Bottled Water for Half Price—With No Bottle

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Here comes a new kind of vending operation that promises to be the “ATM machine of water.” Using a BYO reusable bottle policy, the machines dispense purified water without the plastic bottle, and at a fraction of the price consumers now pay at a typical vending machine.

The company making these new-fangled water dispeners is called Pure Vida H2O, and the Boston Globe reports that 450 machines are expected to be up and operating around the country by mid-summer. Each machine filters ordinary tap water, and a stream of 16 ounces of purified H2O will cost 50¢. The 24-ouncer runs 75¢. It’s expected that users will bring their own cups (presumably, an old plastic bottle is OK too), and, to accommodate those empty-handed, some of the machines will sell stainless steel reusable bottles for $10.

Considering that bottled water at a typical vending machine costs $1 or $1.50, there’s some savings possible through these new machines. But the kinds of places where one may run into these machines—health clubs, college campuses, office buildings—tend to already have cheaper alternatives to bottled water. These alternatives are called “water fountains.”

An anti-bottled water activist from Concord, Mass., named Jean Hill, is quoted by the Globe questioning the need to pay for H2O from a water-dispensing machine:

“In Concord, our municipal tap water is tested frequently, and it’s about half a cent a glass,” Hill said. “So why buy any water? To me, it’s a waste of money, unless you’re in an area where the drinking water is not potable.”

Now, in one sense, I can understand the founder of the company’s desire to see his product become “the ATM machine of bottled water.” He hopes his machines will one day become as ubiquitous and commonly used as ATM machines. In another sense, however, both the water dispensers and ATMs may be associated more with annoying charges that consumers don’t want to, and don’t have to, pay.

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