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Bottled-water boondoggle
An editorial
The Providence Journal


August 07, 2007
Tuesday AM

The surge in bottled-water sales is one of those consumer crazes that would be funny if it weren't so damaging to the environment.

The International Bottled Water Association says that national sales by volume rose 9.5 percent and might go up 10 percent this year. Sales have been surging the past decade. This is because of heavy marketing, which has helped make drinking from a bottle with a pretty company label on it chic and drinking good old-fashioned no-name tap water in a glass (made out of glass) unacceptably tacky in a status-obsessed society.

But in fact, tap water is safe -- and indeed often better than the most expensive bottled stuff.

Indeed, much expensive bottled water sold is tap water! Take Aquafina, which comes from the public water supply of lovely Ayer, Mass. It's all about marketing -- not health. It's one of the great consumer scams of the past decade.

Those who complain about allegedly high U.S. gasoline prices (which are lower than in the rest of the developed world), don't seem to note that many bottled-water distributors charge (by weight) three times more than the price of gasoline for water that can be had for free from a faucet. That people don't complain about this is presumably related to the fact that they'll pay just about anything for, say, cable television. We have our priorities!

One of the ironies of all this is that bottled-water companies like to tout the rustic origins and nature-loving aspects of their products even though the product is intrinsically anti-environment. Call it the triumph of art over nature. That "environmentalist," big fossil-fuel user (as are most big-time "environmentalists") and Nantucket Sound wind-farm foe Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is an owner of a bottled-water company is just perfect. (The profits go to an organization that employs Kennedy.)

Consider that most bottled water comes in plastic containers, made from oil. Fossil fuel is also expended to run the bottling plants and to ship the bottles. The bottled-water industry certainly does its fair share for pollution.

And less than a quarter of the plastic from these bottles is recycled. Related to that is the trash problem as people throw away these bottles, frequently alongside roads and in other public places, and help overload landfills.

Happily, some leaders are showing some responsibility in confronting the bottled-water mania. The U.S. Conference of Mayors wants a study of the impact of bottled water on municipal waste and some local officials are ordering departments not to buy bottled water -- such purchases are generally a terrific waste of taxpayer dollars anyway.

Glasses (made of glass) and a pitcher of water on the table. That looks good.

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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska