• author
    • Debra DeAngelo

    • May 15, 2015 in Columnists

    It’s this simple: Boycott bottled water

    America, we have a drinking problem. And I don’t mean the kind that lands you in 12 Step meetings. It’s water. Specifically bottled water.

    If you don’t have the time or patience to get through this whole column, here’s the short version: Bottled water — don’t buy it.

    Beyond the insanity of pumping millions of gallons of water from California, which is reverting to the arid desert that Mother Nature originally intended it to be (remember those TV commercials from the ’70s — “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!” and also, go watch “Chinatown” again, or for the first time), there was already a pile of reasons not to drink bottled water, or any other beverage from a plastic bottle for that matter. Google around. The information is hugely abundant. I’ll merely hit on a few of the key points.

    First, the obvious: plastic. True, plastic bottles can be recycled, but most aren’t. They end up in landfills and worse: the ocean. There’s a floating island of trash in the Pacific Ocean that is lethal for fish and marine animals, and it’s full of recyclable plastic bottles. The island even has a name: Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Google that too. As for the “recyclable” plastic bottles, only about 25 percent actually get recycled. In the U.S., 1,500 plastic bottles are used every second. Doing the math, this means that 1,125 plastic bottles are being tossed into landfills and waterways every second. Fifty pelicans just choked to death in the time it took me to type that sentence.

    Beyond just the cumulative impact of all those empty bottles, it takes petroleum to produce and transport bottled water. It takes 17 million barrels of oil just to produce the bottles. Every time you purchase a beverage in a plastic bottle, a Saudi oil baron says “thank you.”

    As for the bottles themselves, they contain chemicals (including BPA and phthalates) that leach into the beverages inside, which are harmful to human health, and if they end up in the water, the chemicals leach out there too. It’s not good for the fish, and it’s not good for the animals (including humans) that eat those fish.

    I had some personal experience with an estrogen-triggered medical issue awhile back, and managing that issue included avoiding all estrogen-triggering products. On that list: beverages in plastic bottles. Sure, by itself, drinking from plastic bottles doesn’t seem like much. But combined with all the other products that also trigger estrogen, cumulatively, the chemical load reaches a tipping point. That tipping point lands you in the doctor’s office.

    Let’s also consider the sanity, or lack thereof, in purchasing bottled water at all. Compared to tap water, bottled water is outrageously, ridiculously expensive. Beyond the financial idiocy of purchasing bottled water, the actual product often isn’t even what the buyer thinks it is. Once again, American consumers are pathetically gullible when it comes to marketing. That “Great Value” bottled water from Wal-Mart, for example, isn’t special, pure water. It comes from the Sacramento Municipal Water Supply. That’s right — you’re paying for tap water. From oh-so-not-sexy Sacramento. And getting it at Wal-Mart. It’s the trifecta of idiocy.

    Wal-Mart isn’t alone. Nestlé also bottles water in the good old Capitol City. So do Pepsi and Coca-Cola, which produce Aquafina and Dasani bottled water. According to a Mother Jones article, both Aquafina and Dasani come from municipal water supplies. Tap water, people! As for Arrowhead and Crystal Geyser, notes MJ, those actually do come from groundwater — in California, where water reservoirs are going dry and residents are being asked to cut water consumption by 25 percent.

    Meanwhile, the bottled water industry hums merrily along, pumping California water and selling it. At least Starbucks got it right. Following criticism about bottling California water for its Ethos brand, Starbucks recently moved both its sourcing and bottling of water to Pennsylvania, where (and I’ve seen it with my own eyes) they have more water year-round than they know what to do with.

    Want to add insult to injury? Nestlé already knows this. They bottle another brand of water, Deer Park, and one of its sources is Pennsylvania. If Starbucks can make the switch, Nestlé can too. They’re already established elsewhere, for God’s sake. Governor Brown! Deal with this, dammit! You can’t have it both ways. You can’t ask Californians to cut water consumption to a bare minimum while allowing bottled water companies to frivolously suck the aquifers dry. This is a heinous contradiction, tragically tone deaf, and grotesquely stupid.

    As California’s water continues to dwindle, people panic and point the finger, and many fingers are pointed at agriculture. Agriculture is an easy mark, but it’s an unfair and invalid criticism. I’ve spoken with state Water Resources Control Board officials personally, more than once, and have been assured that farmers have already cut way back on water consumption. They’re hurting. They’re trying. They get it. But at the end of the day, they must have enough water to grow crops. This isn’t wasted water. That water results in food. No water, no food.

    California is an agricultural behemoth. It grows the vast majority of fresh produce for the country — some crops, like salad greens and broccoli, upwards of 90 percent. Aside from Midwest corn, California feeds the nation and beyond. If California agriculture collapses, the economic devastation will be exponential. Not only will fresh produce skyrocket in price, it will come from China and other places with minimal quality control, and God only knows what chemicals and toxins it will be laced with.

    California agriculture is huge. You can’t compare agricultural water use to residential. It’s like saying it’s unfair that the Great Dane drinks more water than the Chihuahua. Can we all say “Duh!” together now?

    We must protect California agriculture. We must all do whatever we can to conserve water. And, until Governor Brown is brave enough to take on the California bottled water industry, we must do what we can: boycott bottled water, especially from California.

    • This is an amazing column! Nestle owns all kinds of bottled water — everything from Perrier and San Pellegrino (alas, my “former” favorites) — all the way down to Ozarka. There are petitions out there to sign. I am swearing off bottled water forever. We all already knew it was terrible to buy bottled water anyway, but NOW the California Nestle scandal has added even more reasons. Everyone can afford to do better. We can all afford to do our part — we can all afford a filtering system all the way from a Brita to Culligan and beyond. Exposing our “drinking problem” takes guts, but you are 100% right!

    • I’d like to put in my two cents along with this wonderful column. Our local creek restoration project and channel relocation is primarily aimed at cleaner and healthier water that is so important for all humans and animals, all of which are considered Earthlings. You can have all the habitat in the world but without clean water, all is lost. It is essential that we consider the BIG picture if we wish to continue enjoying life as we know it now.

    • Great column, Debra. I rarely drink bottled water but now that I know those brands come from California, am sworn off them, even in dire circumstances. Thanks for writing. And thanks for some thinking about the blame agriculture. Although I’m ready to blame the agribusinesses that are buying up almond groves. There’s so much to blame, these days.

      • Agriculture is easy to blame. It’s a big target. Bottled water – is unnecessary most of the time. Thanks for boycotting! If you must buy it, check the labels to make sure it doesn’t come from California!

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