::Literate Blather::
Monday, February 25, 2008
Essay: The Threat of Bottled Water

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 Lombardy, Italy is among the hottest selling brands of bottled water.

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:

  • In 2004, more than 41 billion gallons of bottled water was consumed. The United States was responsible for 28 billion of the total.
  • It takes about 17 million barrels of oil to manufacture the plastic bottles for water, according to the Pacific Institute. This caused more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere.
  • Approximately 80 percent of the plastic bottles used for water end up in landfills – only 20 percent are recycled.
  • In the United States, bottled water sales are expected to surpass the sale of beer and coffee in the next few years, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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.

Read our essay on slowing down to the speed of life

Read our essay on global warming

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Blogger Unknown said...
The only reason I buy bottled water is so I have a bottle to put tap water in. I drink tap water because water doesn't kill you and really the only thing that I don't like about tap water is that some of the stuff tastes wretched (too many minerals or whatever). Most of it is fine, you can drink it, and infections are really uncommon in America. It's just paranoia.

Blogger GFS3 said...
Well, its easy to filter tap water. You can buy a pitcher and filter for under $20. It takes any bad taste out of the water and makes it look at sparkling as anything you can buy in a bottle.

Blogger Unknown said...
True, but I really don't care that much. You get used to the taste, unless it's really bad. Take the water in Santa Cruz, CA. I'm from Placerville, CA, so when I moved here the water was just terrible. I used to say the same about Pville water and every time I'd go visit family I'd intentionally fill up a water bottle with Pville water so I'd have something to drink. Now I'm used to SC water and it doesn't taste like anything other than water to me. Pville water now tastes like crud.
I just don't care too much for filtering and spending money on filters and stuff. And as I said, I don't buy bottled water for the water :P, just for the bottle. They don't really make those huge water bottles to buy without anything in them, as far as I know. I have an enormous Arrowhead bottle (it's like a foot+ tall) and it holds a lot of water, making it easy for me to keep myself hydrated. The water that came with it was the same as the water I drink every day, just with a few less minerals in it, or a different combo of minerals.
Besides, I blame the French for the bottled water idea. Listen to Jim Gaffigan. He'll tell ya. :P

Now, if my water came out oddly colored and tasted really bad, then I might consider filtering. All those minerals junk are good for you. You should always keep your immune system on its toes :P

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Good job on kicking the bottled water habit. You'll save a lot of money and do our planet a favor by using a water filter. Get more facts about bottled water at www.BottledWaterBlues.com

Blogger OutOfContext said...
Okay. I'm neither well-to do nor gray-haired, but I submit to Nestle as my corporate master (at least I get it wholesale). I love the mineral taste of San Pellegrino. I live the burn of the carbonation when I'm really thirsty and drink it fast (yes, I knew they added CO2). Columbia's got my number, too; I can't give up the coffee. I do use tap water to make that, though.

Blogger GFS3 said...
Good link Michelle. Thanks for providing it. And I won't hold it against you that you work for home filtering and purification companies -- because I support their efforts.

Blogger Karen said...
Cool blog!

Blogger GFS3 said...
We think so!

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Actually, the Pacific Institute estimates that producing the bottles for American consumption required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including the energy for transportation. For more information on the link between bottled water and energy, visit http://www.pacinst.org/topics/water_and_sustainability/bottled_water/bottled_water_and_energy.html.

Blogger SQT said...
I have to say S.M.D. is right about SoCal water, it's awful! The filtering water pitchers are a must.

I tend to buy basic bottled water just to take to the gym. The generic stuff is cheap and it's convenient. But other than that I don't bother.

Blogger GFS3 said...
Reusable plastic bottles, SQT!

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