Bottled Water – Social Implications

Water taps across the U.S. stand ready to deliver clean safe drinking water instantly and inexpensively, yet millions of people choose to buy bottled water. This worries me.

Hand Holding Open Bottle of Bottled Water

Water is the essential substance on earth, a necessity of life. Read that sentence again; now pause to consider your life without water.

Hijacking water for profit is wrong. I believe bottled water is a wasteful and even dangerous product. I admit this was not always the case, I used to buy and drink bottled water so I claim no moral high ground.

In this post, we will explore the reasons people give for buying bottled water and its social implications. The previous post, Bottled Water – Cost and Sustainability, provided a real-life cost comparison of bottled water versus tap water and covered the environmental impact of bottled water.

Why Do People Buy Bottled Water?

What does it say about our society that millions of people are choosing to pay an enormous premium to buy water packaged in throwaway containers instead of turning on the tap and filling up a glass or reusable water bottle?

People buy bottled water for a variety of reasons. We will tackle the top four in this post (not in any particular order).

  • Convenience
  • Taste
  • Concern about Tap Water Safety
  • Healthy Alternative to Other Packaged Beverages
Convenience

Two of Author's Reusable Water BottlesGrabbing a bottle of bottled water from the fridge is convenient; so is grabbing a reusable water bottle pre-filled with tap water and there is no lugging of cases of single-serve bottles or gallon jugs from the store to the car to the house.

Away from home, it can be challenging to find a place to refill a water bottle, but a store or vending machine selling bottled water is not always nearby either. Rather than adding more locations selling bottled water, let’s advocate for more public drinking fountains and water refilling stations so everyone can get a drink of water when they are out and about.

Buying bottled water for the sake of convenience does not add up, cost or time wise.

Taste

Until bottled water companies brought it to our attention, most people probably did not think about the taste of tap water. Now we do. Fortunately, tap water filtering devices are available to fit just about any budget, making buying bottled water for taste unnecessary.

Concern about Tap Water Safety

Green Coffee Mug Containing Black CoffeeThe bottled water industry has waged a decades-long campaign trying to convince us that our tap water is not safe to drink and encouraging us to buy bottled water.

Keep in mind, we do more than just drink tap water; we make our coffee, brush our teeth, and wash our hands and bodies with it too. If tap water were unsafe, drinking bottled water would not protect us.

Today most Americans can turn on their tap and receive clean safe drinking quality water for around a penny a gallon. However, this was not always so.

During the 1970s, water and air pollution had gotten so bad, Americans took to the streets and airways demanding the U.S. Congress take action to stop companies from dumping toxins into the air and water. In response, Congress established the Environmental Protection Agency and enacted far-reaching environmental legislation including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Safe Drinking Water Act.

Sadly, some American’s tap water falls below EPA drinking quality standards or in rare cases is actually unsafe to drink. The culprits responsible for poor quality or unsafe drinking water are companies, corporations, and individuals who dump and spill toxins in our waterways and water bodies either accidentally or on purpose.

Let’s focus on stopping pollution, not stocking up on bottled water.

Healthy Alternative to Other Packaged Beverages

The bottled water industry is cashing in on Americans’ concerns about obesity by promoting bottled water as a healthier alternative to other packaged beverages. Many bottled water companies also sell those other beverages so whether we switch to bottled water or not they still make money.

Happily, we can say yes to drinking more water and no to bottled water by filling up our glasses and reusable water bottles with tap water.

Ethical Bottled Water

A scary trend in the bottled water industry is the emergence of so-called ethical bottled water brands. These companies and corporate divisions claim they will contribute a portion of each sale or a percentage of their profits towards providing disadvantaged people with access to clean drinking water, usually in developing countries.

Rows of Green Dollar Signs

Ethical bottled water brands target our wallets and our heartstrings. Convincing bottled water drinkers that buying ethical bottled water helps people in need enables customers to justify buying bottled water and feel good about it. Moreover, new customers may be enticed into buying bottled water because “It’s for a good cause.”

Helping communities gain access to clean drinking water is critical and important work, but selling more bottled water is not the way to do it.

Drinking Fountains and Water Refilling Stations

While preparing for this post, I was heartened to read about cities, counties, schools, colleges, and state and national parks that are discontinuing selling bottled water and making drinking water more accessible by deploying portable water refilling stations at events and installing hydration stations where thirsty people can get a drink of water or refill a reusable water bottle.

