through the sale of bottled water alone.

But despite the perceptions of bottled water being more hydrating and clean than tap water, the convenience factor is outweighed by cost, environmental impact and health factors.

Image: Getty

According to NSW Health, bottled water is no safer to drink than tap water. More tests are typically carried out to confirm the safety and quality of public drinking water than bottled water.

It takes 250 mL of oil and three litres of water to produce just one litre of bottled water, Cleanup Australia reports. While 373 million plastic water bottles end up in landfill each year, each takes at least 400 years to break down naturally.

Bottled is also 2000 times more costly than tap water.

Eight glasses of tap water a day will cost you roughly $1.50 each year, while the equivalent amount of bottled water will set you back about $2600, according to Sydney Water.

Why the rise in bottled water?

Mike Daniels, founder of The Behavioural Architects, has conducted extensive research to better understand why people choose bottled over tap water.

The brain is very good at making up stories based on incomplete information. Image: Getty

"The brain is very good at making up stories based on incomplete information and when the information is something like a rusty tap, we complete the rest based on that rather than evidence," he told 10 daily.

"What is not known that we found to be extremely disruptive, was giving people facts. For example, it takes half a bottle of oil to produce the water that goes into that bottle."

Daniels said consumers are often influenced by what they perceive others are doing, and that his research found people thought most others were on the bottled water trend.

"People who mainly drink bottled water overestimate the proportion of people they think also drink bottled water. When we tell people that eight out of 10 people in Sydney drink Sydney's tap water, they are so surprised," he said.

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He also pointed to migrants arriving from cultures where tap water doesn't meet the same rigorous quality standards that Australian water is subjected to. Actually saying to people who have no reason to know that the tap water here is "really fabulous" is in some ways a public service, he said.

"There's the assumption that bottled water is going to be healthier," Daniels said.

"For people who have lived in country's where the water is unsafe, it's a perfectly rational thing to do to not drink the tap water".

Bottled water is marketed as clean and pure. Image: Getty
So how safe is tap water?

Tap water in Australia is among the best in the world, but how much treatment does it undergo before ending up in your drinking glass? It depends on where you live.

"Places like Melbourne, just because the water catchments are relatively better protected, have less treatment of the drinking water itself," Professor Stuart White, director of the University of Technology Sydney's Institute for Sustainable Futures, told 10 daily.

"In Sydney, and in most other cities and towns, there is some form of chemical as well as in some cases physical treatment, so water is filtered and given a chemical dosing to remove colour and odour and other impurities."

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White said Australia has some of the most stringent standards for drinking water quality on the planet, and that maintaining such high standards is a costly exercise.

"We spend an awful lot of money bringing city and town water supplies up to a high standard with treatment to make it drinkable and meet international standards... and then people will go and spend even more to buy bottled water which is completely unnecessary," White said.

He praised the work of local councils who are now working to encourage shop keepers and consumers not to use plastic bottles. Such strategies include installing more public water bubblers to urge more people to use refillable bottles, and keeping large-scale events plastic-free.

Councils around the country are pushing to have more bubblers and bottle refill stations. Image: Getty

"We’ve seen music festivals and other things where people have tried to discourage the use of plastic containers," White said.

"We’ve even got some plastic-free shopping precincts, so change is coming but the challenge is [plastic] is everywhere so it can be quite difficult".

As for claims that bottled or tap water consumption could be further harming drought-ravaged parts of the country, White said it's very unlikely.

"The volumes of water that are used for producing bottled water are very, very small compared to volumes of water that are used for other purposes in towns and cities," he said.

"That’s not to say that in some circumstances there might be some conflict between the two, but for the most part, the amount of water that we drink is an extremely tiny proportion of the volume of water used for toilets, for showers, for cooling towers, washing machines and for irrigation."

While White said we've made good progress in reducing the impacts of bottled water -- for example with the introduction of container deposit schemes -- there is still a long way to go to keep limiting the waste created.