Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink ;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
The above is from the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Ah, how horrible to be surrounded by a sea of water – salt water – and nary a drop to salve the parched throat.
But today, water is available in many “forms” – from the tap to the most beautiful bottles containing the liquid necessity. But bottles are for babies. Bottles are not for adults. Bottles are not for the containment of water. But the notion that bottled water is “pure” and tap water is, well, less than pure, has driven the sales of this precious liquid.
The truth is that bottled water is no better than tap water. Of course, if we all acknowledged that and stopped buying those cutesy bottles, an entire segment of an industry would be decimated. But if you really care about the environment and you don’t like to be duped, here are five reasons not to buy into the bottled water frenzy:
Take, for instance, Pepsi’s Aquafina or Coca-Cola’s Dasani bottled water. Both are sold in 20 ounce sizes and can be purchased from vending machines alongside soft drinks — and at the same price. Assuming you can find a $1 machine, that works out to 5 cents an ounce. These two brands are essentially filtered tap water, bottled close to their distribution point. Most municipal water costs less than one cent per gallon.
Now consider another widely-sold liquid: gasoline. It has to be pumped out of the ground in the form of crude oil, shipped to a refinery (often halfway across the world), and shipped again to your local filling station.
In the U.S., the average price per gallon is hovering around $3. There are 128 ounces in a gallon, which puts the current price of gasoline at fraction over 2 cents an ounce.
And that’s why there’s no shortage of companies which want to get into the business. In terms of price versus production cost, bottled water puts Big Oil to shame.
In theory, bottled water in the United States falls under the regulatory authority of the Food and Drug Administration. In practice, about 70 percent of bottled water never crosses state lines for sale, making it exempt from FDA oversight.
On the other hand, water systems in the developed world are well-regulated. In the U.S., for instance, municipal water falls under the purview of the Environmental Protection Agency, and is regularly inspected for bacteria and toxic chemicals. Want to know how your community scores? Check out the Environmental Working Group’s National Tap Water Database.
While public safety groups correctly point out that many municipal water systems are aging and there remain hundreds of chemical contaminants for which no standards have been established, there’s very little empirical evidence which suggests bottled water is any cleaner or better for you than its tap equivalent.
Bottled water produces up to 1.5 million tons of plastic waste per year. According to Food and Water Watch, that plastic requires up to 47 million gallons of oil per year to produce. And while the plastic used to bottle beverages is of high quality and in demand by recyclers, over 80 percent of plastic bottles are simply thrown away.
That assumes empty bottles actually make it to a garbage can. Plastic waste is now at such a volume that vast eddies of current-bound plastic trash now spin endlessly in the world’s major oceans. This represents a great risk to marine life, killing birds and fish which mistake our garbage for food.
Thanks to its slow decay rate, the vast majority of all plastics ever produced still exist — somewhere.
Many people drink bottled water because they don’t like the taste of their local tap water, or because they question its safety.
This is like running around with a slow leak in your tire, topping it off every few days rather than taking it to be patched. Only the very affluent can afford to switch their water consumption to bottled sources. Once distanced from public systems, these consumers have little incentive to support bond issues and other methods of upgrading municipal water treatment.
There’s plenty of need. In California, for example, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated the requirement of $17.5 billion in improvements to the state’s drinking water infrastructure as recently as 2005. In the same year, the state lost 222 million gallons of drinkable water to leaky pipes.
In the documentary film Thirst, authors Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman demonstrated the rapid worldwide privatization of municipal water supplies, and the effect these purchases are having on local economies.
Water is being called the “Blue Gold” of the 21st century. Thanks to increasing urbanization and population, shifting climates, and industrial pollution, fresh water is becoming humanity’s most precious resource.
Multinational corporations are stepping in to purchase groundwater and distribution rights wherever they can, and the bottled water industry is an important component in their drive to commoditize what many feel is a basic human right: the access to safe and affordable water.
So the next time you peruse the bottled water isle in the grocery store, stop and think about just why you are adding it to your cart. Is it to look “tres chique”? Is it to – hmm, I guess there is no other reason.