This article in the San Francisco Chronicle relates the incredible reality that Americans spend $11 billion a year to purchase a product that they can get for free from their tap:
“This is an industry that takes a free liquid that falls from the sky and sells it for as much as four times what we pay for gas,” said Richard Wilk, a professor of anthropology at Indiana University who has studied the bottled-water business.
“There’s almost nowhere in America where the drinking water isn’t adequate,” he said. “Municipalities spend billions of dollars bringing clean, cheap water to people’s homes. But many of us would still rather buy it at a store.”
And we’re all guilty of it. Hell, I’m drinking out of a disposible Crystal Geyser container right now, event though we just installed a fantastic filter in our home. (In my defense, I forgot to bring my Nalgene bottle from home.) The environmental costs are almost incalculable: 75% of bottled water comes from aquifiers and springs, whereas most tap water comes from lakes and streams. Private companies are exhausting a collective resource and selling it back to us for four times the cost of gasoline, all because we have a perception that it’s somehow better for us.
And the production of bottled water, as well as its transportation, has an enormous impact on the environment. A full quarter of all bottled water is imported from abroad (hmm, hmm, Fiji)–greatly increasing the level of global greenhouse gases–and this will only increase as reserves deplete due to changes in the climate and the depletion of water resources around the world.
It’s true that it takes less energy to recycle plastic water bottles than glass or aluminum, but more than 1.5 million tons of plastic are used every year to manufacture water bottles and the majority of these are not recycled.
Water has a very powerful relationship with the climate crisis–both as a source of GHG emissions and as a (in fact, “the”) key natural resource that is being impacted by the rise of global temperatures. There is also an inherent ethical question that pertains to the drinking of bottled water, one that was not discussed in the article: Clean drinking water is and will increasingly be a cherished resource that is available to those with means and scarce for those without. Corporations are “earning” $11 billion a year to sell a product we all collectively “own” to those with disposible income who have perfectly good drinking water at home.
Better for those in the developed world to spend this disposible income on home filtration units, reusable water bottles and the rest on water purification systems in the developing world. Everyone but the Nestles and Coca-Colas of the world benefits.
I think it’s incumbent upon us at Climate Changers to help everyday people realize the impacts of their personal consumer choices–particularly water and food–on the climate. That is why Kirsten and I felt strongly that a Kleen Kanteen or some other type of reusable water bottle should be included as an item in every starter kit.