While in the cashier line at Whole Foods last week, I watched a gray-haired gentleman in a cashmere sweater and expensive slacks place two heavy cases of San Pellegrino water on the conveyor belt. The sparkling mineral water from
But it may shock some people to learn that this high-end water supplier is owned by Nestle, the same company that manufactures Hot Pockets and Butterfinger candy bars. Nestle also owns 26 other brands of bottled water included Perrier and Poland Spring.
Americans spent more than $15 billion on bottled water last year – more than we spent on iPods or movie tickets, according to Fast Company magazine. This was clearly evident at Whole Foods as I watched the gray-haired gentleman shell out about $60 for his purchase.
Has there ever been an advertising and marketing triumph quite like bottled water? We have allowed ourselves to be duped into believing in luxury brands of water – that spring or glacial water is somehow a premium worth shelling out money for. This despite the fact that water flows for free out of most people’s kitchen and bathroom taps.
San Pellegrino is a perfect example of this charade. The Italian water isn’t naturally sparkling. It is mineral water infused with carbonation. Analysis shows that the water quality is about the same as water that flows from the average sink.
Some bottle water, in fact, really is municipal tap water. It may be as much as 25 percent of all bottled water, according to a report on ABC News. Pepsi Colas’ Aquafina and Coca-Cola’s Dasani brands have admitted that they are simply filtering tap water.
“Whether bottled water is better than tap water, and justifies its expense, remains under debate,” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.Not so according to a four-year study conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The NRDC says about one-third of the bottled water contains levels of contamination that exceed allowable limits under either state or bottled water industry standards or guidelines. They argue that tap water is actually better for you.
This fact has done little to hinder the success of the bottled water industry:
So why are we so obsessed with buying something that we can get for free – especially when it is so expensive and damaging to the environment?
Marketing and advertising, of course, play an enormous role. We’ve been fooled into thinking that bottled water tastes better and is safer than tap water. But we’re also turning water into a valuable commodity that is enriching corporations and forcing a privatization of what was once a public resource: water. With the well-off consuming bottled water are we in danger of ignoring or letting public water supplies deteriorate?
Water is too valuable – too necessary – to our public health to hand over to corporations. Water needs to remain a public resource for the world – and not a luxury for the rich.
The good news is that there is a developing backlash against the dangers posed by bottled water. What can you do? I’ve vowed to stop buying bottled water (and save myself a lot of money). I’ve purchased a water pitcher with a filter that I keep in the refrigerator. Rather than buy bottled water, I now use a refillable plastic bottle that can be washed and reused over and over again.
Now if we can only convince well-to-do gray-haired gentlemen to do the same.