Evanston, IL Portable Water Refilling Station - Photo: Hannah Ellsbury, Ban the Bottle

Putting Bottled Water into Perspective

Every one of us living in the United States relies on one or more of the 73,400 municipal water systems to deliver clean safe drinking quality water to our homes, schools, and businesses and to whisk away everything we flush down our drains, disposals, and toilets, regardless of whether we drink bottled water or not.

In a 2013 report to Congress, the EPA stated our nation’s water infrastructure needs an investment of $348.2 billion over a 20-year period (2011-2030) to upgrade, replace, or install thousands of miles of pipes, water intake structures, treatment plants, storage tanks, and security measures. 1

U.S. bottled water drinkers spent $13 billion on bottled water in 2014 and they are expected to spend even more in 2015. 2 If sales remained at $13 billion a year, after 20 years, Americans would have spent $260 billion on bottled water, enough to cover 68% of the cost to upgrade and modernize the entire water infrastructure of the United States.

Little Girl Drinking a Glass of WaterClearly, the money exists in the overall money pool to ensure that every person in the United States has access to clean safe drinking water; it is just that some of it appears to have been misplaced in the bottled water industry’s bank accounts.

Let’s say yes to clean safe tap water for everyone and no to bottled water.

I am looking forward to the day when carrying around a reusable water bottle is the norm and filling it up is fast and free at millions of public water refilling stations across the country.

Related Posts

References

  1. U.S. EPA – Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment: Fifth Report to Congress, April 2013
  2. International Bottled Water Association – Bottled Water Sales and Consumption Projected to Increase in 2014, Expected to be the Number One Packaged Drink by 2016, 2014/12/04

Resources

10 Green New Year’s Resolutions for 2015

Let’s make our 2015 New Year’s resolutions green and easy to achieve. I propose we get started by heading off to our local grocery markets.

Line of Shopping Carts

Grocery markets are ideal venues for undertaking our New Year’s resolutions for several reasons. First, we already shop for groceries on a regular basis so will not need to squeeze another activity into our already busy schedules. Second, grocery shopping is a recurring task giving us plenty of opportunities to practice and reinforce our new habits. Third, grocery shopping involves making straightforward decisions like to buy or not buy a particular food or item, switch to a different product, or try something new.

10 Green New Year’s Resolutions We Can Accomplish at the Grocery Market

We grocery shoppers are more powerful than we may realize. Each time we buy or do not buy a product we contribute to the data pool that farmers, manufacturers, and retailers analyze and use to make decisions about what to grow, make, and sell.

When millions of people make a change, even a small one, it all adds up. Take organic food, for instance, once considered a niche market, organic food is now available at national grocery chain stores and even some big box retailers. In part, this is due to a few people requesting and buying organic food, then more people, then many people, and eventually millions of people.

Imagine the positive impact we can achieve if each one of us chooses one of the ten green New Year’s resolutions below and incorporates it into our weekly grocery shopping. We can cut carbon emissions and reduce waste, make healthier food choices and even save money.

New Year's Resolution - 2015 Happy New Year Sign and Target with Arrow in Bullseye

Avoid Aluminum

Making single-use disposable aluminum beverage cans is a wasteful application for a valuable material with a huge environmental impact. Since we are likely to buy beverages during each shopping trip, eliminating drinks that come in aluminum cans from our grocery lists is a green choice that keeps on giving week after week.

Bring Your Own Bags

Bringing our own reusable bags to the grocery market gives us an opportunity to be on the leading edge of a growing trend of people, municipalities, and even states saying no to single-use plastic bags, which are wasteful on so many levels. If we can remember to grab our wallets, we can remember our bags.

Reusable Shopping Bags of Various Styles and Sizes

Pass on Packaging

Skipping single serve packages, buying in bulk, and bringing our own reusable produce bags are just a few of the options available for cutting down on the amount of throwaway packaging we bring home and later toss in the trash or recycle bin. Recycling is a good habit, but not having a package to recycle is even better.

Opt for Organic

Opting for organic fruits and vegetables over their conventionally grown counterparts supports environmentally and people friendly farming practices. If millions of shoppers purchased just one organic fruit or vegetable a week, surely produce department managers across the country would take notice.

