By Michelle Millet
My first response this past Friday when my family and I arrived at Community Park to watch the fireworks and spotted an Aero Pure Water Station was to think what a great idea. The water trailer provided 8 self-fill stations that, according to their website, had enough water to fill 4,000 half-liter sport bottles. At first this seemed to me a great environmentally friendly alternative to disposable water bottles.
But something about it just didn’t sit right with me, and it took me almost 24 hours to realize exactly what it was, which is this: How and when did we get to the point where the environmentally friendly option for providing water becomes loading it into a trailer and hauling it 40 miles to place that already has access to perfectly safe drinking water?
I tried to think back to when I was my kids’ age and remember how I managed to stay hydrated without access to single use plastic bottles or water trailer filling stations. If I’m remembering correctly, I think it may have involved water fountains or just not having water available at every moment. When did this change and how did it get to the point where Americans used 50 billion plastic water bottles last year? And why, when we have access to safe public drinking water, are people willing to spend up to 1000 times more for bottled water?
One of the top reasons people give for drinking bottled water instead of tap water is that they believe it is safer. In reality, this is not true.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, which carried out a four-year review of the bottled water industry, concluded, “There is no assurance that just because water comes out of a bottle, it is any cleaner or safer than water from the tap.”
In a lot of ways, bottled water is less regulated then tap water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which sets the standard for tap water, requires that municipalities have their water tested every year by a third party certified laboratory and that the tests be made available to the public.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water. Because it regulates bottled water as food, it cannot require certified lab testing or violation reporting. The FDA does not require bottled water companies to disclose to consumers where the water came from, how it has been treated or what contaminants it contains. Furthermore, FDA rules do not apply to water packaged and sold within the same state.
Bottled water started to become popular in the U.S. in 1977 when Perrier was introduced to urban areas. It remained a niche product until the early 90′s when bottles made from PET plastic, which was lightweight, cheap and clear became available. It was at this time that Coke and Pepsi got into the business of selling water. Ironically, Coke’s water, Dasani, and Pepsi’s water, Aquafina, the number one and two bestselling brands, originate from municipal supplies.
Many blame the marketing efforts of these two companies for the sharp increase in popularity of bottled water. They are reported to have spent tens of millions of dollars on advertising, pushing their product as a safer, tastier, purer alternative to tap.
When I was 10, my daughter’s age now, I did not carry a water bottle around with me everywhere I went. My mom did not pack one in my lunch and I didn’t take one to summer camp. I don’t remember this being an issue. If I was thirsty in public, I drank from a water fountain – an option that has become increasingly unavailable over the past 20 years.
I would like to see us get back to the place where the environmentally friendly option for providing “free” water at public events is one that does not require it to be shipped in a truck 40 miles, but instead comes from clean, well maintained, functional water fountains. No bottle – reusable or not – required.