Bottled Water: The pimping of our water supplies

Bottled water. Many of us have it in our household, car, backpack, or we used to at some point in time. I drank bottled water for over 3 years. Now, unfortunately, I’m a part of ‘Bottled water drinkers anonymous’. *If you don’t feel like reading you can skip to the video at the end, but I hope you read.

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No, but really bottled water took over my life for a few years. They laid empty, collecting dust under my bed, in my closet, on my head board, on my dresser, everywhere — they were just everywhere.

Every so often (probably like twice a month) I would decide to clean my room. This meant nervously sweeping unknown/forgotten things from underneath my bed (always thinking, please no spiders), but instead all you would hear is just tons of water bottles sliding against the tile.

And there they were. Again and again I would just stand there and think; “damn, I drink a lot of water…” or “…Oh yeah that’s where my frickin water bottle rolled to that night I almost died of thirst”.

I’m talking over 30 empty water bottles, accumulating from each night I took one to bed with me. It was bad. The worst part is that I didn’t know how bad it was.

I confess to drinking bottled water on very rare occasions, something my boyfriend always shakes his head at me for. I’m shaking my head too, but I’ve definitely come very far from the crazy bottled water consumer I used to be.

16 oz. water bottles, conveniently packaged. Each bottle secured with a cute little cap and wrapped with claims of being sourced from exotic, far away places like Fiji or some beautiful stream rolling through mountains.

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Water from the rainforest of Fiji, fresh mountain water, Pure life. For only $6 who wouldn’t stock up on a pack each week or grab one from a gas station?

We are attracted to bottled water for four main reasons:

  1. Bottled water is clean and safe. Tap water is gross and dangerous, it can contain pollutants that we can’t see or smell. //giphy.com/embed/O7eUXxYYkVXna

2. Bottled water is convenient, we can take it anywhere and then just throw it away and it’s gone. 

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3. Bottled water just tastes better than tap water, all. the. damn. time. 

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4. If you drink bottled water you’re healthier, skinnier, and more stylish.

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Because of these reasons, bottled water giants like Nestle Pure Life, Aquafina (owned by Pepsico.), and Dasani (owned by Coca-Cola) made $13 billion in 2014. Americans consumed 34 gallons per person or 12 billion gallons of bottled water in 2014.1

Remember when water fountains used to be at every corner of pretty much everywhere? They’re basically extinct now that vending machines containing bottled water have invaded every convenient store, hotel, grocery store, school, restaurant, football stadium, Mars, Jupiter…. But, why?Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 6.12.22 PM

1. We were made to fear the tap 

“When we’re done, tap water will be relegated to showers and washing dishes.” -President of the Quaker Oats Company’s United States Beverage Division2

Water giants who supply our high demand of bottled water, play with ours fears and suspicion of water-related diseases and pollution, using them as a hot marketing tool. They know that a lot of people don’t drink tap water because of the taste and many think it’s gross or unsafe.

The taste of tap water is different depending on where you live because each state has a different source of water and the infrastructure can also affect this. Many people that I know think tap water is gross because they don’t know what it might contain.

For the longest time, I thought tap water was gross too and I would only drink it if I had no other choice. There is also plenty of evidence that, depending on where you live, tap water is not as safe as it could be. This is what leads companies like Fiji to market their famous ‘pristine, fresh from the islands of Fiji’ water.

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Image: bomble.com

Pissed off by this ad, the Cleveland water-quality department decided to do a water quality test to see how much ‘better’ Fiji water really was. The results were shocking. Even though Cleveland’s tap water and Fiji’s bottled water met all federal standards for water quality, the test showed that Fiji water had dangerous plastic compounds, 40 times more bacteria than found in tap water, and a good amount of arsenic (which is known to cause different cancers as well as being linked to heart disease, strokes, and diabetes3 

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So Fiji tried to play people like fools until their water was found to be shittier than Cleveland’s tap water. It was named one of the dumbest moments in marketing history.

Companies like Dasani, Nestle, and Aquafina make us think that their water is more pure and safe, when the truth is the federal government requires more strict safety monitoring of public tap water than it does of bottled water4.

