1. The Beginning of the Insanity
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."
2. The Bottled Water Scheme
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.
3. What's in an Ad?
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.
4. The Costs: Beyond Money
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."
5. What About Health and Safely?
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!
6. Reviewing Ecosystems
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.
7. Nestlés' Monopoly
In order to sell and make money from water you have to own or lease the land to which it's found. Nestlé has contracts with various small towns for which they own water rights; these towns are often small in capital and influence. Are we in the U.S. - not seeing the bigger picture? Nestlés' powerful army of scientists, PR consultants, lawyers and lobbyists allow them to stifle and suppress local opposition to its operations. In California, it took 6 years for the tiny town of McCloud to defeat Nestlés' plans to build a facility and take 1,250 gallons-per-minute out of Mount Shasta's spring water. Nestlé then swiftly moved its plan to Sacramento with more success, ‘The Sacramento News and Review' reported that Michelle Smira, one of the mayor's top volunteer advisors, "stepped down to run her consulting business, MMS Strategies." Guess who her big client was? That would be Nestlé. Evidently Smira was hired by Nestlé Waters to win the “hearts and minds, and gain building permits” for the controversial water bottling facility. Sacramento exists currently in a drought and residents are being asked to conserve water, all-the-while Nestlé by contract has no limit on how much water they can pump, they’re on a flat rate. The City Council member Kevin McCarty calculated, “their profits margin will be roughly 10,000 percent”!
8. Nestlé As The Multinational
In Pakistan, Nestlé controls a town’s water supply, forcing residents to dig deeper for non-polluted water that remains or they must pay Nestle’s high price to get their water back. In the documentary film 'Bottled Life', director Res Gehriger explains in the U.S. and E.U., Nestlé primarily sells spring water in the location that it originates. Although in developing countries, it's gone another route by extracting local water and enriching it with minerals. This bottled water is the company’s Pure Life brand, a top-seller worldwide. Filmmaker, Gehriger was prevented from entering into Pakistan’s bottling facility, although he researched the area and found that the water levels had dramatically fallen. This is concerning because Pakistan's public water system is known to be failing or is "close to collapse." Pure Life is harvested, manufactured and marketed locally, but its price is too high for the natives to afford. In places like Nigeria, where Nestlé has also set up camp, African families spend half their salaries on water. Only the very wealthy can afford to purchase Nestlés' Pure Life.
9. The Case of Nestlé 'Perrier in Brazil'
France's bottled mineral water Perrier made it's debut in the 1770s, but by 1990 the company ran into trouble when a U.S. lab test found it contained the carcinogen, benzene. Soon after in 1992, Nestlé bought Perrier and today the green emerald bottle sells in 140 counties. Along the way, Nestlé also acquired Poland Spring, San Pellegrino and numerous other bottled water brands. The corporation, Nestlé/Perrier opened a bottling plant in Sao Lourenco, Brazil. The area is well known for “water circuits,” and has historic sources of mineral water. This was perfect for the Nestlé/Perrier Pure Life brand, as the natural spring had what many believed to be “healing minerals.” Soon though, natives accused the company of over-pumping and drying up their local wells. A member of the International Free Water Academy, Franklin Frederick commented, “If water is pumped in quantities greater than nature can replace, its mineral content will decrease, bringing a change in taste.” In 2006, four years later, the Federal Government found Nestlé/Perrier in violation of constitutional prohibitions on de-mineralizing Brazil’s water – they were fined and forced to stop.
10. The Designer Water Coup
Premium bottled water being sold to rich trendy people is not uncommon and Nestlés' introduction of a new brand of bottled water called Resource, aims to do just that! It's "got electrolytes" and when you drink it - you'll enter a state of enlightened "electrolytenment to sustain your soul!" Who doesn't want to obtain some sort of nirvana, right? Additionally their narrative is that Resource will benefit the Earth too, sermonizing: "Full of electrolytes, its recycled bottle gives you the best of nature." Now, if you're confused, that's exactly where Nestlé wants you! Nestlé is proud to be using 50% recycled plastic in "sustainably sourced" bottles, and they want you to feel good about it. But what about the other 50%? Were you aware it damages the environment while taxpayers pay tens of millions in recycling and waste fees for plastic bottles used annually by Nestlé to sell water? Nestlé knows - you know plastics are not good for the environment, but studies show fancy ads work when it comes to sales and profits.
