It is wonderful that people have realized the importance of drinking water. The human body needs it more than any other substance; it is the broth of life. Americans are the largest consumers of water in the world according to “Bottled water, a natural resource taxing the world’s ecosystem.” I use the word consumers in the fiscal sense. We Americans can freely and easily access the cleanest water in the world; yet spend more for the drink produced as merchandise then any other country. Bottled water producers profit from an illusionary need that is proving to be costly for people’s pocketbooks, their virtuosity, and for the environment. The most cited reasons people give for preferring bottled water are convenience and taste.
Drinking bottled water is a convenience, but small changes in people’s habits can reduce the waste it generates. At a ball game or in line at the checkout, a bottle of water, cold and ready is a good choice. Much better than the unhealthy colas and questionable energy drinks. When feasible (short jaunts to the store or post office), it is easy to bring a recycled bottle of water from the fridge. For those times when someone buys a bottle of water such as mentioned above, cleaning and refilling the bottles with tap water is smart.
There are circumstances when tap water is not palatable. Dr. James M. Symons said in “Plain Talk about Water”, that chlorine used to purify water sometimes causes a strange odor and taste. Hydrogen sulfide in groundwater causes an unpleasant rotten-egg smell. The odor makes is difficult bring the glass to the mouth. Some types of algae and fungi in groundwater are non-toxic but smell musty or earthy (Symons 27). Municipal water is highly regulated by the FDA but some regional groundwater issues may affect the taste of water. It is safe to drink; however, there are simple alternatives.
Home filtration systems are effective at easing people’s concerns about their tap water. They are inexpensive and the only waste is the unit’s replacement about every four months. The units include an indicator so the consumer knows when to replace them. Serving pitchers with filters are convenient since cold, filtered water is available from the refrigerator and the reusable glass comes straight from the cabinet. Keeping pitchers of water in the fridge is important since people want tasty and convenient choices. Water tastes better when chilled and delicious when accented with lemon or lime. There is a medium between tap water and merchandized water bottles.
Freestanding water coolers save on cost and are better environmentally than individual size bottles. Consumers purchase water from distributors in bulk. Five-gallon containers cycle regularly and the suppliers accept the used one for recycling. It is a good alternative financially and environmentally, although the cost of using electric to cool the unit needs consideration. The delivery charge is expensive, although consumers can pick the tanks up from the suppliers instead if they choose. People can use their own glasses and only have to draw the amount of water they are prepared to drink. An observer will notice how many half- empty or full bottles of water end up in waste bins. Many of those placed there by concerned people who pick them up from the ground where many people carelessly dispose of them.
All people should combat ‘the tragedy of the commons’, the unfortunate excuse people use for polluting because everyone else does and the little they contribute could not possibly harm the environment. In reality, every piece of garbage discarded carelessly harms the environment and people’s dignity. “Bottled water, a natural resource taxing the world’s ecosystem,” reported that eighty-six percent ends up as garbage and can take a millennium to biodegrade. It takes 2.7 million tons of plastic for the bottles of water American’s consume. Is municipal water that bad that we tolerate this absurd reality?
Historically water from the tap has been notorious for causing diseases. Sewage runoff and industrial byproducts contaminated water supplies. In his book, The Water We Drink, Joshua I. Barzilay outlined legislation in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries have diminished these concerns. In 1887, Lawrence, Massachusetts first used infiltration systems. In 1909, Jersey City, New Jersey introduced chlorination. In 1948, the Federal Pollution Control Act regulated industrial discharge (Barzilay 17). The Federal Water Pollution Control Act became law in 1972; it later became the Clean Water Act. To ensure American’s safety, The Safe Drinking water Act became law in 1974. The first goal of the Act meant testing for chemicals and contaminants; enforceable maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) would ensure no health risk if consumers over a lifetime.
Today, municipal water safely supplies Americans with the beverage. Unethical entrepreneurs over the past several decades have taken advantage of uneducated Americans for huge profits. In the article, “Bottled Water: Pure Drink or Pure Hype,” The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reported that bottlers enjoy a 25-30% profit on each bottle of water sold. In an unguarded moment in the 1990s, the then chairmen of Perrier water said, “It struck me…that all you had to do is take water out of the ground and then sell it for more than the price of wine, milk, or, for that matter, oil.” This statement shows clear intent to dupe the public.
