Drinking water is important, even when you go outside. That’s why I always bring a bottle of water with me when traveling to stay hydrated. Instead of using a disposable plastic bottle of water, however, I carry a stainless steel bottle that I fill up every time.
How much can you save by using a refillable water bottle instead of buying bottled water? Let’s find out.
The cost for bottled water averaged around $1.20 per gallon wholesale in 2014, but that doesn’t really help us figure out how much it costs for drinkers. Furthermore, the most popular size of bottled water (16.9oz or 500mL) has a much higher average cost of $7.50 per gallon, while another source says the average cost per bottle is $1.45.
One report says that Americans spend about $100 per year per person on bottled water, but let’s take a more conservative approach and see how much it will cost if we buy in bulk while grocery shopping rather than more expensive singles through vending machines and restaurants.
As of this writing, Amazon sells a 12-pack of Nestle 500 mL bottled water for $2.23, which seems like a pretty good price (though you would need to get it delivered as part of their Prime Pantry program, which may involve buying other things and additional shipping costs). It was a bit higher last time I checked, so let’s take an estimate around 20 cents per bottle.
When considering a reusable bottle, you can get a stainless steel insulated bottle for $15. Stainless steel has the advantage of potentially being safer than drinking from plastic, and the insulation means drinks can stay cold or hot all day. These benefits are not easy to quantify financially, so we won’t take them into account in the savings comparison.
Personally, I found that a slightly more expensive option is actually far more worth it. The Zojirushi Stainless Steel series of water bottles is available in several different sizes: 12, 16, or 20 ounces at price points between $20-$30. The smaller one is best for shorter trips, or if you will go to places with water fountains you can fill up at. The reason these are so good is the drinking experience you get from them. The spout is designed in such a way to control the rate of flow, letting you get a good amount to drink while never being in danger of overflowing and causing a mess. The locking mechanism also keeps the lid secure. Overall, these are high quality bottles in every sense of the word.
An important factor to consider is how often you need to consume bottled water. For some, frequent trips may mean 1 bottle a day. For others, it may be rather infrequent. Generally, the more frequent the consumption, the more potential savings a reusable bottle will bring.
According to National Geographic, Americans on average consumed 36.4 gallons of bottled water a year in 2015. In half-liter bottles, that makes 276 bottles a year, or about 5.3 bottles per week.
The Cost of Tap
One important point of differentiation between bottled water and reusable bottles is that the former comes with water, while the latter requires getting the water from another source. On the go, public water fountains can provide a good source of water. However, water at home will likely come from the tap (sometimes boiled or filtered).
We won’t include the cost of boiling or filtration systems in this analysis as these steps are optional and contribute more than just for the purposes of replacing bottled water. However, the cost of tap water needs to be taken into account for a fair comparison.
Water rates can differ depending on location, but reports say the cost of tap water is anywhere from 600 times to 2000 times cheaper than bottled water. Let’s be conservative and assume that tap water is 500 times cheaper than bottled water for this analysis.
At this rate, consuming 276 bottles at 500 ml each is only going to result in an equivalent tap water cost of about 11 cents, which is almost negligible.
The final factor to consider is how often you would need to buy replacement reusable bottles. Any physical item will deteriorate over time or could get lost. Let us assume that a reusable water bottle will last about 3 years before needing to be replaced for whatever reason.
A purchase price of $15 spread out over 3 years results in an annual cost of $5. If you splurge for a more expensive $30 water bottle, that would be $10 per year.
Annual Costs and Savings
The annual cost of bottled water comes out to 276 bottles * $0.20 per bottle = $55.20 per year. The annual cost of buying a reusable bottle once every few years (for replacement) and using tap water is between $5 to $10 per year. The annual savings by going with a reusable bottle instead of bottled water for the average person is therefore about $50, or a 80-90% savings rate.
If we were to take the reported average annual spending of $100 instead, the savings would be closer to $90-$95, or 90-95% savings rate.
Your own costs and savings will be different depending on your consumption (and how likely you are to destroy or lose your water bottles every few years). But cutting down on the usage plastic water bottles can provide both a superior drinking experience and more money in your wallet.