The online survey was conducted by Harris Poll for the International Bottled Water Association.
Credit: mediaphotos/Getty Images

A lot has changed in the past 40 years. From the internet to phones to pop culture, the world is a much different place than it was in the 1970s. But a major shift in America that sometimes gets overlooked is the exploding popularity of bottled water. According to NPR, in 1976, the average American consumed about 1.5 gallons of bottled water per year. In 2016, that number had grown to 39.3 gallons per person per year – a figure that has made bottled water more popular than soft drinks for the first time in American history. What’s behind this bottled water obsession? The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) recently commissioned a survey from Harris Poll asking over 3,300 American adults about their feels and habits surrounding water to sort thing out.

Helping to confirm bottled water’s recent eclipsing of the soft drink market, 63 percent of those surveyed said bottled water is among their “most preferred” beverages, topping the list by edging out coffee which had 62 percent support. Meanwhile, only 58 percent responded that soft drinks are a “most preferred” drink.

Even more interesting, however, are people’s water drinking habits. 15 percent of people said they only drink bottled water, compared to 12 percent who said they only drink tap or filtered water. 16 percent said they “mostly” drank bottled water, while 23 percent said they mostly drink tap or filtered water. In theory, that leaves about 34 percent who drink evenly between the two options, though the IBWA didn’t specifically mention this information. (As an interesting aside, though, 1 percent of people said they didn’t drink water at all according to the survey – which hopefully we can chalk up to some sort of margin of error.)

As to the “why,” the IBWA survey found that 94 percent of people considered bottled water to be a healthier choice than soft drinks. 72 percent said a lack of artificial sweeteners is important to them when choosing drinks, and 69 percent said they have a preference towards lower calories. Overall, 90 percent of those surveyed said they considered bottled water a healthy and convenient beverage, with 86 percent of people stating they had a positive opinion of bottled water.

Of course, bottled water’s biggest issue typically isn’t the water; it’s the bottle. And though as should be expected, the Bottled Water Association didn’t dig too deep into the negatives of all that unnecessary packaging, the group did offer up a silver lining. “Among those who ever purchase bottled water, bottled water drinkers are more inclined to recycle their bottled water containers than those who say soda is among their most preferred beverages,” the IBWA said in a press release. “This is consistent with a 2016 PET bale analysis study that found bottled water is the number one most recycled product in curbside recycling systems, with a rate of 53.1 percent, compared to soda bottles, which was 20.4 percent.” Hopefully forty years from now, those numbers will be even higher.