11. Is It or Is It Not?!
There’s a good chance that the fancy water you’ve just forked out a couple bucks for comes from the municipal water supply! Yes, there's an estimated 25% of bottled water that actually comes from the same water as on your tap. Of course the water goes through a filtering process, like reverse osmosis, deionization, activated carbon filtration and other treatments. Look at the label, does it read “purified” or “drinking water”? If so, chances are it is from a municipal water supply, and unless it’s been “substantially” altered, it’s required to be stated on the bottle. Here’s a list of bottled waters from municipal sources: Pepsi’s Aquafina, Coke’s Dasani, AND now it looks like Nestlés’ Ice Mountain Natural Spring Water is in a class action lawsuit for a document revealing a 5 gallon water bottle defined by Nestlé as, “municipal water and/or well water” - may have been processed by Nestle’s treatment plant and repackaged with images of pristine glacial lakes and mountains.
12. It's All About The Filter!
The thing about tap water is it’s treated with chlorine to kill bacteria. The other part of the treatment is a filtration process, which is more or less the same as what bottled water industry uses. Tap water is good and safe to drink, that’s unless there’s fracking in your state, then there’s fracking fluid seeping into the ground and that can’t be good! If you don't care for the taste or "feel" of chlorine coming through your tap, then it can be removed easily with a filter. In fact, a Brita water filter works wonders and if you'd like to keep the skin on your face soft and younger looking, fill a washbasin with home filtered water and wash you face! Also to save money, keep the Brita filters longer than the company recommends, it just the tap water will drain through the filter a bit slower. We wouldn't recommend walking around chugging from a big Brita jug. Instead, consider getting an aluminum or glass drinking water bottle that come in various sizes, it'll last forever!
13. Some Facts About California's Water
Water and water rights is an on going political issue for The Golden State. It holds 30 million people and there are over 5,680,000 acres of agricultural farmland. The question California rubs up against, is whether to increase the redistribution of water to agricultural and urban sectors, or increase conservation and preserve the natural ecosystems of the water sources. The majority of California’s water supply (75%) comes from north of Sacramento, while 80% of the water feeds the southern two-thirds of the state. We've mention that Nestlé has a legal grip on a large portion of Sacramento water, and the city is battling it out after realizing in hindsight that they agreed to more than they should give. The farming industry is huge in California and 80-85% of all its water is being used for agricultural purposes. The Los Angeles aqueduct carries water from the Eastern Sierra Nevada down to Los Angeles. The drinking water quality has less chlorine and is noticeably "softer" nearer to its source. Although controversial, 30% of all public water providers in the state, fluoridate their water.
14. Care & Attention Where Needed
When one thinks about it, bottled water consumption means less attention to public systems. As more people switch to drinking bottled water, there's less demand on keeping the water systems running their very best for years to come. Once distanced, politicians and consumers have little incentive to support bond issues and other methods of upgrading municipal water treatments, which is showing plenty of need! For example in California, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated in 2013 - approximately $44.5 billion is needed for improvements to the state's drinking water infrastructure. In addition, a worse problem is nationwide - where 7 billion gallons of clean drinking water is lost everyday because of leaky pipes. . . Yikes! Most of the U.S. drinking water infrastructure is 50 to 100 years old, and the risk of contamination grows as pipes age and break down further. What is that old saying? . . "You never miss the water till the well runs dry."
