As sales of carbonated beverages have slumped in recent years - a result of growing concern over obesity and general health - both Pepsi and Coca-Cola have come to rely on America's taste for bottled water. This was not serendipitous, and the success of the industry and Pepsi and Coca-Cola's major brands, Aquafina and Dasani, respectively, has been caused largely by the created image that bottled water is not only stylish, but purer and healthier than tap water. The Beverage Digest, an industry newsletter, says it's a $15 billion-a-year industry.
Environmentally, the drawbacks are evident: bottles are disposable and are usually sent directly to the landfill. That's 2.7 billion tons worldwide annually. In the United States, 86 percent of all bottles are not recycled. Additionally, bottled water is often shipped from across the country, and in the case of the Evian and Fiji brands, shipped from France and the Fiji islands. The energy costs for manufacturing and shipping are staggering: one quarter of each bottle could be filled with the oil needed to manufacture and ship that bottle. Americans' insatiable taste for bottled water results in the consumption of more than 17 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel more than one million U.S. cars for a year, according to the Earth Policy Institute.
Aquafina's image suffered a recent setback. It gave in to public pressure to state clearly that the water in its bottles does not come from pristine mountain springs, but from public water sources in New Jersey, and even, as ABC News reported, the Detroit River. Coca-Cola's Dasani is no better, and Stopcorporateabuse.org has reported that the company refuses to publicize its public water sources. While Nestlé's Poland Spring brand bottles at specific sources, the original Poland Spring has not flowed since 1967. The New York Times has recently reported the company is being sued for false advertising: the current water source is 30 miles from the original Poland Spring, and the company frequently uses ground water and a spring in close proximity to a garbage dump. Similar suits have been filed in New Jersey and Massachusetts.
Bottling tap water to ship around the country is problematic from a health standpoint. A study done by the National Resources Defense Council found that 22 percent of all bottled water tested contained contaminants at levels that violated state-regulated safe drinking standards, and 33 percent did not meet state standards for bacterial contamination, chemical contamination or both. While the Environmental Protection Agency regulates tap water, employing hundreds of staffers to test public water daily, bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Despite the high-level of contamination as a result of long periods of stagnation between bottling and consumption, the FDA does not even have a single full-time employee to test and regulate bottled water.
The bottled water industry has used a brilliant marketing campaign to obfuscate the fact that it is unregulated, unhealthy and environmentally irresponsible. If one wants to drink pure, pristine water, tap water may not be perfect, but bottled water is not the choice.
Adam Kroopnick is a sophomore English and Spanish major and secretary of the Geneseo Environmental Organization (GEO).