Tuesday, July 31, 2007

There have been a flurry of media stories on American’s rising consumption of bottled water. You now see people toting bottles of water everywhere, as if the country underwent a serious thirst over the last few years. But the stories center around the ecological side effects of bottled water, much of which is just tap water: the fuel for transporting liquids around the world and the plastic and packaging materials used when every American (with rare exception) has access to cheap, clean tap water.

I’m not a big fan of bottled still water since I find all of this pointless — I drink water from my Brita filter (to remove the chlorine taste). But I do drink bottled sparkling water almost daily as a substitute for soda and beer. Sometimes I get tired of just drinking plain water and need something to tickle the tongue, something more interesting than the water I’ve drank all day, without empty calories.

I can also say that after spending last summer in Italy and France, I would be reaching for certain mineral waters on the store shelf that had just the right amount of effervescence and taste, and would enjoy drinking them as much as any other fine beverage. Local brands that I’ve never heard of, some would taste creamy, or sharp. Water with character. Italians drinks more bottled water than any other country, and are serious enough to label their bottles with all of the mineral content, temperature at the spring, and even electrical conductivity.

One article that may have started the flurry appeared in Fast Company magazine, titled Message in a Bottle. Here are some noteworthy passages:

[I]n Fiji, a state-of-the-art factory spins out more than a million bottles a day of the hippest bottled water on the U.S. market today, while more than half the people in Fiji do not have safe, reliable drinking water. Which means it is easier for the typical American in Beverly Hills or Baltimore to get a drink of safe, pure, refreshing Fiji water than it is for most people in Fiji.
In San Francisco, the municipal water comes from inside Yosemite National Park. It’s so good the EPA doesn’t require San Francisco to filter it. If you bought and drank a bottle of Evian, you could refill that bottle once a day for 10 years, 5 months, and 21 days with San Francisco tap water before that water would cost $1.35. Put another way, if the water we use at home cost what even cheap bottled water costs, our monthly water bills would run $9,000.
The Fiji Water plant is a state-of-the-art facility that runs 24 hours a day. That means it requires an uninterrupted supply of electricity—something the local utility structure cannot support. So the factory supplies its own electricity, with three big generators running on diesel fuel. The water may come from “one of the last pristine ecosystems on earth,” as some of the labels say, but out back of the bottling plant is a less pristine ecosystem veiled with a diesel haze.



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