Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Think Outside the Bottle

This blog was originally posted at TheSocioCapitalist.

My dad has always wondered about bottled water. He jokes that if he went to a bottled water factory, he'd probably find a guy out back filling thousands of bottles of water with a garden hose. It's funny 'cause its true.

According to Corporate Accountability International, 40% of bottled water comes from the same sources at tap water. So when you are shelling out a couple bucks for a bottle of Coke's Dasani, Pepsi's Aquafina, or Nestle's Pure Life, you might as well be drinking from my dad's garden hose.

If you're like me, you buy bottled water, not because you think it is better than tap water, but because of the convenience of having a bottle of water AND getting to throw it away (hopefully in a recycle bin) when you are done. You probably even know it is not a good thing to do, but what choice do you have? It's a pain to go to the drinking fountain, again and again, if there is even one around.

The truth is, environmental and social problems you are contributing to when you buy a bottle of water are something we all should be ashamed of. It may be convenient, but the costs are unbelievable. The reason the system I am about to describe exists is because of us. If you don't like this, stop supporting it.

Water is essential to life. We need to drink it every day, and without it, we cannot produce any food to eat. Access to water is a human right, yet the production of bottled water is draining wells and depleting stores of groundwater in places like India, were the people who rely on their wells have no feasible alternative to get clean water. Because bottled water manufacturers are not required to disclose the source of their water, there is no way to hold them accountable for the impact they have on communities whose water they are taking. Not cool.

Plastic bottles are an environmental disaster. This is no surprise, but if you haven't heard it before, the vast majority of trash in the ocean is plastic. To quote Wikipedia,
"Unlike debris, which biodegrades, the photodegraded plastic disintegrates into ever-smaller pieces . . . This process continues down to the molecular level."
At some point, the plastic is small enough to be ingested by fish and other critters and enters the food chain. Not cool.

Bottled water is big money. About $15 Billion per year is spent on bottled water in the US, and about $110 Billion globally. It is no wonder that people make bottled water. It is making them rich. That will be the case, including the nasty human rights and environmental impacts, as long as people still buy it. According to Corporate Accountability International, spending that same amount annually, on ensuring that all people had access to clean water, would achieve that goal by 2025.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., three out of four of us drink bottled water, and one out of five drink it exclusively.

Okay, Okay, but what about when you're flying or forgot to bring your metal water bottle? You can bring those bottles through airport security empty, and fill them up at a drinking fountain near your gate. That way you don't have to wait for the flight attendants to get to you with the cart either. As for when you just forgot your bottle, think about who needs a drink more: you, or the kid in India whose well you could be taking it from. Seriously.

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