The Bottleneck Behind Bottled Water

Nothing quenches a thirst like cool water, whether it's Pepsi Co.'s Aquafina (13 percent of the bottled water market), or Coca-Cola's Dasani (11 percent of the market), or a specialty water from Nestlé. Every day, millions of Americans grab a clear plastic bottle of water from the cooler at a convenience store, or pull a case of it from the shelves at their local supermarket. Toting water has become as indispensable for some people as carrying a cell phone.

The $15 billion a year industry has grown from a marketing approach evoking purity, natural springs and the great outdoors. In 1976 the average American drank 1.6 gallons of bottled water, but 30 years later consumption jumped to 28.3 gallons. Within a decade bottled water is projected to surpass the current 52.9 gallons per year consumption rate of soda.

While drinking water rather than soda offers positive health benefits, the delivery of individual servings of water in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles brings a headache to landfills. Americans used 50 billion PET bottles last year — about 167 per person — but recycled only 23 percent of them. Landfills got the other 38 billion. Add to this the pollution from moving one billion bottles of water weekly by ship, truck and train, and bottled water represents a genuine environmental concern.

Fiji Water comes from the islands of Fiji, which lie roughly 8,000 miles from New York. The bottles for the Fiji Water nearly double the trip because first they are brought to Fiji, filled, then shipped to their final destinations. Transportation represents fully half the wholesale cost of Fiji Water. In addition, the Fiji Water plant further impacts the environment because it operates 24 hours a day, requiring uninterrupted electricity that the factory supplies with three large generators run by diesel fuel.

 The bottled water closest to home comes from Aquafina and Dasani because they start with the local municipal water throughout the country. Both Pepsi and Coca-Cola add an energy-intensive filtration process to insure purity and consistency. As researcher Charles Fishman writes: "They are recleaning already-clean tap water." Despite safe, clean municipal water in the United States costing pennies per gallon, many consumers still choose to buy water at twice the price of gasoline. For some, bottled water represents convenience, for others, status and for still others, matters of health.

The marketplace sees purchasing bottled water as a consumer choice, but people of faith reject the "it's-my-money" argument. Water "constitutes an essential element of life" — according to Benedict XVI's 2007 Message for World Water Day — and "water cannot be treated as just another commodity." The principles of subsidiarity and solidarity paint a larger picture about the global water supply.

Worldwide, one billion people lack safe water and everyday over 3,000 children die from diseases caused by unhealthy water. While Fiji Water ships one million bottles of water per day, more than half the people in Fiji lack safe, reliable drinking water. By purchasing bottled water that promotes profits over the public good, i.e. the privatization of water, the consumer can encourage the disregard for local community rights (subsidiarity) to provide safe drinking water for all.

In addition, solidarity requires examining present patterns of water delivery with its pollution and waste in light of future generations, because today's convenience might produce tomorrow's hangover.

While promoting greater water drinking for health reasons, we can responsibly tap safe local supplies using additional filters and refillable bottles. If giving a cup of cold water brings God's blessing (Mt 10:42), how much more will ensuring safe water for all with a minimum of pollution?

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  • Guest

    "I AM living water, those who drink this WATER will never thirst" As an affluent socity we subscribe to any fad that appeals to the betterment of ME. Make that a health issue and the supply/demand priciple becomes completely twisted. Could it be that like Lady Macbeth we sense that we are unclean and like the Pharasees, no 'unclean' food or drink will touch our lips.

  • Guest

    I drink bottled water because I am "on the go" frequently with my children and in the car without access to water. Plus, the bottles are easy to transport.

    I've found that refilling bottles works sometimes,but, sharing a refilled water bottle with a 2 year old is, well, disgusting!  Plus, mildew gets in the bottles, etc…

    Because we have access to water bottles, we drink a lot more of it….I drink the cheapest available.

    When my husband and I traveled in Italy, however, we brought one water bottle each and kept refilling it wherever went.  We didn't get sick because Italy has a clean water supply and we kept hydrated.  (I was pregnant and that was important for health reasons.)

