Via Deep Sea News, I came across a story from Tuesday’s LA Times about recent corporate and fashion-industry efforts to ween Americans off of bottled water. With Americans currently throwing away 38 billion plastic water bottles each year (that’s over 100 bottles per American!), it’s a cause that can’t be emphasized enough. Bottled water is wasteful. Period.
Still, I find parts of the article somewhat tiresome, especially the title: “On the anti-bottled-water bandwagon: Filter and container makers are capitalizing on the latest green trend.” Although this is mostly this is mostly just a framing issue, I’m not too excited about calling the water bottlers “green” for a token eco-friendly effort when they are the ones producing and profiting from bottled water. In addition, whether or not there really is a trend here, it’s dwarfed by Americans’ continued and unnecessary use of bottled water.
The article takes on a fairly credulous tone in all of this. For example:
Sigg rival Nalgene would no doubt beg to differ, and certainly Brita would add that the water should be strained through one of its charcoal filters.
The Brita-Nalgene website launched Monday, www.filterforgood.com, makes several key claims for the green-minded, including that one Brita pitcher filter (a four-pack sells at Target for less than $20) can replace as many as 300 plastic bottles “so you can get great-tasting water without so much waste. Talk about refreshing.”
On the site, people can pledge to reduce their throwaway-bottle consumption. And until Dec. 31 they can buy a FilterForGood refillable bottle (made by Nalgene, of course) for $10, with a donation of as much as $4 made to the Blue Planet Run Foundation, a nonprofit working to provide safe drinking water to 200 million people by 2027.
That’s all well and good, and I appreciate Brita’s efforts (regardless of the fact that they’re motivated by making money), but nowhere is it noted that there’s no need for those in the developed world to filter one’s water either. It’s statements like these, which subtly cast doubt on the quality of tap water, that have contributed so much to our current wasteful bottled water culture. Tap water, which has possibly become our most unappreciated modern marvel, is safe and of high quality (and often of higher quality than bottled water, as Deep Sea News points out).
In response to this culture, The New York Times ran an excellent editorial on August 1st entitled “In Praise of Tap Water”, which makes the case for tap water in terms of cost to the consumer…
Meanwhile, if you choose to get your recommended eight glasses a day from bottled water, you could spend up to $1,400 annually. The same amount of tap water would cost about 49 cents.
…in terms of cost to the environment…
The Earth Policy Institute in Washington has estimated that it takes about 1.5 million barrels of oil to make the water bottles Americans use each year. That could fuel 100,000 cars a year instead. And, only about 23 percent of those bottles are recycled, in part because water bottles are often not included in local redemption plans that accept beer and soda cans. Add in the substantial amount of fuel used in transporting water, which is extremely heavy, and the impact on the environment is anything but refreshing.
…and even in terms of subtler societal implications:
The more the wealthy opt out of drinking tap water, the less political support there will be for investing in maintaining America’s public water supply. That would be a serious loss. Access to cheap, clean water is basic to the nation’s health.
In America, at least, tap water is virtually free. Only about 2% of the water used by an average American household is is used for drinking or cooking. The other 98% goes to a variety of other uses, particularly bathing, flushing toilets, and watering lawns. Even if nobody ever bought another bottle of water again, our municipal water systems wouldn’t even be fazed.
Over 1 billion people still don’t have access to safe drinking water, yet our perspective in America has become so warped that we’ve come to believe that having this precious resource available with just a slight motion of the wrist isn’t good enough.
Although these corporate efforts are good, it’s up us individuals to wake up, take responsibility, and stop this strange regression back to pre-Twentieth Century, pre-running water days. It won’t be hard: the solution is already at your fingertips.
Update: Effect Measure also has a nice post on the issue.