The U.S. is the largest consumer market for bottled water in the world, followed by Mexico, China, and Brazil. In 2008, U.S. bottled water sales topped 8.6 billion gallons for 28.9% of the U.S. liquid refreshment beverage market, exceeding sales of all other beverages except carbonated soft drinks, followed by fruit juices and sports drinks.
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In the United States, bottled water is regulated by the Food & Drug Administration according to standards of identity, standards of quality and good manufacturing practices.
Standards of identity define types of water for labeling purposes. To be called ground water, the water must not be under the direct influence of surface water. Water containing not less than 250 parts per million of total dissolved solids are mineral water. Artesian water comes from a well tapping a confined aquifer in which the water level stands at some height above the top of the aquifer; it may be collected with the assistance of external force to enhance the natural underground pressure. Water that has been produced by distillation, deionization, reverse osmosis or similar processes are purified or demineralized water. Sparkling water contains the same amount of carbon dioxide that it had at emergence from the source, although it may be removed and replenished in treatment. Spring water must be derived from an underground formation from which water flows naturally to the Earth's surface. Sterile water water meets the requirements under "sterility tests" in the United States Pharmacopoeia. Well water is water that has been removed from a hole bored or drilled in the ground which taps into an aquifer.
Standards of quality regulate acceptable levels of the water's turbidity, color and odor, according to sample analysis. Exemptions are made according to aesthetically-based allowable levels, and do not relate to health concerns. An example is mineral water, which is exempt from allowable color levels.
One major criticism of bottled water concerns the bottles themselves. Individual use bottled water is generally packaged in Polyethylene terephthalate (PET). According to a NAPCOR study, PET water bottles account for 50% of all the PET bottles and containers collected by curbside recycling, and the recycling rate for water bottles is 23.4%, a 16.42% increase over the 2006 rate of 20.1%. PET bottled water containers make up one-third of 1 percent of the waste stream in the United States.
An estimated 50 billion bottles of water are consumed per annum in the US. The International Bottled Water Association also reports that the average weight of a plastic bottle water was 13.83 grams in 2007, compared to 18.90 grams in 2000, representing a 26.7% decline. PepsiCo has since introduced a bottle weighing 10.9 grams and using 20 percent less plastic, which it says is the lightest bottle of its kind that is nationally distributed.
Bottled water processed with distillation or reverse osmosis lacks fluoride ions which are sometimes naturally present in ground water. The drinking of distilled water may conceivably increase the risk of tooth decay due to a lack of this element.
According to a 1999 NRDC study, at least 22 percent of brands tested, at least one sample contained chemical contaminants at levels above strict state health limits. Some of the contaminants found in the study could pose health risks if consumed over a long period of time. However, the NRDC report conceded that "[m]ost waters contained no detectable bacteria, and the levels of synthetic organic chemicals and inorganic chemicals of concern for which were tested were either below detection limits or well below all applicable standards." Meanwhile, a report by the Drinking Water Research Foundation found that of all samples tested by NRDC, "federal FDA or EPA limits were allegedly exceeded only four times, twice for total coliforms and twice for fluorides."
The rate of total dissolved solids is sometimes 4 times higher in bottled mineral waters than in bottled tap ones. High amounts of calcium in mineral bottled waters for example make that a daily and excessive consumption may result in hypercalcemia, which highly increases the risk of kidney or gallstones.