Comments to Attacks on the Water Bottle Industry
Custom Label Bottled Water

Recently the bottled-water industry has come under particularly harsh criticism for alleged gross waste and pollution. Critics fault the use of clean water resources by private enterprise, the cost of packaging, and the energy it takes to transport bottled water to market. And there is some truth to their arguments; it takes substantial energy and natural resources to manufacture, bottle and distribute our product.

However on the conservation side, one of our trucks can service many customers versus individual households/companies driving their personal vehicles to the store to purchase the water. Just this one service alone saves thousands of gallons of fuel and oil each month. Many city's Public Relations staffs, say that municipal tap water is "just finea for human consumption as it flows virtually free from the kitchen faucet. Wouldn't it be great if all sources for municipal tap water were pristine, easy to purify, locally abundant, treated only with absolutely safe chemicals and subsequently transported at low cost through completely clean pipes?


Emotions aside, the reality is that bottled water is truly a lot better for you than municipal tap water. And it is not at all true that bottled water entails more cost to society than the cost of creating and distributing municipal tap water equal in quality to the variety of bottled water offerings.

First, let's look at the quality issue. A lot of the "fresh" water our local governments use as a source for tap water doesn't start out all that healthy for humans. Some ground waters and surface waters have naturally occurring and abundant organic and inorganic contaminants. In the western United States, many source waters have issues with arsenic and radon. Although this isn't the result of human pollution--it occurs naturally--it is still bad for humans. In the Great Plains, where the water table is subject to rapid recharge and there is a lot of agricultural activity, water tends to be high in phosphates (fertilizer) and atrazine (herbicide). In coastal areas of the United States, you will often find high sodium and/or sulfur in local water. Everywhere, you find additives to the source water from human activity (bacteria), the burning of fossil fuels (MBTE) and chemical manufacturing and consumption byproducts (this list is far too long to cite here but you owe it to yourself to check out the EPA's website).

Local governments try to make their local source waters suitable for us by treating the water with chemicals like chlorine, lime and sodium hexametaphosphate, and by the sheer volume of water, it is hidden through dilution. Yes, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)--through the Safe Drinking Water Act--says it is legal to serve a vast array of inorganic chemicals to tap water customers as long as they are below the maximum contaminants levels (or MCLs) they set by rule making. Any municipality having contaminants in their tap water below these levels can proudly say to their customers their tap water is just fine.


But is it really? The EPA sets the bar for this reassuring pronouncement by creating MCL standards for only 35 potential contaminants. The process that produces those MCLs entails years of review and a lot of input from industry lobbyists as well as everyday citizens. If you have concerns about any chemicals other than those 35 (and, if you pay attention to reports of recent medical research, you probably should have concerns) then you are out of luck; the local water works isn't even testing for them at any contaminant level.
We can say with complete assurance that consumers of bottled water do not have to deal with questionable source water, adding potentially harmful chemicals, or limited testing. Our company uses municipal tap water as a source but cleans it with a highly sophisticated filtration processes (Reverse Osmosis) before putting it in sterile, sealed bottles in a clean room environment. Obviously, we don't have to send that water to the consumer through several series of aged piping either.


In the end, this is not a close call. Our bottled water is a lot better than the minimally tested, chlorinated, flocculated, fluoridated municipal tap water that also happens to be transmitted through miles of aged piping. Remember, ultimately the Market votes with its checkbook and the results are in, bottled water has demonstrated double digit growth for well over a decade. Even though we are making a strong statement about bottled versus tap water quality, We sincerely believe we are only talking about a minor sub-issue. The real overriding issues in this discussion--the elephants I see in the room--are: (1) our throw-away culture which wastes the vast majority of our food and beverage containers, and (2) the real wisdom of our government trying to make all tap water as good as bottled water when less than 1% of municipal tap water is actually used for human consumption.

As is the case with any beverage, bottled water requires the use of containers. But it is also true that those containers have clear benefits to consumers. They make beverages portable, sanitary, and safely preserved until it is time to use them. Bottled water is uniquely useful to our society when disaster strikes and the municipal tap water systems don't function at all.

Recently our company has reduced the plastic in our bottles from 23 grams to 17 grams .This has reduced the energy and plastic used by approximately 35% as we continue to find ways to lower our carbon footprint.


Municipal tap water, although relatively cheap to homes because it is subsidized by taxpayers and industry, is not without substantial cost. If we didn't have to spend that estimated trillion dollars on aged water piping infrastructure, treatment plants, and chemicals, could we not better spend that money on other needs? The vast majority of tap water is actually used for industrial processes and other mundane purposes, such as washing cars and flushing toilets. Does it make sense indeed; is it even possible - for local governments to attempt to bring tap water up to the higher quality of bottled water? Maybe we could use the money saved by not treating water to impossibly high standards, but instead improve our natural water sources for uses other than drinking water. What about the real benefit of not adding tons and tons of chemicals like chlorine and chlorine byproducts to our waterways?


In the final analysis, a back-and-forth debate about tap versus bottled water quality doesn't begin to address the bigger issues we face as inhabitants of this planet. We can recycle and we can offer other convenient methods for consumers to do their part in conserving, like reclycling the bottles. We can also make wise decisions on how to spend our tax dollars. We can work together vigorously to keep our surface and ground water suitable for wildlife and recreation. Municipal tap water can be used with great confidence for many purposes. And the bottled water industry can continue to be held to the highest standards of taste and quality for human consumption.