FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Buying the Message on the Bottle

I remember when the name of the game at my gym was pump ’n’ swig. Weight lifters and treadmill sloggers routinely carried with their sweat towels expensive water in plastic bottles.

Drinking commercial water was the cool thing. In 2006, Americans bought 32.6 billion single-serving bottles of water, and another 34.6 billion larger bottles.

With a slew of brands for basically the same product, image marketers have pushed the envelope — the bottle itself. My favorite absurdity: “Bling H2O,” with the motto “More than a Pretty Taste.” You can buy this water in a “Limited Edition” frosted-glass bottle encrusted with crystals for $40.

The surprising truth is that an estimated 25 to 40 percent of bottled water comes from public drinking reservoirs. Pepsico’s Aquafina label shows high-peaked mountains, but the water is from municipal systems, including that of Ayer, Mass., a town next to a military base and a short drive from Boston. Coca-Cola’s brand, Dasani, also uses municipal systems.

I remember a Dennis the Menace cartoon showing Dad, dazed and bleary-eyed at 3 a.m., holding out a glass of water. Dennis says, “That’s bathroom water! I wanted kitchen water!”

It’s all in the marketing.

At some restaurants, “water sommeliers” have pushed $75-a-bottle water for each course. I once took my husband for his birthday to a restaurant where the waiter asked if we would like our water bottled or — with curled lip — “native.” That convinced us. We absolutely had to go local.

We still laugh about that.

For years, the joke’s been on consumers. We spend all that money on water and plastic, and toss the plastic. It litters America from sea to bottle-bobbing sea.

“We estimate that fewer than 20 percent of those get recycled,” says Betty McLaughlin, executive director of the Container Recycling Institute.

Elizabeth Royte, author of the highly readable “Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It,” says America uses about 17 million barrels of oil each year to make plastic water bottles.

“If you have good tap water, if bottled water is redundant, why wouldn’t you go for the low-impact option?” she asks. “Bring your water over to the Stairmaster in a reusable bottle.”

That message finally seems to be getting through. Today I see the beginnings of a bottled-water backlash. At my gym, almost no one wants to be seen swigging from throw-away plastic anymore.

Some restaurants have abandoned bottled water. New York City’s Italian restaurant Del Posto, where it’s easy to drop hundreds of dollars on dinner for two, has a 61-page wine list with many bottles priced over $1,000, but you can’t buy bottled water at any price. Says one of the restaurant’s owners: “To spend fossil fuel trucking water around the world is absurd.”

At colleges nationwide, students take the “no bottled water” pledge. Realizing that spending taxpayer funds on bottled water is careless environmental stewardship, Illinois has canceled contracts for bottled water. The city governments of Fayetteville, Ark., and Albuquerque, N.M., won’t buy the stuff. Chicago has a tax of 5 cents per bottle to cover disposal costs. Michigan may extend its 10-cent deposit on soft-drink bottles to bottled water.

For a while, bottled water had a good thing going. In 2006, the industry worldwide grew 7 percent in dollar sales. Some forecasters suggested 40 percent growth over the next five years.

But recently, those phenomenal growth rates have slowed worldwide.

“Bottled water sales have gone flat for the first time in 30 years, at both Coke and Pepsi,” says ad executive Erik Yaverbaum, founder of Tappening, which encourages people to drink tap water. “I think people are realizing they are wasting money buying water that’s the same as what comes from their tap.”

If I’m going to the gym now, I drink a glass of water before I go. If I’m going on a long car trip, I fill up a clean glass jug. My mom did that. And we never went thirsty.

WENDY WILLIAMS, who lives in Massachusetts, is co-author of “Cape Wind: Money, Celebrity, Class, Politics and the Battle for Our Energy Future.” She wrote this commentary for the Land Institute’s Prairie Writers Circle, Salina, Kan.

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
January 17, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: No Woman, No Cry
Kathleen Wallace
Hijacking the Struggles of Others, Elizabeth Warren Style
Robert Hunziker
The Rumbling Methane Enigma
Frank Joyce
Will the Constitution Fail Again?
Pete Dolack
Claims that the ‘NAFTA 2’ Agreement is Better are a Macabre Joke
Andrew Levine
Biden Daze
Vijay Prashad
Not an Inch: Indian Students Stand Against the Far Right
Ramzy Baroud
Sealed Off and Forgotten: What You Should Know about Israel’s ‘Firing Zones’ in the West Bank
Norman Solomon
Not Bernie, Us. Not Warren, Us. Their Clash Underscores the Need for Grassroots Wisdom
Ted Rall
America’s Long History of Meddling in Russia
David Rosen
The Irregulators vs. FCC: the Trial Begins
Jennifer Matsui
The Krown
Joseph Natoli
Resolutions and Obstacles/2020
Sarah Anderson
War Profiteering is Real
James McFadden
The Business Party Syndicate
Ajamu Baraka
Trump Prosecutors Make Move to Ensure that Embassy Protectors are Convicted
David Swanson
CNN is Trash
Rev. William Alberts
Finally a Christian Call for Trump’s Removal
Dave Lindorff
The ERA Just Got Ratified by Virginia, the Needed 38th State!
W. T. Whitney
Mexico Takes Action on Coup in Bolivia and on CELAC
Steve Early
How General Strike Rhetoric Became a Reality in Seattle 
Jessicah Pierre
Learning From King’s Last Campaign
Mark Dickman
Saint Greta and the Dragon
Jared Bernstein - Dean Baker
Reducing the Health Care Tax
Clark T. Scott
Uniting “Progressives” Instead of Democrats
Nilofar Suhrawardy
Trump & Johnson: What a Contrast, Image-wise!
Ron Jacobs
Abusing America’s Children—Free Market Policy
George Wuerthner
Mills Are Being Closed by National Economic Trends, Not Environmental Regulations
Basav Sen
Nearly All Americans Want Off of Fossil Fuels
Mark Ashwill
Playing Geopolitical Whack-a-Mole: The Viet Nam Flag Issue Revisited
Jesse Jackson
New Hope for One of America’s Poorest Communities
Binoy Kampmark
Harry and Meghan Exit: The Royal Family Propaganda Machine
Ralph Nader
Trump: Making America Dread Again!
Rob Okun
A Call to Men to join Women’s March
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
We All Need to Be Tree Huggers Now
Tom Stephens
The New York Times’ Delusions of Empire
Julian Rose
Fake-Green Zero Carbon Fraud
Louis Proyect
The Best Films of 2019
Matthew Stevenson
Across the Balkans: Into Kosovo
Colin Todhunter
Gone Fishing? No Fish but Plenty of Pesticides and a Public Health Crisis
Julian Vigo
Can New Tech Replace In-Class Learning?
Gaither Stewart
The Bench: the Life of Things
Nicky Reid
Trannies with Guns: Because Enough is Enough!
James Haught
Baby Dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark
David Yearsley
Brecht in Berlin
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail