This article in Fast Company magazine, “Message In A Bottle” by Charles Fishman, brings the bottled water discussion to another level. While I highly recommend reading the entire article, here are a few selected bits:
• Bottled water is the food phenomenon of our times. We–a generation raised on tap water and water fountains–drink a billion bottles of water a week, and we’re raising a generation that views tap water with disdain and water fountains with suspicion. We’ve come to pay good money–two or three or four times the cost of gasoline–for a product we have always gotten, and can still get, for free, from taps in our homes.
• We buy bottled water because we think it’s healthy. Which it is, of course: Every 12-year-old who buys a bottle of water from a vending machine instead of a 16-ounce Coke is inarguably making a healthier choice. But bottled water isn’t healthier, or safer, than tap water. Indeed, while the United States is the single biggest consumer in the world’s $50 billion bottled-water market, it is the only one of the top four–the others are Brazil, China, and Mexico–that has universally reliable tap water.
• …if the water we use at home cost what even cheap bottled water costs, our monthly water bills would run $9,000. Taste, of course, is highly personal. New Yorkers excepted, Americans love to belittle the quality of their tap water. But in blind taste tests, with waters at equal temperatures, presented in identical glasses, ordinary people can rarely distinguish between tap water, springwater, and luxury waters.
• Pepsi has the nation’s number-one-selling bottled water, Aquafina, with 13% of the market. Coke’s Dasani is number two, with 11% of the market. Both are simply purified municipal water–so 24% of the bottled water we buy is tap water repackaged by Coke and Pepsi for our convenience.
• The Fiji Water plant is a state-of-the-art facility that runs 24 hours a day. That means it requires an uninterrupted supply of electricity–something the local utility structure cannot support. So the factory supplies its own electricity, with three big generators running on diesel fuel. The water may come from “one of the last pristine ecosystems on earth,” as some of the labels say, but out back of the bottling plant is a less pristine ecosystem veiled with a diesel haze.
While this is all quite outrageous, one potential response is very simple: carry a reusable bottle and fill it with the local product, for free. Put a label on it that reads “Kensington Spring” or “Eau de Inwood” or Acqua Santa Astoria”… and drink up!