In the Time article, “Testing the waters (bottled waters)” Thomas McCarroll outlines a serious problem in the bottled water industry. He exposed Crystal Geyser’s marketing techniques as false. They printed on their labels that ‘the drink begins as snow and rain that falls on 12,000-ft. Olancha peak in the towering Sierra. The pristine water is naturally filtered through the mountains bedrock.’ In reality, the company drilled holes into underground wells and pumped the water out. The legal affairs inspector for North Carolina’s agriculture fought back by saying, “You can’t sell well water as spring water in this state.” There are about seven hundred brands of bottled water in America and stricter laws enacted through the 1990s take seriously abuses by the producers. Examples of state’s fighting back are Georgia that requires companies to document the exact source of the water they bottle. Vermont requires them to disclose lead, nitrates, and arsenic amounts in their water. These advances in legislation follow studies finding that 25% of companies could not document the source of their water at all, 31% exceeded microbiological contamination levels. Greg Lucas, in “Bottled water regulations called murky; Environmentalists, EBMUD push for more disclosure” is angry about the way these companies exploit the public. The East Bay Municipal Utility District thinks the law should force bottled water companies disclose details of their products. Since the public believes that store bought water is superior to tap water, then it should prove its claims. Public water agencies must supply confidence reports yearly detailing levels of contaminants like lead arsenic aluminum and salt in their water. Surely paid for water should do as much. Lucas said in his article that The Food and Drug Administration have found contamination in one-third of one hundred and three brands tested. He also reported that, “The NRDC found the contents of one bottle, labeled “Spring Water” actually came from an industrial parking lot next to a hazardous waste site.” Many brands like Great Bear and Glacier Springs originate as tap water.
The public deserves to know the truth about the source of the water they pay for. Of all types of bottled water (outlined below) spring water is the most problematic in honest labeling. In “Bottled Water: Pure Drink or Pure Hype” the NRDC found that Safeway Spring Water, marketed as natural spring water, had substantial levels of trihalomethanes, byproducts of chlorine disinfection. “If the FDA adopts the geological definition, half of all so-called natural spring waters would have to change their labels.” according to McCarroll. Water goes by many names.
Artesian water comes from a well that taps into an aquifer. Mineral water must contain a minimum of 250 part per million of dissolved solids mostly calcium and magnesium. Spring water comes from an underground formation where the water flows naturally to the surface; sometimes boreholes tap the source. Vaporization and recondension make Distilled water free of minerals. Purified water has minerals removed through filtration or distillation. Sparkling water gains fizz through natural geothermal processes (Barzilay 123). The bottled water industry does not always disclose the whole story about the origin and processes used to manufacture their products. The article “Bottled water, a natural resource taxing the world’s ecosystem,” states that forty percent of all bottled water starts out as tap. It also reminds consumers that the FDA more closely regulates municipal waters than many bottled waters in Europe and The United States.
Environmental awareness has led many restaurant owners to combat the wastefulness of bottled water. Upscale restaurant owners Mario Batali of Del Posto in Manhattan and Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley will no longer offer-bottled water to their guests. Brian Walsh in “Back to the Tap” reports that the famous Italian chef will offer purified tap water at Del Posto. MSN in “Some upscale restaurants shun bottled water” reports that Chez Panisse will carbonate tap water on site with a carbonator. Waters turned to this method after inspiration from a San Francisco eatery, Incanto, which switched from bottled water years ago. Poggio in Sausalito offers water from a filtering, carbonating machine since its opening in 2003.
As education about environmental stresses grows, there are more examples of companies considering the ethical question of their industry and acting correctly. There are times when the immediate water supply is not safe to drink (when camping, when traveling abroad or if experiencing local municipality problems); people must rely on bottled water. At those times, consumers should educate themselves and choose brands that are trying to make a positive contribution to important causes and lessening their environmental footprint.
In “Back to the Tap,” Bryan Walsh teaches that Icelandic Water uses geothermal power to operate its plant. Over the past five years, they have reduced the amount of plastic in their bottled by forty percent. Tom Paulson offers two ethical examples in “Thirst for Bottled Water May Hurt Environment.” Athena Water’s owner Trish May started the company to benefit breast cancer awareness and claims to give all profits to woman’s health research. Starbuck’s owns the water company Ethos. They strive to raise ten million dollars for water development projects in developing countries. Five cents from each bottle sold goes into this fund. More companies will move in the same direction as awareness grows.
Paulson in “Thirst for bottled water may hurt environment,” said that several churches including The United Church of Christ, the National Council of Churches, and Presbyterians for Restoring Creation are fighting against the ‘privatization’ of water. Some refer to bottled water as blue gold. Financial managers advocate bottled water saying, “Water…it is the next best thing to oil or diamonds.” Economic and ethic perceptions determine a person’s stand on this issue. The industries who concentrate on fiscal gains feel singled-out. They wonder why the focus is on bottles water’s contribution to environmental degradation when plastic soda (the most consumed beverage in America) bottles fill the same landfills. Paulson quotes Preston Reed, spokesperson for the American Beverage Industry in his article. Reed said, “It is a little bit odd that bottled water is being singled out in that way.” The fact is Coca-Cola does not run out of every kitchen faucet.
City governments all over America recognize the impact of the plastic in landfills, aquifer damage, and the unnecessary cost of bottled water. Many cities either have banned or have an imminent plan to ban the products. This includes using tap water at all official functions, forbids spending on bottled water and urges city employees to turn to the tap. Judy Kleen, in the article, “Bottled water leaves some cities with a bad taste,” mentions several examples; Los Angeles, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Ann Arbor, Quechee, and Santa Barbara. She outlines the Chicago mayor’s smart plan for deposits on the bottles. His proposal asks for a ten-cent deposit on each bottle of water sold. This would generate twenty-one million dollars a year for Chicago’s budget and almost guarantee that the bottles get recycled. The consumers could return them to a designated location for refunds. Even ambitious garbage divers would collect and return them.
In “Bottled water, a natural resource taxing the world’s ecosystem,” the author said, “Making bottles to meet American’s demand for bottled water requires more than 1.5 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel some 100,000 U.S. cars for a year.” Crude oil produces polyethylene terephthalate (PET) used to make the plastic bottles. This figure should shock people into rethinking their water source. After the oil question, there are production, shipping and distribution costs to consider. America imports bottled water from overseas. France is the biggest international source of bottled water in America but also Norway, Germany, Fiji, and Iceland also supply American’s tastes. The host of National Public Radio’s “Bottled Water: A symbol of U.S. Commerce, Culture” Robert Siegel said, “You are describing the most, it would seem, notorious case of conspicuous consumption in modern American life.” Tom Paulson in “Thirst for bottled water may hurt environment” said that, “Americans infatuation with drinking high priced “natural” water from a bottle rather than from the tap is contributing to global warming and could even qualify as an immoral act.” He said that when considering the use of oil to produce bottles and the collateral cost, image a bottle filled one quarter with oil.
The bottled water culture first arose during the fitness craze of the 1980s. Water is the best choice of beverage; however, in order to impress society, people stated toting store-bought bottles around everywhere. The luxury turned into a status symbol. Having a bottle of water was not enough to show a person’s dedication to health, but the brand they chose betrayed their financial situation.
Soft drinks are the first choice of beverage for most Americans. The largest soda companies, Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola each market a brand of water. They are Aquafina and Dasani respectively. Mr. Fishman said in, “Bottled Water: a symbol of U.S. Commerce, Culture” that together these two name brands account for twenty-five percent of American’s bottles water consumption. Since the water is purified tap water from the consumers own regions, people pay for merchandizing machine instead of the actual product. This; however, keeps the distribution cost down if compared to Fiji Water that makes a long expensive journey before lining grocery shelves. Consumers probably do not think about these types of concerns when they get thirsty.
Education makes a difference in people’s ethical choices. The authors writing literature and the restaurants turning back to the tap all deserve accolades for their efforts. The typical American must learn the economic circuit of their dollars so they can better budget. The rubbish lying in the plants and landfills must decrease. People must eliminate ‘the tragedy of the commons’ and consider the example of their actions on their children.
Barzilay M.D., Joshua I., Winkler G. Weinberg, M.D., and J. William Eley M.P.H. The Water We Drink: Water Quality and its Effects on Health. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1999.
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“Bottled water: A Symbol of U.S. Commerce, Culture. (20:00-21:00 PM)(Broadcast transcript)(Audio file).” All Things Considered (June 28, 2007: NA. CRSN. Thomson Gale. LIRN. 23Nov.2007.
“Bottled Water: Pure Drink or Pure Hype?” Natural Resources Defense Council. 20 Nov. 2007. .
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Paulson, Tom. “Thirst for bottled water may hurt environment.” My Seattle Pix. 18 Apr. 2007. 20 Nov. 2007. .
“Some upscale restaurants shun bottled water: Idea is to use less energy, and save customers some money.” MSN. 29 Mar. 2007. 20. Nov. 2007. .
Symons, Dr. James M. “Plain Talk about Drinking Water.” Questions and Answers about the Water You Drink. Second Edition. USA: The American Water Works Association, 1994.
Walsh, Brian. “Back to the Tap. (Life: Business-Science-Education-Yravel-Environment- Fit Nation; Going Green)(adverse effects of bottled water on the environment).” Time 170.8 (August 20, 2007): 56. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Thomson Gale. LIRN. 22Nov. 2007.