Organic Fruits, Vegetables, and Packaged Food Items

Recycled Fiber is all the Rage

Choosing paper goods like toilet paper, facial tissue, napkins, and towels made from 100% recycled paper fiber reduces deforestation. Selecting chlorine-free products is even better.

Soap Switch Up

Manufacturers have spent millions of dollars on advertising trying to convince us that we need to buy liquid soap in decorative plastic dispensers, even though it does not clean any better than bar soap. Spending less by switching to bar soap makes sense economically and environmentally.

Liquid Soap Dispenser and Stack of Bar Soap

Ban Bottled Water 

Bottled water is not an environmentally friendly product and recycling the plastic bottles, which few people do, does not make it so. Banning bottled water from our shopping carts is green and good for our wallets.

Look for Local

Looking for and buying locally and regionally produced foods cut carbon emissions by reducing the number of miles our food travels. Locally grown produce is fresher (often picked the day we buy it) so it will last longer in our fridges and fruit bowls. Trying new local food products instead of buying our usual national brands can be fun and tasty too.

Grocery Market Locally Grown Produce Section

Fair Trade Fan

Purchasing fair trade products ensures farmers receive a fair price for the food they grow like cacao beans, coffee beans, and bananas. Farmers receiving fair trade certification are required to follow eco-friendly and sustainable agricultural practices, making buying fair trade products good for people and the planet.

Make More Meals Meatless

Buying less meat (especially beef) is perhaps the greenest New Year’s resolution we can accomplish at the grocery market. Growing grain for livestock feed and raising animals for meat has an enormous environmental footprint, which is growing as more people around the world eat more meat. Implementing meatless Mondays is an easy way to remember to eat less meat but any meal or day will work.

Hopefully, you found at least one of the above New Year’s resolution ideas appealing and decided to go for it. To increase your chances of success keep it simple, specific, and doable. For instance, make a resolution to buy bar soap for your shower, switch to recycled fiber toilet paper, or make one dinner a week meatless.

Let’s do it!

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Thanksgiving Reflections – What are You For?

Thanksgiving Harvest - Pumpkin, Gourds, Berries and CornThis Thanksgiving let’s ignore all the pro and anti Black Friday hype to reflect on what we believe in, what we are for, and what we are willing to do about it.

Last week I was pondering what to write about for this post. I confess Black Friday has a certain allure for me, it embodies everything I believe is wrong about consumerism, but I already wrote about it last year. Besides, I was seeking to deliver a positive message this year, so Black Friday was off limits.

Hmm, what could I write about for Thanksgiving?

An idea came to me a few days ago while I was walking back from the grocery store carrying a loaded reusable shopping bag.

I recalled a recent conversation with my brother from several weeks ago. After I had excitedly shared the news with him that California had just passed the first statewide single-use plastic bag ban, he made an interesting comment. His actual words elude me but the gist was “Environmentalists always seem to be trying to get something stopped, banned, or prohibited.”

His observation stayed with me.

I am delighted with the bag ban, but just banning stuff is only part of the solution to living in harmony with the balance of the natural world. There needs to be a lot of beginning, enabling, and implementing too.

After mulling all this over, I knew I wanted my Thanksgiving post to be about things that I am for. Since I am an avowed treehugger, I selected a dozen green things I strongly believe in, advocate for, and use or do myself.

I am For:

  1. Composting – putting supposed waste to good use by nurturing the soil.
  2. Fingerless Mittens – staying warm and being able to type on a computer keyboard.
  3. Local Food – supporting local farmers and buying food grown closer to home.
  4. Low Flow Showerheads – getting clean and saving water.
  5. Organic Food – buying and eating food that is good for farmers, the land, and us.
  6. Personal Action – living gently on the earth and standing up for what you believe.
  7. Refillable Water Bottles – drinking water from the tap and refilling the same bottle.
  8. Reusable Shopping Bags – transporting stuff and reusing the same bags.
  9. Solar Panels – using the sun’s clean renewable power and supporting local jobs.
  10. Walking – keeping in shape, running errands, and enjoying being outside.
  11. Water Saving Toilets – flushing and saving water.
  12. Wood Chips – preventing erosion and helping soil retain water.

Pinecone with words Happy ThanksgivingOn this Thanksgiving, I am for family, friends, turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, relaxing, conversation, and playing games. I am for being thankful for the wonderful people who touch our lives and the amazing, beautiful Earth we all call home.

What are you for?