Tuesday, July 3, 2007

What’s wrong with the tap??

Honestly. Maybe we should consider finding a new chic name for good ole tap water. “Home Fresh” maybe… “Hey hon, can you snag me a glass of home fresh on your way out of the kitchen?” That sounds like a slangy nickname for your pal… “Hey home fresh! What’s jiggin’?”

Anyhow. I want to share with you some excerpts from an amazing article on the devil with angel wings that is bottled water. After reading this article I affirm my resolution to keep lugging my Nalgene around with me wherever I go, and filling it at water fountains instead of buying a bottle of water. I’m definitely guilty of picking up a bottle at a gas station when I want something cold, but this article reaffirms to me what a silly (not to mention negatively impactful) choice that is.

I’ve sifted out a few interesting lines that I think are pretty powerful, but I encourage you to read the whole thing. It’s interesting and well-written. About as eye-opening as that fascinating article on the banana industry I shared a while back.

Here’s a link to the article (source: Fastcompany.com via Boingboing.net): "Message in a Bottle" by Nigel Cox

And here are a few choice facts about bottled water. Click on the above link for reference.

Fiji Water produces more than a million bottles a day, while more than half the people in Fiji do not have reliable drinking water.

  • In San Francisco, the municipal water comes from inside Yosemite National Park. It's so good the EPA doesn't require San Francisco to filter it. If you bought and drank a bottle of Evian, you could refill that bottle once a day for 10 years, 5 months, and 21 days with San Francisco tap water before that water would cost $1.35. Put another way, if the water we use at home cost what even cheap bottled water costs, our monthly water bills would run $9,000.

  • Today, for all the apparent variety on the shelf, bottled water is dominated in the United States and worldwide by four huge companies. Pepsi (NYSE:PEP) has the nation's number-one-selling bottled water, Aquafina, with 13% of the market. Coke's (NYSE:KO) Dasani is number two, with 11% of the market. Both are simply purified municipal water--so 24% of the bottled water we buy is tap water repackaged by Coke and Pepsi for our convenience.

  • …within a decade, our consumption of bottled water is expected to surpass soda.

  • San Pellegrino's 1-liter glass bottles--so much a part of the mystique of the water itself--weigh five times what plastic bottles weigh, dramatically adding to freight costs and energy consumption. The bottles are washed and rinsed, with mineral water, before being filled with sparkling Pellegrino--it uses up 2 liters of water to prepare the bottle for the liter we buy. The bubbles in San Pellegrino come naturally from the ground, as the label says, but not at the San Pellegrino source. Pellegrino chooses its CO2Tuscany, then trucked north and bubbled into Pellegrino.

    carefully--it is extracted from supercarbonated volcanic springwaters in
  • Princeton University philosopher Peter Singer :"We're completely thoughtless about handing out $1 for this bottle of water, when there are virtually identical alternatives for free. It's a level of affluence that we just take for granted. What could you do? Put that dollar in a jar on the counter instead, carry a water bottle, and at the end of the month, send all the money to Oxfam or CARE and help someone who has real needs. And you're no worse off."

  • Worldwide, 1 billion people have no reliable source of drinking water; 3,000 children a day die from diseases caught from tainted water.

Than again, regarding Fiji water—the flip side….

  • The plant employs 200 islanders--set to increase to 250 this year--most with just a sixth- or eighth-grade education. Even the entry-level jobs pay twice the informal minimum wage. But these are more than simply jobs--they are jobs in a modern factory, in a place where there aren't jobs of any sort beyond the villages. And the jobs are just part of an ecosystem emerging around the plant--water-based trickle-down economics, as it were.

  • Of course, the irony of shipping a precious product from a country without reliable water service is hard to avoid. This spring, typhoid from contaminated drinking water swept one of Fiji's islands, sickening dozens of villagers and killing at least one. Fiji Water often quietly supplies emergency drinking water in such cases. The reality is, if Fiji Water weren't tapping its aquifer, the underground water would slide into the Pacific Ocean, somewhere just off the coast. But the corresponding reality is, someone else--the Fijian government, an NGO--could be tapping that supply and sending it through a pipe to villagers who need it. Fiji Water has, in fact, done just that, to some degree--20 water projects in the five nearby villages. Indeed, Roll has reinvested every dollar of profit since 2004 back into the business and the island.
So, essentially what does it all boil down to? If we’re going to drink bottled water, should we make sure that it’s coming from a far-away place (like Fiji) so that we support small economies? Or do all the transport costs and ecological damage done in getting it here cancel out the good it does for those people to buy it?

It somehow still feels wasteful to drink bottled water when I have a perfectly good tap at home and at work. Then again, at least it’s better than soda, eh?

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