June 24, 2007

Two items crossed my desk this week. One was a survey about a new water product that allegedly isn’t as heavy as tea but has the “health benefits” of tea built into it. (Read: yet another flavored fortified water.) The other was a news story on CNN about an order given by the mayor of San Francisco banning the city government from buying bottled water, even for water coolers. (HOORAY for them!)

Now, I buy bottled water once in a while, but it’s for two reasons. One, I have a supply in stock for hurricane preparedness (I live in Florida) which will sit there indefinitely until we need it. Two, I buy a large bottle and then reuse it over and over again (for taking water with me to the gym) until the bottle begins to fail structurally or develops other problems, at which time I replace it and recycle the old. I suspect the water companies figured this habit out, though, because Evian bottles fail rapidly, and so do those from my local store brand. At the moment I’m using a Fiji bottle, and it’s holding up well. But I’m thinking I’m not going to do that anymore — I’ll just buy a durable plastic bottle from Rubbermaid or someone similar, and use it permanently.

One thing this habit of drinking the bottled water and then refilling with tap has taught me is that my tap water tastes better than some bottled water. For example, by comparison with my tap water, Evian tastes positively chemical to me. I’d heard about the studies comparing the quality of bottled water vs. tap but this morning I actually went out and read up on it (allaboutwater.org and the NRDC’s study of bottled water) and was stunned to see that not only is bottled water less well regulated (FDA regulations for bottled water are less stringent than EPA regulations for tap), it failed the microbe-content test in nearly 20 percent of samples studied!


Ok, so now we’re back to the voting with our dollars issue. Tap water providers are required to provide all customers with a water-quality report — in fact, ours arrived in the mail yesterday. Bottled water manufacturers are under no such mandate, which is how they get away with selling purified tap water (without actually telling you that it’s tap water) at enormous prices and putting a picture on the label designed to make you think you’re getting something “more natural” than that, etc., when in point of fact you may be getting something inferior to your own tap water.

Do I really want to support those practices? No, but to me the question is actually more one of reducing my carbon footprint. The number of plastic bottles made and discarded annually from bottled water — in many cases bottled TAP water! — is staggering. According to the Container Recycling Institute, 60 million plastic water bottles are discarded each day in this country alone.

So, to recap: we not only have the hugely inflated cost of the bottle of water, we have all the oil consumption costs in global warming gases and pollution from transporting it (which tap water, usually being local, typically doesn’t have), plus the oil consumption used to make the plastic, plus the pollution from the bottles (have you noticed they’re everywhere???), plus the landfill-disintegration penalties to the environment in those communities that don’t have recycling (and even in those communities that do, from people who are too inconsiderate to recycle). Etc.

Or we have the reusable glass, the tap, the less-than-one-cent cost, and the much more environmentally friendly result of just standing at the sink and quenching our thirst.

I understand some people don’t like the taste of their tap water. To them I suggest a filtration system attached to the tap. It’s gotta be cheaper in the long run, for both themselves and the planet, than loading up on these bottles.

And about the company making the new brand of fortified water — I’ll ask you the same question I asked them: Does the world really NEED another kind of bottled water? And does the public really NEED to be exposed to yet another marketing campaign designed to heighten their already rampant consumerism and create a feeling of need where no actual need exists?  I think not, and my dollars will be spent in such a way as to make that point.


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