There have been some truly great scams throughout history, but perhaps none as wide-reaching and environmentally destructive as bottled water. Somewhere along the way, we were all deceived into thinking that bottled water was "better" than tap water, and that we had to shell out to healthfully hydrate.

It turns out the joke's on us and the punch line, of course, is that a lot of bottled water is just tap water anyway. Aquafina, a PepsiCo brand, and Dasani, a Coca-Cola brand, are two examples of "purified" bottled tap water. Meanwhile, brands such as Fiji, which offers "all natural artesian" water, uncap their own ocean of concerns --namely that the bottles the pristine water is sold in require large amounts of oil to make, and the fuel needed to ship them all over the world results in a huge carbon footprint.

According to Pacific Institute estimates from 2006, "Producing the bottles for American consumption required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil," and "bottling water produced more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide." That doesn't include the energy and transportation involved. And then there's the waste. The Container Recycling Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit, reports that eight out of 10 plastic water bottles in the United States become garbage or end up in a landfill.

After years of buying into the bottled-water swindle, consumers are being spurred to return to the tap by the growing green movement and the current economic downturn. Fast Company recently reported that Americans spent $15 billion on bottled water last year -- arguably $15 billion that would have been better spent on water purifiers and reusable bottles.   Take Back the Tap, a campaign spearheaded by consumer-rights organization Food & Water Watch, is encouraging individuals to take action by contacting their elected officials, and "calling on restaurants to support the city's tap water by keeping bottled water off their menus." Refill Not Landfill and Filter For Good are two more campaigns, organized by Nalgene and Brita, working to encourage bottled-water drinkers to break the addiction. They've even partnered with Crystal Light to offer a "reusable water bottle kit," replete with "one Filter For Good reusable bottle, ten Crystal Light On The Go sticks, and valuable offers including a $5 off Brita water filtration system coupon." Their tag line should be "a spoonful of sugar helps the tap water go down."

For those who don't need the kit or flavor enhancers, the world of water filters, purifiers and reusable bottles is a veritable embarrassment of riches. Well-known brands include PUR and Brita, both of which offer pitchers, faucet mounts and refrigerator filters. Once you've filtered and purified your tap water, you'll need something to carry it around in. This is where a reusable bottle such as the popular Nalgene comes in.

The company is currently in the process of phasing out production of consumer bottles containing the controversial compound BPA. Check out Nalgene Choice for more info.

If you'd rather avoid plastic altogether, consider my reusable bottle of choice -- a pretty little stainless steel number from New Wave Enviro Products, which you can pick up on Amazon. Whatever you do, stay thirsty for knowledge and healthfully hydrated.