 

2. We’re paying for tap water in disguise 

By having labels that say ‘pure, straight from the spring‘ etc, bottled water companies can sell tap water right back to us. Pretty much ignoring the question about where the water actually comes from. Almost half of the bottled water sold in the United States comes from municipal tap water sources5Let me repeat that, ALMOST HALF OF ALL BOTTLED WATER IS JUST PURIFIED TAP WATER. WTF, you say? I know, I say.

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Bottled water companies like to seduce us with labels that have snow-covered mountains, thick forests, and crisp rivers…but, just know that it’s most likely bullshit. Our bottled water does not come from some untouched place on the planet, it comes straight from the tap.

Not only are we buying something that we can get straight out of the tap for free, but we are paying 2,400 times the price of tap water and almost three times the price gas6. So we are paying thousands more for something we can get for free and for something that may cause harm to our bodies…

3. Purity Propaganda 

“As mandated by federal law, FDA’s bottled water standards must be no less strict and no less protective of the public health than EPA’s regulations for public drinking water.” – Report from the Drinking Water Research Foundation

Though bottled-water quality standards are much like those set by the EPA for tap water, they are not exactly the same. Some of the differences are pretty serious. As mentioned before, the federal government, particularly the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), requires more strict safety monitoring of public tap water than it does of bottled water.

Bottled water is monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since it is considered a “food product” sold in individual containers.

Well, good, the people whose job is to make sure the food and drugs we are taking are safe and won’t kill us — are the same people making sure the water inside bottles is safe. That makes sense, right?

The only thing is, FDA rules decide how, and how often, bottled water quality is checked within the bottling plants… which, is close to NEVER7. FDA officials randomly and very rarely visit bottling plants to see whether or not the companies are in compliance with other rules. They do not actually check the quality of the water, they leave that up to the bottling companies.

Tap water must be tested for harmful pathogens, bacteria, and other contaminants 100 or more times each month. Bottled water companies check for these things too, but only about once a week. 

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Here is a little chart to summarize the differences:
Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 5.32.08 PMWell, damn… which one is safer to drink, you ask? After a four-year review of the water-bottling industry and their safety standards, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that there is no guarantee that bottled water is any safer or ‘purer’ than tap water. 

They tested 1,000 bottles and though most of them were clean, about 22% of the different brands tested showed some scary results. They had chemicals above state health limits and if people drank those bottled waters continuously, they may cause cancer or other serious illnesses.

From 2002-2008, the FDA issued 23 recalls of bottled water (surprising, right?). They discovered dangerous amounts of arsenic and bromate that can increase chances of cancer.

The bottles themselves can cause harm to our bodies. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) plastic is what most water bottles are made up of . Though there has been little research regarding chemicals from plastic bottles leaking into the water, there is still cause for concern.

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Harmful contaminants like phthalates can leach into the water depending on shelf life, temperature, sunlight exposure and the color of the bottle. Babies are especially vulnerable to chemicals that leach out of the bottles since they can absorb chemicals easier than adults.  

Nestle has spent millions of dollars advertising their ‘Pure Life‘ water bottles. Now we know that’s most likely a big, fat, lie…

4. Minorities are targeted

Many Latinos and African Americans are more likely to believe that bottled water is safer than tap. Research has shown that we spend more money on bottled water each year than white people do. This is a very relatable issue to me, since all of my sisters drink bottled water, my mom drinks bottled water (yes I annoy my family all the time about how bad water bottles are), and many of my friends’ families drink bottled water. For many Latinos, we were taught that tap water is not safe, which is actually true for families who grew up in Mexico and some parts of the U.S with bad water quality.

There has also been various moments in U.S. history when tap water was actually really bad (i.e. what happened in Flint), which encouraged mistrust of public tap water.  Bottled water is thought to be safer, cleaner, and healthier (which, again, is not true as talked about above).

Nestle's Deceptive Marketing Nestle’s store in one of the poorest areas in NYC (a state that has some of the purest tap water in the U.S.), the Bronx advertising their filtered tap water to hispanic communities, particularly moms. Source:www.treehugger.com

Nestle sees immigrants, who may have had unsafe water sources in their previous home country, as “emerging markets”. They use different marketing tools to appeal to minorities, people who are much less likely to actually afford to buy it.

