The Politics of Bottled Water

There’s another food type op-ed in the New York Times (this is indeed a good trend to see). This time the topic is bottled watered and the politics thereof (LI: accidental PW: hedonist)…

Bottled water is undeniably more fashionable and portable than tap water. The practice of carrying a small bottle, pioneered by supermodels, has become commonplace. But despite its association with purity and cleanliness, bottled water is bad for the environment. It is shipped at vast expense from one part of the world to another, is then kept refrigerated before sale, and causes huge numbers of plastic bottles to go into landfills.

Of course, tap water is not so abundant in the developing world. And that is ultimately why I find the illogical enthusiasm for bottled water not simply peculiar, but distasteful. For those of us in the developed world, safe water is now so abundant that we can afford to shun the tap water under our noses, and drink bottled water instead: our choice of water has become a lifestyle option. For many people in the developing world, however, access to water remains a matter of life or death.

The author of this piece (Tom Standage, author of “A History of the World in Six Glasses”, a book currently in my ‘must read’ pile) touches upon several points which I agree with completely, and new ones which I hadn’t considered.

At some point in the past ten to fifteen years, bottled water has become de rigeur for reasons that I have yet to figure out. Yes, with some bottled water, there is a significant taste difference when compared to tap water, but between the bottled waters themselves, the taste differences are so subtle that I’m not surprised that anyone can claim the market share.

The one big difference in taste between tap and bottled comes from many municipalities adding chlorine to the water to kill off bacteria. Chlorine has a specific taste, but it’s easily removed with the use of a Brita water filter. Naturally the larger beverage producers have already figured this out, and have added several brands of bottled water that are simply tap water with the chlorine filtered out. For those of you not link inclined, here’s what you need to know…Coke owns Dasani, Pepsi owns Aquafina, and Dr. Pepper/7 Up owns Deja Blue.

The bottled water pandemic has affected many food operations. Try to get a glass of ice water at a movie theater, and they’ll point you to their bottled water. At one point, Coke was in bed with Olive Garden, creating a plan where the servers would try to sway the Olive Garden customers who wanted only ice water to purchase Dasani bottled water instead of their restaurants tap water. In short, many companies are wanting us to pay for items that we can get (nearly) free right out of the faucet.

I’m not immune to these ploys. Although I rely heavily on my Brita pitcher (Thanks Tara), at the movie theater I’m stuck. At dinners out, mineral water is on the menu. Now I have to rethink my position.

The larger issue here (which I am probably not devoting nearly enough words) is how can we as a culture commodify something that is a necessity of life? As Mr. Standage notes “The logical response, for those of us in the developed world, is to stop spending money on bottled water and to give the money to water charities.”

For those interested, some of those charities include

  • A Glimmer of Hope
  • Somali Poverty Relief and Rural Development Organisation
  • Water for Children Africa
  • El Porvenir
  • Water Aid
  • Waterlife

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