Panel Paper: Perfectly Safe Drinking Water Is Nearly Free in Philadelphia - so Why Do Almost Half of Residents Buy Bottled Water?

Friday, July 20, 2018
Building 3, Room 211 (ITAM)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Nina DePena Hoe1, Joanne Dahme2, Hailey Stern3, Tiffany Ledesma4, Hanzhe Xue1, Andrea Meyers1 and John Pierce1, (1)University of Pennsylvania, (2)Philadelphia Water Department, (3)Trans-Pacific Engineering Corp., (4)CDM Smith

Watershed protection is a leading priority for the agencies of government and regional foundations in the Philadelphia area. As a result, the City of Philadelphia has access to safe and reliable drinking water that regularly exceeds Environmental Protection Agency standards. However, there is a problem: nearly half of Philadelphians are not actually drinking the city water. Instead, they are choosing to buy bottled water as their primary source of drinking water, which is estimated to cost nearly 2,000 times the price of tap water. The Philadelphia Water Department in collaboration with ImpactED at the University of Pennsylvania has conducted mixed-methods research over the last 3 years, including citywide surveys and in-depth focus groups, to better understand the water drinking choices of Philadelphians. Our research shows that approximately 40% of Philadelphians primarily drink bottled water instead of water out of the tap when at home. But most importantly, the survey showed that those choices vary widely by level of education, income, race, and gender. In general, lower-income, less educated, minority and female residents choose to purchase and drink bottled water at significantly higher rates than other groups. Understanding the decision-making process for Philadelphians around drinking water choices and their motivations for choosing tap water over bottled, has implications for the well-being of the city, and for policymakers aiming to improve the economy, environment and health of the city. This paper explores residents’ relationship with the water that comes from their faucet to better inform water policy and resident outreach.