Bottled Water: Ruining Our Environment & Communities

by the ABV Editorial Staff, jm
Dirty Water and Lies

F irst off, you’re probably thinking that this is just another stupid thing that angry people are fighting against just for the sake of arguing. Well, that is stupid thinking. If you take the time to read below, you will see just why bottled water isn’t the way to go. Included is reasons why bottled water is harmful, as well as an array of links to additional information so that you can become informed on your own.

Beautiful labels with pictures of pristine lakes and glaciers with cool and crisp water boundlessly flowing wrap a bottle of water that brags of unprecedented freshness. Well, just how pristine and fresh is the water? According to an extensive study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) , about one-third of the bottles tested contained levels of contamination, including arsenic, bacteria, and synthetic chemicals. That is an interestingly large portion, considering almost an additional third was found to be rebottled tap water sold as spring water.

So why can bottled water be sold like this? According to the NRDC, there is no rules or regulations for “between sixty and seventy percent of all bottled water sold in the United States.” (A quick side note – there are no regulations for carbonated or seltzer waters). Your tap water is most likely tested for E. Coli, Fecal Coliform and other bacteria and viruses, it must be disinfected while pathogens are filtered, and it is frequently tested for traces of most synthetic organic chemicals. It is quite a different story for bottled water. There is no testing required except an occasional test for bacteria and an annual test for synthetic chemicals.

A quick conclusion that can be reached is this: there is no reason to believe that what you are buying is any more fresh, any cleaner, or any safer than your tap water. You can be assured that you will pay approximately 500 times more though for that nice glacier picture.

Dirty, Dirty Plastics and Fuel

There are around 138 billion litters of bottled water being consumed annually and that number is expected to double by 2010!  In fact, bottled water makes up over 35% of the “refreshment beverage market” ( nestle waters ).  Just think for a moment how many plastic bottles that is!  Now the manufacturing of these plastic bottles takes energy (over 4% of European Oil consumption is used for plastic manufacturing), and in the process releases toxic chemicals into the environment.  Unfortunately, we don’t all recycle (estimates for US range from only 6% to 50%).  But even if we did recycle, there would still be extreme waste of energy and high emissions of toxins just from the sheer numbers. 

In addition to all of the plastics manufacturing, you have to transport all of the water.  This results in the use of fuels, which results in emissions of carbon dioxide and other green house gases.  So what we have now is an industry that is based on the wastefulness of resources to bring a potentially contaminated product to us at a much higher cost than we would pay for EPA certified water from our tap.

The Worst Yet

While the reasons previously stated may be enough to incite some thought about the bottled water issue, they are most likely not the motivation and reason why thousands of community leaders and environmental activists have risen up to fight the water bottling industries.  The fact is, bottling source water destroys natural habitats, it dries up rivers and lakes, and it essentially squeezes local communities while monopolizing what should be the public good.

From Brazil and South Africa to the US, bottling companies have come in, extracting anywhere from 100 – 700 gallons per minute from the local fresh water source.  The large bottlers pump out the groundwater and springs with these high-capacity wells,causing groundwater drawdown, drying up area residents’ wells, destroying local farming, all while paying little or no compensation to the local communities or the environment

The article Water as a Multidimensional Entity, written about the struggles against bottling water in Brazil, contains descriptions of action taken by some of the locals. “…Nestlé/Perrier was pumping huge amounts of water in the park from a well 150 m deep. The water was then demineralized and transformed into Pure Life table water. As the Brazilian constitution does not allow mineral water to be demineralized, we brought our findings to the attention of the public prosecutor of the State Public Ministry in São Lourenço, who began an official investigation of Nestlé/Perrier’s activities in São Lourenço. This led to charges against the company at the end of 2001, and a federal investigation of Nestlé/Perrier. Meantime, we organized citizen protests against the company and collected 3000 signatures on a petition.” ( from bottled water conflicts )

This fight isn’t exclusive of Wisconsin either. In 2000, Nestle and the state of Wisconsin had partnered to extract some 720,000 gallons of water a day, every day from Big Spring in Adams and Colombia Counties.  As we hear from local activists Arlene Kanno and Hiroshi Kanno in their article,When the Grass Roots Said No (Way) , “The proposed one million square-foot bottling plant would pave over 70 acres of farmland. The resulting accelerated runoff would cause severe damage to the wetlands and prairies south of the plant. No environmental impact statement for high capacity well drilling was required under state law.”  According to the Kannos, “We were taking on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the governor in addition to going up against a giant transnational corporation.”  After many months of this truly grassroots fight, the locals, Wisconsin, and the environment won! Score one for the good guys.

There Has to be Closure

The simple solution would be to say, “Wow, I care about the health of the environment, of local farming communities, and of my own. I’m not going to drink bottled water anymore.”  But, sometimes it is more convenient, or your water tastes like a lake, and we’re thirsty.  Well, that is all right.  If you’re going to buy bottled water, try to buy it from in-state, small time companies that have a vested interest in the environment and the community.  If you are looking for that true sense of Alaskan Glacier water from the last unpolluted source, please recognize that you are on the wrong planet.  But if you’ll settle for a refreshing cold drink, grab a cup from your cupboards, put in some ice, fill with water, and enjoy.

Additional Resources

Bottled Water Conflicts

The Bottled Water Blues