    If you read more of Fr Rausch's writing, you will see that he is a socialist (he is published weekly in my diocesan newspaper.)  I haven't read the Popes's comments on World Water Day, but I will.  However, when he states that water is not just another commodity, I don't think he was refering to bottled water.  I would bet that he meant the water supply in general.  Meaning one nation/state or region cannot hog for private profit the means of survival for many.  (Look at CA 'water war' between farmers and residences.  Look at Arizona, etc….and the diversion of water from the Col River to water casinos and golf courses.  China is flooding rivers all over the place and building dams, thus destroying homelands and farmlands.  In Appalachia waterways are destroyed by coal mining polution….the list goes on and on.)  Honesty in journalism must be paramount to one's agenda.

  • Guest

    Elkabrikir, you provided good backround info. World Water Day? give me a link to that one, I want to see which brand is advertising on the popemobile. We competed in the Aquafina Invitational and our gym stocks Poland Spring. Personally I like the pre-bottled water days, now every public place is a diner and kids leave half-empty bottles everywhere.

  • Guest

    goral, I agree with now every public place is a diner and kids leave half-empty bottles everywhere.  I see it in my own household, too.  I think it is a symptom of our culture and modern age in general.  This school year I have streamlined our activities so that our family would be less impacted by the chaos.  We'll be home more so the dishwasher will get a work out, but I think we'll use fewer water bottles!  and A LOT less gas!


    With all that money saved, I can give money to build wells in Africa.  (There are some cool designs.  For instance, kids play on a merry-go-round contraption which pumps water.  Awesome!)

    And let us never forget your first post, goral, Jesus is the living water!  His saving message is inclusive of economics but not defined by it.  Liberation Theology has been condemned.

  • Guest

    I try to be judicious in what I use from Father Rausch.  I would prefer not to label him and instead to think about what he says. Sometimes we find a label a convenient way to dismiss someone's thoughts, but since he is a priest, I think we should try respectfully to consider what he writes. I don't use everything, though.

  • Guest

    Thanks mary.  I know he serves in an area of abject poverty.  So, I  know that is what fires his zeal such as it is.

    Honestly, though, I don't know what the REAL point of this article is.  I acknowlege that access to clean drinking water is a major global  problem.  However, is THAT what this article is about?  Is he saying there's no place for bottled water in industrialized countries?  Are we allowed to drink water if it's bottled locally?  What's next on the hit list?  I know my childrens' disposable diapers have been out of favor on and off….but washing clothe diapers and drying them uses resources too.  (Are Western people just the source of the ENTIRE world's problem?) Frankly, I'm considering not drinking or eating anything out of plastic because of the PCBs in plastic leaching into the substance. 

    I didn't pay attention to who the article's author was until I had finished reading it and thought, "This is weird…" When I saw Father's name, I just thought, "consider the source."  However, people who aren't familiar with his writings and points of view, should be allowed to draw their own conclusions.  So, I was wrong to label him directly.

  • Guest

    I wonder how many people in Fiji have paying jobs because of the bottled water business … quite a few I imagine.

  • Guest

    Having clean, accessible water is a high priority.  But, when you purchase bottled water it doesn't promote profit over the public good.  For many Americans, they drink both tap and bottled water — as a healthier choice over packaged sugared drinks.  They drink tap or bottled depending on what's most accessible.

    Fr. Rausch is right about people wanting to make responsible choices for the environment.  We have a new bottle, Eco-Shape, that has the least plastic content of any bottle on the market.  Deer Park will have this in the fall.  All our bottles are recyclable.  And, we are taking leadership in revitalizing recycling in America so it's easier for people to do and collect ALL plastic food and beverage packaging, wther its peanut butter, mustard, or water.

    Hope this is helfpul info.  Water is a good choice.  Finding solutions to the bottles is a reality.  It's time we took a fresh look at these issues.

    Jane Lazgin

    Nestle Waters North America

  • Guest

    Since when did Pepsi, Coca Cola and Nestle take such an interest in the best drinking liquid for us? I'll answer that, since 12 or 16 oz. of plain ole water is sold for the same $ as a liter of pop. There's a lot of profit here to do recycling as well as corporate Magellans to take water finding junkets to discover new fountains.

  • Guest

    Wow. I had not thought of that. However, I know Maryknoll has a project to provide safe drinking water to Africans.