More on Bottled Water

Back in May I wrote my first post about the unsustainability of bottled water, and it has been gratifying to see the growing attention being focused on this issue over the last few months. Today the Bottled Water Story continues, with this very informative article from Earth Policy about efforts around the world to move citizens and city governments away from bottled water and back to the tap. Recommended reading! Here’s a taste:

Tap water promotional campaigns would have seemed quaint a few decades ago, when water in bottles was a rarity. Now such endeavors are needed to counteract the pervasive marketing that has caused consumers to lose faith in the faucet. In fact, more than a quarter of bottled water is just processed tap water, including top-selling Aquafina and Coca-Cola’s Dasani.

Issues at stake here range from the huge trash problem created by plastic water bottles (recycling rates tend to be very low, especially in states — including NY — where there is no bottle deposit on non-carbonated beverages), to the amount of petroleum used in the creation of those bottles and transporting them around the globe, to the threat to funding of municipal water systems — which in some cases has resulted in their privatization.
water bottle

I would venture to say that there is also a social justice issue involved when the public has been led to believe that a product will be healthier for themselves and their families at such an astronomical cost difference compared to an equal or better product they can already access for free. Here in NYC we are blessed with excellent tap water, and even using a filter system only adds a few dollars a year to the cost. It has been a great step to see bottled water promoted in schools instead of sodas, but an even better step would be for every child to have their own reusable water bottle. Sounds crazy? To see how one NYC teacher (and parent) did it, check out Brooklyn’s own Urban Botany blog. Who says one person can’t make a difference?

The time has come to take back the tap. As individuals and as a society, we can find better uses for the many dollars we would save by doing so:

With more than 1 billion people around the globe still lacking access to a safe and reliable source of water, the $100 billion the world spends on bottled water every year could certainly be put to better use creating and maintaining safe public water infrastructure everywhere.

So… maybe an excellent holiday gift would be a reusable water bottle, eh?

6 thoughts on “More on Bottled Water”

  • Great post, Anne. I remember reading about the push for a “Bigger Better Bottle Bill” ages ago and it seems like nothing ever came of it.
    The project at the school has actually been stalled. Our Parent’s Association said they’d think about doing it as a fund raiser a few months ago and never got back to me. But the Assistant Principal and I had a talk about plastics the other day, and I am about to have my upper-graders do a poster project. Maybe if we raise awareness about the problem first, the reusable bottle campaign will have a better chance.

  • Whatever happened to water fountains? Not bottled water dispensers but good old fashioned water fountains. On a recent visit to a public school, I could not find one operable fountain. Would it not be ecologically sound to fix the plumbing in public fountains. I remember standing in line with other kids in the city parks after playing, just to get a drink from a playground fountain. The water was always so cold and so good.

  • Good call, but how to go about this?

    Subsidize reusable, filtered, bisphenol A free bottles?
    Subsidize Brita?

    I enjoyed the calling out of pepsi and coke when their glorified tap water campaign was called out, but I don’t think that made people switch back to tap water.

    Either way, conversation is what starts the consumer revolution, so keep it up.

  • thanks for your comments! i appreciate what evan says about getting the conversation started, and it’s nice to see that happen here.

    i don’t think it would be necessary to subsidize brita or any other filtration system once people realize that the price of one or two days’ supply of bottled water could instead buy a month’s worth of as-good-or-better-quality water from the tap at home. hopefully at least a few people will be motivated to switch back when they learn the whole story about how we’ve all been played for fools by the beverage companies’ clever use of words like “spring” and “geyser”.

    rejin, sorry to hear the project has stalled for the moment; but i have seen lately that some attention and activism is being directed to the issue of recycling and sustainability in schools, so maybe your school will respond to the plan you’ve already provided for them! maybe they want to check out the department of sanitation’s golden apple program:

    “The Golden Apple Awards offers schools in NYC substantial cash prizes for documenting their model school recycling programs, waste prevention initiatives, or beautification projects.”

    more info here:

    i agree with salimah about water fountains, a school child’s ultimate refreshment back in the day! have they gone the way of pay phones?? what would it take to get them working again? does this mean that parents have to BUY every drink their child consumes in school?

    these issues all strike me as ways in which our public infrastructure is being subtly undermined, which in itself is a passive form of privatization, no?

  • yes!! here are my favorite excerpts from the linked article:

    * Bottled water is a waste of money.
    American’s spent $10 billion on bottled water in 2005 and paid up to 1,000 times the cost of production, a major windfall of profit for the companies. Bottled water can costs $7.50 to $11.00 per gallon in the supermarket 8 but tap water costs most customers only one-tenth of one cent per gallon.

    * What America really needs is increased funding for public drinking water and water treatment.
    America has some of the safest tap water in the world but many cities operate water systems that were built before World War I. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that there is a shortfall of more than $22 billion per year between the funds available for repair and upgrade of pipes and treatment plants and what is needed to keep water safe for human and environmental health.


    instead of handing our dollars over to Coca Cola et al, we should be investing in our municipal water systems. Aquafina who???

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