Imagine there was a time when bottled water didn’t exist in our catalog of popular commodities. Perhaps the trend started in 1976 when the chic French sparkling water, Perrier made its introduction. There it was seductively bottled in its emerald green glass amongst the era of disco and the spectacle of excesses . . . who could resist right?!
What could be more decadent than to package, sell and consume what most consider (in the Western world) a common human right easily supplied through a home faucet! It wasn’t until the 1990s when bottled H2O became an everyday common sight and a symbol of our cultural desire towards fitness and “health-consciousness.” Even today health enthusiasts claim drinking water often helps to “detox and boost the metabolism!”
There have been controversies about chemicals leeching into the water from the soft plastic material of bottles, but the FDA determined the containers “do not pose a health risk to consumers.” Today IBISWorld reports that the “U.S. is the largest consumer for bottled water in the world, followed by Mexico, China, and Brazil.”
Regular drinking water competes with itself in a bottle, but reviewing the cost difference, you’ve got to wonder why or how? As for the water piped into your home or work place, it costs less than one penny per gallon! Fairfax Water organization (FCWA) states, “The average price of water in the U.S. is about $1.50 for 1,000 gallons.”
Let’s look at your favorite 20 oz. bottled H2O, it will run you up to $3 per bottle at the corner convenience store and up to $4 at a posh restaurant or nightclub. If you buy bulk at Costo or other markets, the price averages are .31 cents per bottle, but that still remains enormously expensive when compared to tap water. Granted, many don’t like tap water quality, but modern technology allows for an array of water filters.
In the mid-1990s, soda companies found that a niche market for bottled water could be huge. Why not, the profits were obvious?! Pepsi and Coca-Cola jumped into a race with their brands – Aquafina and Dasani, they led the way to making bottled water what it is today.
People really love their bottled water, today there are dozens of brands and that merits big advertising! The Huffington Post stated in 2013 that Americans drank 58 gallons of bottled water per capita!
With the help of marketing, bottled water has gone from “reservoir to faddish luxury item to mass commodity.” Bottled H2O is being directly or indirectly sold as: healthy, smart, pure, sexy, clean, simple, and “the stuff of life.” Ad slogans go like this: Dasani by Coca-Cola says, “Treat yourself well. Everyday.” Volvic -“Fills you with volcanicity.”Aquafina by Pepsi-Cola -“So pure, we promise nothing.” Arrowhead by Mountain Spring Water, USA -“Arrowhead. It’s Better Up Here!” Evian -“Approved by your body as a source of youth.” Lastly, Pure Life by Nestlé declares -“DRINK BETTER. LIVE BETTER.”
No matter how much emotion an advertisements conjures, be it love, fear or rage, in the end water is just water whether bottled or from the tap. The difference is only in taste, and Evian has to be the only one tastier than tap water, but that’s only if the tap water hasn’t been filtered. “Taste comes from negligible amounts of minerals” and filtered tap water removes minerals and chemicals rendering it with no hint of aftertaste, even at room temperature and most importantly the “2 hydrogen to 1 oxygen” part of water we need, never changes.
It’s absurd that the cost of designer water is at a “280,000% markup” to your tap water and it’s reaching record heights in consumption. The comforting illusion of better water (bottled water) requires a lot of resource to manufacture and merchandise. The industry requires the cost of natural rivers and streams, semi-truck exhaust and diesel fuel, packaging, labeling, pollution of non-biodegradable plastic and the managing of recycling centers.
If you visit a gas station store or grocery store, you’re bound to see that a full third of all cold beverages on sale are bottled water. The Sierra Club explains, “Annually the water bottles themselves take about 1.5 million tons of plastic to manufacture for the global market.” Did you know plastics come from oil and therefore it takes 1.5 million barrels of oil a year?
Additionally the manufacturing process releases toxins into the environment, such as nickel, ethylbenzene, ethylene oxide and benzene. Even with current plastic recycling centers, “most used bottles end up in landfills, adding to the landfill crisis.”
There are relatively few regulations on what bottled water contains. The Natural Resources Defense Council’s scientific study showed over 1/3 of tested brands contain contaminants like arsenic and carcinogenic compounds. Scientists agreed though that the contaminants were negligible amounts and bottled water is safe to drink, but importantly the study clearly showed how “bottled water purity” can be misleading.
On the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website, they claim many Europeans believe natural mineral waters have medicinal or health properties. Although WHO didn’t find evidence to support these benefits. Many researchers conclude the benefits of bottled water are based mainly on a common misconception.
A large majority of consumers drink bottled water because they believe it not only has health benefits, but better taste. Interestingly, the Environmental News Network reported on the TV show, Good Morning America, that a taste test revealed – NYC tap water was chosen a favorite over the oxygenated water 02, Poland Spring and Evian!
Corporations like Coca-cola, Nestlé, Pepsi, Evian and Fiji Water are making billions of dollars on water. Many people are unhappy with their practices, such as sucking up spring water from underground aquifers that are the source of water for nearby streams, wells, and farms.
In Mecosta County, Michigan, Nestlé was court-ordered to stop taking spring water as it proved threatening to the surrounding ecosystem. They have around 75 springs in the U.S. and are actively searching to take on more. They own water rights in Aurora County, Colorado – in which they’ve built a diversion of water to the Arkansas River to replace water there, which they are siphoning from underground aquifers that would normally feed into that river.
What’s important about the aquifers is they safely store precious water underground throughout Colorado during the dry seasons. Sarah Olson, producer of the documentary ‘Tapped,’ notes, “Nestlé has a history of pumping more water than its permits allow.” She claims the situation is difficult to monitor and easy for Nestlé to take advantage of. Aquifers are significant to the state’s community survival, especially with current warming climate trends.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a U.S. research and advocacy acting as a watchdog on behalf of citizens reports, “Unlike tap water, where consumers are provided test results every year, the bottled water industry is not required to disclose results of contaminant testing.” EWG believes the water bottle industry is not held to the same safety standards of tap water.
Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany did their own study on bottled water. What did tests reveal? They found a high percentage of water in plastic bottles had synthetic estrogenic chemicals. Additionally, ten brands had pollutants including “disinfection byproducts and common urban wastewater pollutants like caffeine and pharmaceuticals (Tylenol); heavy metals and minerals including arsenic and radioactive isotopes; fertilizer residue (nitrate and ammonia); and a broad range of other, tentatively identified industrial chemicals used as solvents, plasticizers, viscosity decreasing agents, and propellants.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a non-profit, non-partisan group based in the U.S., who also operates as an international environmental advocacy, did a bottled water test In 1999. Out of 22% of brand water, at least one sample contained chemical contaminants at levels above strict FDA health limits.
What can we do to drink with confidence? Buy a good filter and use it!