15. Should Water Be Privatized?
Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, CEO of the Nestle Corporation - has a solution for our global water issue. In a documentary ‘We Feed The World,’ by Erwin Wagenhofer, he argues those who view "having access to water as a basic human right are extreme,” and their “sense of entitlement causes them to waste copious amounts of it.” He believes putting a market value on water and privatizing it as a “food,” will not only save water and the environment, but create jobs too. Nestlé is actively promoting water sustainability, but he admits the company’s responsibility falls to the interests of their “shareholders” (meaning profits), therefore in another sense Brabeck-Letmathe is also promoting Nestlés’ sustainability. In his own words during an interview with BigThink: “If Nestlé and myself have become very vocal in the area of water, it was not because of any philanthropic idea, it was very simple: by analyzing. . . what is the single most important factor for the sustainability of Nestlé, water came as [the] number one subject.” Would you trust Nestlé to manage and govern over your water supply, especially as they are outed in court time and again for causing water shortages, and unfair practices around the world while growing corporate gains?
16. Water Wars?
With climate change, reports show droughts are our new normal. Mark Twain wrote, “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over.” Ocean water may be everywhere, but throughout history drinking water has always been precious. The water resource taken from the Colorado River is divided up between states, and is running abnormally low. The river feeds the upper states (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming) and it delivers an amount to the Lower Basin (New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada). An early provision allows California and its rapidly growing coastal cities to grab excess water coming off the Colorado River, but since cities in Arizona and Nevada have expanded, the surplus has disappeared and California is left with no water. Consider CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe ideas on water rights, and his reasoning behind “water privatization”? Nestlés’ Colorado bottled water operation may seem irrational and even greedy, but the corporation knows first hand as they pine for water around the world – the golden source is getting precarious.
17. Clean Tap Water For Everyone?
The World Health Organization estimates more than one billion people lack reliable safe drinking water. 80% of all illness in the world are due to water-borne diseases. Inadequate water or sanitation kills around 5 million people a year. It makes sense why people turn to bottled water in the developing world, as it's often the only safe supply. But how about those who can't afford it? Wouldn't it be better if they had access to safe tap water instead? According to the International Water Management Institute, clean water could be provided to everyone on earth for "$1.7 billion a year beyond current spending projects, and to improve sanitation - a further $9.3 billion per year." This is less than a quarter of global annual spending on bottled water! For developed world dwellers, the choice of water is a lifestyle option. Many turn their backs on clean tap water in place of the bottled variety. Can you imagine if we stop spending money on bottled water and funnelled it to water charities?
18. So, Who's To Own Our Water?
In Elizabeth Royte’s book ‘Bottlemania,’ she quotes a Pepsi executive, “When we are done, tap water will be relegated to showers and washing dishes.” That was a bold statement in 2000, but today our most basic human need, drinking water is uncertain. Did you know members of the U.S. Congress and local politicians want to see private companies take over more water systems? Public utilities are financially struggling to meet federal standards to clean, maintain and modernize water systems. So, it makes sense corporations easily persuade public officials to sell off OUR government water services! What does this mean for us? Investor owned utilities typically charge 33% more for water, and 63% more for sewer service than local public programs. In addition, their rate increases are approximately 3 times higher than inflation. Water privatization is happening to entire countries. In 2012, the U.S. had approx. 73 million people paying their water bills to private water schemes. The United Nations projects two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to run short of fresh drinking water by 2025, leaving 2 out of 3 people in dire straits. Do we want those who make decisions around “profit margins” in power? The comedian and creator of ‘Beavis and Butthead,’ Mike Judge joked, “In the future, water will be relegated to toilets,” AND that isn’t sounding so funny now!
19. Grass-Root Activism
eople are guarding their environmental rights by forming organizations that do just that. Additionally, they supply information and news often limited on popular news media or in government bodies. Food & Water Watch organizes to maintain that public water resources STAYS in public hands. They support residents, elected officials, water utility staff, and community leaders who are fighting to protect their water from corporate control. In addition, they alert public officials and concerned citizens about the economic, social and environmental benefits of local ownership, and the risks of water privatization. They also have a “No Bottled Water Pledge” to break the bottled water habit! The Sierra Club founded in 1892, has a track record ensuring corporate accountability. They run a Bottled Water campaign and focus on corporate water privatization issues. International and domestic up-to-date reports, including legal records on the topic can be found on their website.
20. End the Insanity!
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!