Earlier this year, as Californians were following the first ever state-mandated water restrictions, a story broke that not all of the state was cutting back on their water usage – Nestle Waters North America was tapping springs in the San Bernardino National Forest in one of the hardest hit areas, southern California. Nestle’s CEO, Tim Brown was asked if Nestle would stop bottling water in the Golden State, his response “Absolutely not. In fact, if I could increase it, I would,” enraged many California residents, and surprised Americans coast-to-coast.
The bottled water industry is big business – even though safe water is readily and cheaply available. In 2014, bottled water companies spent more than $84 million on advertising to convince consumers that bottled water is healthier than soda and safe than tap water. And Americans have been buying it – Americans have an increasing love of bottled water, particularly single-use bottles. According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC), the consumption of bottled water has risen steadily in the past 14 years. In 2000, Americans drank an average of 23 gallon of bottled water, but by 2014 that number has risen to 34 gallons, or about 10.7 billion gallons in the U.S. market and about $13 billion in sales.
However, in the case of bottled water convenience comes with a huge environmental cost. The Pacific Institute, a nonprofit research organization, found that it took the equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil to make the plastic water bottles that Americans drank in 2006 – that is enough to keep a million cars on the road for a year! And it is only the energy to make the plastic bottles, not the energy to take them to the store, keep them cold, or ship the empty bottles to recycling plants or landfills.
And of the billions of plastic water bottles being sold, the majority aren’t recycled! Only about 31% of the single-serve bottles are recycled, leaving the other 69% in landfills or worse as litter.
While recycling is better than throwing them away, it isn’t the best option. Stiv Wilson, director of campaigns at the Story of Stuff Project, says that most single-serve bottles that are recycled are recycled into textiles, rather than new plastic bottles. And when you wash this synthetic clothing, microplastics end up in the drain and eventually waterways, including the ocean. “If you start out with a bad material to begin with, recycling it is going to be an equally bad material,” says Wilson. “You’re changing its shape but its environmental implications are the same.” Single-serve bottles are part of a growing plastic epidemic in our oceans. A recent study found that by 2050, 99% of all seabirds will be ingesting plastic.
Plastic is even a problem on land. According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, 20 national parks have banned the sale of plastic water bottles, to keep the beautiful natural areas beautiful, reporting that plastic bottles average almost 1/3 of the solid waste that parks must pay (using taxpayer money) to have removed. More parks are working to ban plastic bottles. National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis wrote in 2011 that parks “must be a visible exemplar of sustainability” and that more than 400 parks in the National Park Service could ban the sale of plastic bottles if they meet the requirements for making drinking water available to visitors.
Change is coming and people are starting to break up with plastic. Recently activists have fought and won to have bottlers label the source of their water. Many consumers think bottled water comes from pristine mountain springs, but in reality over half of bottled water is filtered from municipal sources.
Recently activists including John Stewart of Corporate Accountability Institute have been challenging the misleading marketing that the bottled water industry sharing with the public. One fight was have bottlers label the source of its water and they succeeded with the 2 out of the top 3 bottlers – Pepsi and Nestle. “We also garnered national media stories that put a spotlight on the fact that bottling corporations were taking our tap water and selling it back to us at thousands of times the price,” said Stewart. “People finally began to see they were getting duped.”
Residents have also been fighting the bottlers. If a bottler is not bottling from a municipal source, the bottled water is mostly spring water from wilderness areas. Residents of these areas, concerned about industrial withdrawals of groundwater effect on the land are fighting back. For example, the residents of McCloud, CA fought for 6 years against Nestle’s plan for a water bottling facility. Nestle eventually scrapped its plans and left town, but ended up 200 miles down the road in Sacramento filling bottles with municipal water.
Colleges and college students are also in the fight. Close to 100 schools have taken some action, some banning the sale of bottled water completely, some passing resolutions that student government funds cannot be used to purchase bottled water, and others increasing the availability of filtered water on campus.
Taking a page from colleges, some municipalities are also fighting. In 2007, San Francisco passed a resolution that prohibits the city from spending money on bottled water for its offices. At the Conference of Mayors in 2010, 72% of mayors said they have considered “eliminating or reducing bottled water purchases within city facilities” and 9 mayors had already adopted a ban proposal. San Francisco took their resolution a step further in 2015 when they banned the sale of bottled water on city property.
Join the fight! Switching to a filtered water cooler will have a positive impact on the environment. Just one filtered water cooler will prevent up to 925 5-gallon water bottles from joining the waste steam. And by switching to a Quench filtered water cooler you could save up to 50% versus your water delivery costs. Whether you are a college or university looking to join the fight, a government agency, a hospital, a retail store, or an office, we will be able to tailor a filtered drinking water solution that fits your drinking water needs.