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Is demand for bottled water drying up?

The industry blames falling sales on the economy, but are people questioning the overall concept?

By Karen Datko Dec 21, 2009 2:25PM

Annual per-capita consumption of bottled water in the United States peaked at 29 gallons two years ago. It dropped 3.2% in 2008 and is expected to decline again. Industry people cite the economy, says a report at MSNBC.

“We don’t think that anti-bottled-water activists have had any impact,” said Tom Lauria, spokesman for the International Bottled Water Association. “People love their bottled water.”

But we wonder if something else isn’t afoot. Are people seeing how wasteful it is to pay for a product they can get at home at no extra cost -- you’re already paying a water bill whether you drink the water or not -- as well as the environmental impact?

 

Why wouldn’t you drink water from home? Many bottled-water companies think tap water is acceptable. “Turns out about 45% of the bottled variety comes from municipal taps, although companies usually do additional filtering before sealing it up in clear plastic bottles,” MSN Money’s Catherine Holahan reported.

 

I don’t drink bottled water unless it’s the only alternative, such as at a public event on a hot day or when my personal supply of tap water brought from home in a reusable container has run out. My frugal DNA won't let me waste money and add so much trash to the landfill -- by one count, 38 billion bottles are tossed each year. My annual estimated consumption: four bottles, about the same as soda pop.

 

The MSNBC story notes some remarkable changes in attitudes:

  • State governments in Virginia, New York and Illinois prohibit the purchase of bottled water for state offices and public events. Some local governments have followed suit, including the Arlington County Board in Virginia.
    In a resolution, the board said that the transport of single-serving bottled water “involves burning massive quantities of fossil fuels.” Millions of such bottles are not recycled, (and) they have become “a prime source of litter and pollution in the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers,” the board noted.
  • Bottled water is no longer allowed in the workplace at Google and Cisco.
  • Many well-known high-end restaurants, including Mario Batali’s Del Posto, are serving tap water now.
  • Big water bottlers Nestlé, Coke and Pepsi have introduced new bottles that use less plastic.
  • Some communities have taken steps to protect their water supply from big extractors.

Environmental organizations have questioned the industry’s claims about bottled water’s purity. The MSNBC story says:

Congress held hearings on safety regulation of bottled water over the summer, and the Government Accountability Office issued a report that revealed current FDA rules don’t require certified laboratories for water testing of bottled water or public disclosure of quality and contaminants found in bottled water as EPA rules do for tap water.

Have you changed your bottled-water consumption over concern about either the cost or the environmental impact?

 

Related reading:

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