Monday, May 17, 2010

Kicking The Bottle

Concord, Massachusetts has just joined about a hundred other cities in the county banning the sale of bottled water. Backlash against bottled water has been growing, but nowhere near as fast as the sale of the product itself.

We’ve been led to believe that water in plastic bottles is somehow better than what comes out of our tap. We’re being sold filtration devices to hook up to our tap to “clean” the water that comes out of it. We’re being sent subtle messages that what comes out of our tap is unhealthy, even dangerous.

Of course, for those who live in Madison or get their water from the Madison water utility, a little manganese is an added bonus…and, for those who live on the near east side, a few carcinogens from an old chemical dump are thrown into the mix once in a while. Mmmmmmm…. tap water.

The problems of the Madison water utility aside (and most of them have been solved or are being addressed), bottled water is ubiquitous. Hundreds of millions of people spend sometimes exorbitant amounts of money to buy and drink water out of plastic bottles.

And that’s why Concord has joined the anti-bottled-water parade.

Every second of every day in the U.S., a thousand people buy a plastic bottle of water. Every year, 17 million barrels of oil are used to produce plastic drinking bottles, and you need look no farther than your nearest recycling facility to see how many empty plastic water bottles have piled up. Giant companies like Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and Nestle have changed the way we consume water.

With the wide latitude given to advertising, we’re led to believe the water in those plastic bottles with the attractive labels comes from a spring or glacial melt or some other romantic source. Most of it is just plan tap water, filtered a bit, and put into an attractive and convenient package.

One estimate is that 40% of bottled water comes directly from some municipal water system. An industry executive told author Peter Gleick “when we’re done, tap water will be relegated to showers and washing dishes”.

Anybody as old as I am remembers Perrier – the fizzy water sold in green glass bottles. It was once the Cadillac of bottled water. The imitators soon followed, and when marketing execs realized we’d spend big money to buy water, the race for our wallet was on. Now, Perrier is marketed as a “lifestyle” item.

My wife and I briefly fell into the trap. We’d buy a case of “cheap” bottled water at the grocery store every week, and toss a few bottles into the ‘frig every day. Soon, we began doing what the bottles tell us NEVER to do…refilling them (with good old tap water); and now, we have a handful of polycarbonate bottles that get filled and refilled from the tap, and thoroughly cleaned once a week.

My wife drags a 1000ml bottle out of the ‘frig and hauls it to work every morning; I toss a package of generic flavoring of one sort or another into my bottles, and pour the stuff over tap-water ice made in our ‘frig.

The money we save is spent on recyclable glass bottles filled with fermented malt beverage. PS: Capital Brewery’s new “Supper Club” beer tastes kinda like the old Blatz beer. Worth a try.


  1. I like to read the labels on bottled water to see where it comes from. Years ago I found a brand that was from "Quincy, Illinois, municipal sources." I used to live down that way, where people bought bottled water to keep from having to drink their municipal sources.

  2. My beautiful wife is one who buys bottled water. As she works at a natural food supplement joint I can understand her stress on the quality of the food and water we consume.

    One of these days she wants to get one of those tap water filters so that she won't have to buy the bottled stuff any longer.

    Me, I like Neenah city water. I've toured the new plant and am amazed at the care with which our water supply is handled.

    I heard about the water taste test performed at the recent Neenah High School Diversity Fair (don't ask!). The fellow at the high school who helped set up the test told the Sustainable Neenah Committee (don't ask!) said that 150 people tried the bottled vs. tap water blind taste test. The results? Virtually a 50-50 tie. That says it all for me.

    "Perrier"! I remember the National Lampoon spoof: Terrier Water, from deep inside a dog!

    The Town Crank

  3. and thoroughly cleaned once a week.


    Half the fun is seeing if you live despite the oddly-shaped fuzzy gray things growing onto the bottle into which you put tap-water after a couple of weeks...