Although having new hispanic/black customers is a great thing for Nestle ($$$$$), this can make things much worse for our world’s water crisis (especially for those who live in poor/underprivileged communities).

The privatization of water discourages us to invest in our water infrastructure. Why should we care to make our tap water better if we already have bottled water available to us? It’s a complicated question that gets to larger, systemic problems…

5. We are wasting a shit ton of natural resources

To make PET bottles, you need fossil fuels — particularly oil. The U.S. produces enough plastic water bottles with enough oil and energy that could fuel a million cars9.

 That’s A LOT of oil and energy, but that does not include the energy required to ship, fly or truck billions of water bottles from state to state each year? Nope. “Spring” water has to be packaged at specific sources and then driven to different places around the country by trucks, which require loads of energy.

The amount of energy needed quadruples when you purchase fancy shmancy bottled water like Fiji or Evian water because they are packaged in other parts of the world. Then they are distributed all over the world. That means millions of pounds of carbon dioxide are released every year. 

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Production and transportation of bottled water is 1,100 to 2,000 times more energy intensive than that of tap water10. Globally famous water issues expert, Dr. Peter Gleick, estimated that in 2007, U.S. water bottle consumption required 32-54 million barrels of oil every year. Global bottled water demand requires about 3 times this amount11.

Making the bottles for water also, ironically, requires a shit ton of water. Making the plastic for 1 liter of water needs 3-4 more liters of water12.

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Though the energy required for water bottle production is a fraction of total U.S. energy use, it is just a waste. Causing more harm, than good…

6. Plastic + Environment + Animals = No Bueno 

“This is only the beginning of our quest to help design a future where every plastic bottle is made from materials that are 100% renewable as well as recyclable.” – Dasani’s ‘Sustainability page

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Source: http://www.Dasani.com

We’ve all seen this water bottle, redesigned to lessen our guilt for buying it. ‘100% Recyclable’ labels with plants surrounding the bottle makes us think that they’re somehow, more ‘environmentally-friendly’. It’s a classic case of greenwashing or bullshitting people into buying their ‘green’ product. Here’s a funny video mocking Dasani’s plant bottle commercial:

 

The truth is, just because a plastic water bottle is 100% Recyclable, doesn’t mean it’s always 100% recycled. 20 billion water bottles are thrown in the trash every year, sent to a landfill or an incinerator where they are burned — potentially making the surrounding environment toxic. 

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Only a small portion of water bottles are recycled each year and millions of bottles end up in streams, roads (which we taxpayers have to pay to be cleaned up), and of course, the ocean.

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Billions of plastic water bottles and other containers make their home in the ocean, specifically in the gyres. Ocean gyres can be thought of as giant whirlpools, powered by the ocean currents, winds, and the forces caused from our planet’s rotation. This means that trash, like plastic bottles, easily get trapped in the middle of the gyre where it is calm and stable, kept in place by the surrounding forces.

The famous ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ is made up of lots of small pieces of plastic that have broken down from their original size. Since plastic doesn’t biodegrade (it basically never goes away), it will continue to break down into smaller and smaller pieces called ‘microplastics’.

Microplastics

Source: brenmicroplastics.weebly.com/impacts.html

As plastic is broken down into these microplastics by the sun, called photodegradation, harmful chemicals can also leek into the water such as BPA. Bisphenol A (BPA) has been linked to environmental and human health problems.

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Microplastics are eaten by fish, which are then eaten by other fish, which are then eaten by… us. Sea turtles, marine birds, seals, and dozens of other species get caught in plastic trash or mistake it for food. Once they eat it, it leaves them feeling full (but they’re not full of actual, food) and they end up starving. Birds feed the plastic to their chicks and so on. It’s all really quite fucked up. So, just take that into consideration next time you have sushi…

Sushi Plastic Waste

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Of course there are exceptions for drinking bottled water such as not having safe and clean drinking water available. Emergency situations such as the Flint water crisis is a perfect example of the extreme usefulness of bottled water. Their water was truly unsafe and very dangerous for adults and kids.

But for those of us who don’t have harmful tap water, we can do better than buying fuckin’ packs of bottled water each week.

