Drinking Problem

Across the country, folks are working to wean Americans off bottled water.

By Dianna Dilworth

Even though the US has some of the highest quality municipal drinking water in the world, Americans consume more bottled water than the citizens of any other country.

Corporate Responsability, a Boston-based advocacy group, is trying to get folks to kick the habit. Through national campaigns, the organization is educating consumers about the environmental costs of the bottled beverage and highlighting the risks of losing public control of water systems to corporations. It also aims to force corporations to label the source of the water on each bottle.

“Our fundamental concern is that bottled water companies are changing the way that we think about our water and setting out to turn our water into a high priced luxury and not a fundamental human right,” says Deborah Lapidus, the group’s national organizer.

This $100 billion industry not only taps the wallet, it’s also hard on the environment. Producing plastic for bottles uses oil and creates significant carbon dioxide emissions. According to research done by the Pacific Institute, an environmental think tank, producing bottles for American consumption required the equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil in 2006. And that figure does not include the energy needed for transportation, which itself is a huge environmental cost especially in shipping water to the US from France, Norway, and Fiji. The research also found that bottling water produced more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide, and required three liters of water during production to create a one liter bottle of water.

In one approach, Corporate Accountability is pressing corporations to reveal the source of the water right on the bottles themselves. The group hopes that by showing people the source of their bottled water, it will encourage them to get water from the faucet instead. The organization claimed a victory after it led a public action campaign in which activists and students contacted Pepsi, who owns Aquafina, via postcards, e-mails, and phone calls, and asked them to label the bottles. On July 25, 2007, Corporate Accountability organized a day of action—after receiving 2,000 e-mails and a few hundred phone calls that day, Pepsi agreed to include labels on its bottles acknowledging that the water comes from municipal sources across the country. Now, Corporate Accountability is going after Coca-Cola’s Dasani to label bottles as well.

Corporate Accountability is not alone in encouraging consumers to stop drinking bottled water. From individual restaurants to entire city governments, efforts are being made nationwide. In June of this year, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and banned spending city money on bottled water. Now, water coolers hook up directly to the tap in city buildings. The change is benefiting both the environment and the budget—the scheme is saving the city $100,000 a year.

“This wasn’t a good use of tax payer money, since we have virtually free water coming out of the tap,” says Jared Blumenfeld, director of San Francisco’s Department of Environment. “We have some of the best drinking water in the world and we shouldn’t be paying for it.”

The mayor’s office is also encouraging citizens to adopt this behavior, and is giving out free stainless steel refillable bottles to those citizens who pledge not to buy bottled water for a year.

World-famous Bay Area restaurant Chez Panisse has followed in the city’s footsteps, removing bottled water from their menu. The restaurant now filters and carbonates water from the tap. Other restaurants that have cut bottled water from the menu include Mario Battali’s Del Posto in New York, Milky Way in Boston, and Farmers Diner in Quechee, VT.

The bottled water industry, meanwhile, shows no sign of cutting back on production. In August, the International Bottled Water Association took out a full page ad in The New York Times defending its position to offer a healthy, calorie-free drink to a nation of on-the-go consumers.

If Corporate Responsibility has its way, when it comes to drinking water, people will choose the healthier choice for the environment: turning on the tap instead of buying the bottles.

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Great article! To learn more about Corporate Accountability's Think Outside the Bottle Campaign, follow this link:

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