Let’s face it, the multi-million dollar bottled water ad campaigns have been a stunning success. Americans have allowed Madison Avenue to convince them of the evils of public water. Now when we reach for a glass and head to our faucets, a little nagging voice whispers, “I shouldn’t be drinking water from the tap — it’s not healthy”. Never mind that almost half of all bottled water is recycled tap water from public municipal sources.
Approximately 85 million bottles of water are consumed every day in the United States. Compare that to 1976, when the average American consumed a gallon and a half of bottled water each year. By 2008, the number had grown to about 30 gallons of bottled water per person.
That amount, says Peter Gleick, a freshwater expert and author of Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water, “equals about 115 liters of water each year, most of it from single-serving plastic containers.”
The corporate campaign against tap water has been relentless. In his book, Gleick points out that in the year 2000, shortly before he was made chairman of PepsiCo’s North American Beverage and Food division, Robert S. Morrison publicly declared, “The biggest enemy is tap water…We think it’s good for irrigation and cooking.” That same year, writes Gleick, Susan Wellington, president of the Quaker Oats Company’s United States beverage division, candidly told industry analysts, “When we’re done, tap water will be relegated to showers and washing dishes.”
Gleick describes how Coca-Cola developed a six-step program to help the Olive Garden restaurant chain reduce what they call “tap water incidence”” the unprofitable problem of customers drinking tap water rather than ordering revenue-producing beverages.
“Some 20 percent of consumers drink tap water exclusively in Casual Dining restaurants,” the Coca-Cola program lamented. “This trend significantly cuts into retailer profits…. Research was conducted to better understand why…consumers are making this beverage choice. This research provides the valuable insight and understanding needed to convert water drinkers to profit-producing beverages.”
Gleick contends that Americans now drink more bottled water than milk or beer” and most of it is from single-serving plastic containers. “All of a sudden,” says Gleick, “public water fountains have vanished and bottled water is everywhere: in every convenience store, beverage cooler, and vending machine. In student backpacks, airplane beverage carts, and…hotel rooms.”
According to the film Tapped [see trailer], a documentary directed by Stephanie Soechtig, Americans buy 29 billion single-serve bottles of water each year. About 20 percent are recycled. Transporting the water uses about 18 million gallons of oil. NPR claims the film is part of a larger consumer advocacy and green initiative targeting bottled water over concerns that most of those plastic bottles end up in landfills, or the ocean.
Some restaurants have shamelessly cashed in on the green initiative against bottled water by charging $1 dollar for a glass of filtered tap water. “In a concerted effort to reduce recycling waste,”it says on Millennium Restaurant’s website, “combat high fuel charges & offer our guests an uncompromisingly high quality of drinking water, we now serve water through a Natura Tap Water Filtration System and no longer offer imported bottled mineral water. A charge of $1/seated guest affords an endless supply of fresh carbon & UV filtered water….”
But there’s another, more immediate reason to stop buying bottled water: avoiding the toxic chemical BPA. Several independent studies regarding bisphenol-A (BPA) confirm the adverse effect the chemical has on our health. And BPA can be seep into water bottles through exposure to heat when leaving your plastic water bottle in your car during errands, or in your back pack.