Bottled water is sort of like a band-aid and our water issues are sort of like a gaping, bleeding cut. Buying bottled water is not going to fix our water issues, with each generation we are just going to make it the norm to not trust tap water and instead pay our hard earned money on an otherwise free resource. We are going to continue to cover our problems up until we decide to actually treat the problem and begin investing in our water infrastructure.

This is especially important as cities continue to expand and pollutants enter water sources, such as agricultural runoff, pharmaceuticals, and industrial waste. We are also going to see more and more competition for water resources as populations grow (especially in the Mid-west) and water becoming more scarce with climate change.

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“If we let our tap water systems decay, however, soon bottled water won’t be a choice — it will be a necessity, as it already is in countries without safe tap water.”13

It should be a basic human right to have affordable and safe drinking water. It should be a crime for money hungry bottled water companies to make people dependent on their product regardless of their income, skin color, sexual orientation or religious views. 

Ditch the bottled water. Buy a reusable one. Save money. Save energy. If you’re really worried about the quality of your tap water, buy a quality filter that can last (http://www.nsf.org sells filters that eliminate certain contaminants) or find out what the tap water is like in your area by searching “(Name of City) Annual Water Quality Report”.

“I believe that bottled water is a symptom of a larger set of issues: the long-term decry of our public water systems, inequitable access to safe water around the world, our susceptibility to advertising and marketing, and a society trained from birth to buy, consume, and throw away…

So we’ve turned to the bottle, convinced that paying a thousand times more for individually packaged plastic throwaway containers of water than for readily available tap water is an act of rationality rather than economic, environmental, and social blindness.”14

 

Don’t be blind, becological.

 

If you found this post helpful, interesting, or down right awful, let me know by commenting below!


References:

  1. “PepsiCo Admits Public Source Origins of Its Aquafina Bottled Water.” Www.rt.com. N.p., 25 Oct. 2015. Web. Accessed 20 June 2016.
  2. Gleick, Peter. Tap Water, In a Bottle. The New York Times, 24 Aug. 2001. Web. Accessed 20 June 2016.
  3. “What to Do If Your Drinking Water Contains Arsenic.” Center for Public Integrity. N.p., 28 June 2014. Web. Accessed 25 June 2016.
  4. “Take Back the Tap.” (n.d.): n. pag. FoodandWaterWatch.org. Food and Water Watch, June 2013. Web
  5. “Take Back the Tap.” (n.d.): n. pag. FoodandWaterWatch.org. Food and Water Watch, June 2013. Web
  6. “Take Back the Tap.” (n.d.): n. pag. FoodandWaterWatch.org. Food and Water Watch, June 2013. Web
  7. Gleick, Peter. Bottled and Sold. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2010. Print.
  8. Olson, D. Erik. Bottled Water: Pure Drink or Pure Hype?. Natural Resources Defense Council. 1999.Web. Accessed 30 June 2016
  9. Leonard, Annie. “Story of Bottled Water: Fear, Manufactured Demand and a $10,000 Sandwich” TheHuffingtonPost.com May 25, 2011. Accessed 30 June 2016.
  10. “Take Back the Tap.” (n.d.): n. pag. FoodandWaterWatch.org. Food and Water Watch, June 2013. Web
  11. P.H. Gleick and H. Cooley, “Energy Implications of Bottled Water,” Environmental Research Letters doi:10.1088/1748-9326/4/1/014009 (2009) http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/4/1/014009/pdf Accessed 2 July 2016
  12. Gleick, Peter. Bottled and Sold. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2010. Print.
  13. Gleick, Peter. Bottled and Sold. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2010. Print.
  14. Gleick, Peter. Bottled and Sold. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2010. Print.

2 thoughts on “Bottled Water: The pimping of our water supplies

Add yours

  1. I had the same problem on having half full or empty water bottles in my room and especially in my car. Ive heard plenty of times to not drink the bottled water in your car if its been exposed to heat. Funny thing is that the bottled water is exposed to heat before it hits the stores! its crazy how many people are so blind by how the world fools us. I loved your article! 🙂

    Like

    1. Hi Misael, thank you for your comment! A lot of people I know have fallen into the water bottle trap, pretty scary stuff! Exactly, it is pretty crazy. Hopefully, more people begin to realize what’s going on once they read the raw facts and question choices as a consumer. Thank you for reading!

      Like

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