Thursday, July 05, 2007

Water, Water, Bottled Badness

I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to bottled water. There is almost a case of it in the basement fridge right now as well as 5 or 6 bottles of San Pellegrino. It is a horrible habit and I am kicking myself when I think about how much energy and money I have wasted over the years on bottled water. I know better. It would be different if the tap water here was nasty but we really do have good water right out of the tap. I could justify it if I lived on the coast where some of the water comes from desalinization plants and the water tastes and smell of rotten eggs. Even in parts of England and Europe there are so many minerals in the waters that it is barely drinkable. Even with the awful water north of London in Hertfordshire my friends actually make the really strongly flavored and mineral laden water drinkable with a Brita filter pitcher. They have an excuse and they don't buy bottled water.

Thirty years ago, bottled water barely existed as a business in the United States. Last year, we spent more on Poland Spring, Fiji Water, Evian, Aquafina, and Dasani than we spent on iPods or movie tickets--$15 billion. It will be $16 billion this year.

The reality is, however, that bottled water is often simply an indulgence, and despite the stories we tell ourselves, it is not a benign indulgence. We're moving 1 billion bottles of water around a week in ships, trains, and trucks in the United States alone. That's a weekly convoy equivalent to 37,800 18-wheelers delivering water. (Water weighs 81/3 pounds a gallon. It's so heavy you can't fill an 18-wheeler with bottled water--you have to leave empty space.)

Now the big thing is water from Fiji and in Fiji, a state-of-the-art factory spins out more than a million bottles a day of the hippest bottled water on the U.S. market today, while more than half the people in Fiji do not even have safe, reliable drinking water. Which means it is easier for the typical American in Beverly Hills or Baltimore to get a drink of safe, pure, refreshing Fiji water than it is for most people in Fiji.

There is one other mark against bottled water... the bottles themselves. The big springwater companies tend to make their own bottles in their plants, just moments before they are filled with water--12, 19, 30 grams of molded plastic each. Americans went through about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year, 167 for each person. Durable, lightweight containers manufactured just to be discarded. Water bottles are made of totally recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, so we share responsibility for their impact: Our recycling rate for PET is only 23%, which means we pitch into landfills 38 billion water bottles a year--more than $1 billion worth of plastic.

It is my one of my resolutions for 07.07.07 that I will not buy any more bottled water. It is stupid and wasteful and not environmentally sound. Bottled water adds an unnecessary energy burden and we don't need it. I do recycle the empties but that is not good enough.

You can read more about the "water business" here.

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