Thursday, September 20, 2007

Buried by bottles

I have a confession.

I am 46 years old and in reasonably good health.

And I don't drink bottled water.

How can this be? For how long has the marketing for bottled water brands implied that pure spring water is the source of health, vitality, and long life? How ingrained has that message become in our culture? As I write this, six people at four nearby tables are drinking bottled water. With tap water available, most people raised on powerful, ubiquitous marketing and peer conformity opt for bottled water.

The underlying belief is that tap water is bad for you. It's not "pure," it's not ancient, and it doesn't flow from a mysterious mountain spring 6,000 miles away in a nonexistent, unpolluted paradise. It's laced with unpleasant and/or lethal chemicals. How could anyone drink tap water knowing all that? Yet, unless you have foul-tasting well water or live downstream from a toxic waste dump, the chances are excellent that your tap water isn't going to kill you or cause you bodily harm.

The perception that bottled water is better for you than tap water is pure marketing myth. It's been perpetrated by marketing geniuses who saw a new, health-conscious generation with disposable incomes willing to pay $2–$4 a bottle for a substance that they could get from their tap for a fraction of that cost. Now they would no more drink tap water than toilet water.

How pervasive is this myth? At my [old] office, filtered water is available. Many employees, however, say they want bottled water to have and to hold. One woman pointed out that the lack of bottled water was contradictory to the organization's touted wellness philosophy. "They keep promoting health and wellness, right? Well, how about bottled water? It's hypocritical not to provide it!" She was so pleased with this logic that she repeated it to anyone who would listen. No one questioned it, nor did she ask herself why she was so focused on "healthy" water as she smoked cigarette after cigarette.

In fact, her entire generation has been raised on bottled water, accepting the purported health benefits, "purity," and convenience without question.

The real price, of course, will be paid by a future generation, including the depletion of nonrenewable resources and energy in the manufacture of billions of disposable plastic bottles and the long-term damage to the environment. Billions of bottles used for a few moments are lying around, not biodegrading, now part of the landscape forever.

There's a possibility our descendants may be smarter than we are and may figure out what to do with the mess we are leaving behind. We can hope so because this is what they face: Two million plastic beverage bottles disposed of every five minutes in the U.S. alone (Chris Jordan).

1 comment:

  1. Most bottled water IS tap water. Dasani, Aquafina... they aren't spring water, they are from "public water sources." People have become such slaves to convenience, they'd rather buy a new bottle than walk to a sink and refill a glass.

    We have Poland Springs (one of the few that really ARE spring water)at work ONLY because the pipes in the building are bad. Day 1, new employees are issued a huge acrylic tumbler. I have 2 Nalgene bottles, filled from the cooler at work or the tap at home, one of which is at my side 24/7.