While the office water cooler is known as being a place for casual conversation and juicy gossip, its main purpose is to provide the water we all need to remain healthy and productive. In fact, the human brain is made up of 85% water, and mild dehydration (a loss of just 1 to 2 percent water volume) can lead to headaches, confusion, fatigue, and negative moods. You can keep yourself alert and in the game by drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day.
But when you’re reaching for your glass, how do you choose healthiest water option for you, the planet and your wallet? Today, we can get water from the tap, a bottle, a glacier, a spring, or even water that has been reclaimed from the atmosphere. And, we can pay a corresponding range of prices for our water – from virtually free to several dollars a pint. Each source has its pros and cons – which we’ll look at here — though we’ll leave it to you to make your own choice.
Tap water is cheap, safe, and easily accessible. In the U.S., a gallon of tap water costs an average of $0.02 per gallon ($0.0025 per pint) — up to 240 to 10,000 times less than bottled water. Tap water is even more of a bargain when you consider that the EPA requires large municipalities to perform mandatory testing for bacteria at least a dozen times a day – ensuring that the water supply is safe and healthy. However, many people still disdain tap water because of taste, convenience, and the pervading myth that bottled water is somehow healthier.
The spurning of tap water doesn’t come cheap. The average American consumes about 228 pints of bottled water per year, at an average cost of $1.23 per pint, for an annual total of nearly $290. The environmental impact of bottled water is even more significant – producing the bottles for American consumption uses up more than 17 million barrels of oil (not including transportation), produces more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide, and requires 900,000 tons of plastic. In perhaps the ultimate irony, it takes three pints of water to produce one pint of bottled water. And, while the plastic used in these bottles is of high quality and in demand by recyclers, only 10 percent of these bottles are actually recycled – the other 90 percent end up as either garbage or litter. Nor is bottled guaranteed to be healthier than tap. Water bottled and sold in the same state (like 70 percent of the bottled water sold in the U.S.) is exempt from federal testing regulations because it doesn’t cross state lines. In short, bottled water can be tasty but it comes with a high cost, both economically and environmentally.
Ah, the classic water cooler. Besides providing a good hub for coworker chats, these bottled dispensers are convenient and affordable. While significantly less expensive than individual bottles, with typical delivery services costing $3.81 per five-gallon jug, it can still cost a business close to a thousand dollars a year to supply its workers with the pint and a half of water the average U.S. employee drinks during the work day. Delivery to your office door may be convenient, but these large jugs require significant storage space (and muscle), and there is an associated environmental cost in energy for transportation, refrigeration, and purification of water and jugs. In short, water coolers are convenient and affordable, but they still have a significant carbon footprint.
The traditional water cooler has evolved, and today you will often find bottleless water coolers in offices around the U.S. Looking very similar to the bottom half of a traditional cooler, these appliances are connected to your office water source or tap, and contain a filtration system that cleanses the water of impurities and cools it. There is no bottle to be produced, sanitized, stored, or recycled; no delivery fees; and no transportation or greenhouse gas production. Cost savings over traditional water coolers range from 5 to 60 percent depending on usage. In short, outside of tap water, bottleless water coolers present the best option for clean, inexpensive, eco-friendly water.
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