My grandson and I got back from our outdoor explorations, hot and sweaty. He went to the refrigerator for a cold drink, then turned to me and asked, “Where’s the bottled water?” I told him we didn’t have bottled water and to fill a glass at the faucet. He looked at me incredulously and said, “You don’t drink that water do you?” I told him, “Yes I do,” drank some, and then offered him some. He grabbed his throat as if it would poison him.
21% of all Americans now drink bottled water; that’s more than purchase coffee, milk, and pretty soon even beer (NYT, 7/15/07). People are buying it, not because the water’s better (it definitely isn’t), but because it’s convenient. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has conducted extensive municipal water and bottled water tests, and says not only is a city’s tap water healthy, but that 25-30% of all bottled water comes from municipal tap-water systems. Some of that water goes through additional filtering, but some does not. The NRDC says that bottled water is “subject to less rigorous testing and purity standards than those which apply to city tap water.”
Hundreds of millions of gallons of bottled water are being sold not because it’s healthier but because it’s convenient. Consumers are willing to pay an average of $1,400 a year because it’s so easy to take anywhere, but the far bigger price is that the plastic bottles are made from oil. Oil is also what’s used to provide the locomotion and refrigeration to ship the 43,000,000 gal./year imported from the European Union to NY harbor. This is a 3,500-mile trip which also creates 3,800 tons of carbon dioxide. Another one million gallons comes from Fiji, a distance of 8000 miles, which creates another 19 tons of CO2.
At the end of this consumption, we are left with empty bottles that end up in landfills. We are taking from our shrinking Earth all its non-replenishable resources and replacing them with non-biodegradable garbage. Tell me there isn’t something wrong with this story! Sixty years ago if somebody came up and tried to sell you water, you’d think he was crazy. I told this to my grandson, who responded that sixty years ago they didn’t have television either, and this is the way it is now.
We have to be telling a better story to our kids, convenience can’t justify our piling onto the global waste heap. Sixty years ago everybody drank water from faucets, in another sixty there may no longer be faucets.