A 280,000% Mark Up For... Water? A Look Inside The Bottled Water Industry
Imagine there was a time when bottled water didn't exist in our catalog of popular commodities. Perhaps the trend started in 1976 when the chic French sparkling water, Perrier made its introduction. There it was seductively bottled in its emerald green glass amongst the era of disco and the spectacle of excesses... who could resist right?! What could be more decadent than to package, sell and consume what most consider (in the western world) a common human right easily supplied through a home faucet! It’s absurd that the cost of designer water is at a "280,000% markup" to your tap water and it's reaching record heights in consumption.
15 The Beginning of the Insanity
It wasn't until the 1990s when bottled H2O became an everyday common sight and a symbol of our cultural desire towards fitness and "health-consciousness". Even today health enthusiasts claim drinking water often helps to "detox and boost the metabolism!"
There have been controversies about chemicals leeching into the water from the soft plastic material of bottles, but the FDA determined the containers "do not pose a health risk to consumers." IBISWorld reports that the "U.S. is the largest consumer for bottled water in the world, followed by Mexico, China, and Brazil".
14 The Bottled Water Scheme
Regular drinking water competes with itself in a bottle, but reviewing the cost difference, you've got to wonder why or how? As for the water piped into your home or work place, it costs less than one penny per gallon! Fairfax Water organization, (FCWA) states, "The average price of water in the U.S. is about $1.50 for 1,000 gallons."
Let's look at your favorite 20 oz. bottled H2O, it will run you up to $3 per bottle at the corner convenience store and up to $4 at a posh restaurant or nightclub. If you buy bulk at Costo or other markets, the price averages are .31 cents per bottle, but that still remains enormously expensive when compared to tap water. Granted many don't like tap water quality, but modern technology allows for an array of water filters.
In the mid-1990s, soda companies found that the niche market for bottled water could be huge, why not? The profits were obvious! Pepsi and Coca-Cola jumped into a race with their brands Aquafina and Dasani; they led the way to making bottled water what it is today.
13 What's in an Ad?
It appears people really love their bottled water, today there are dozens of brands and that merits big advertising! The Huffington Post stated that in 2013 Americans drank 58 gallons of bottled water per capita!
With the help of advertisements, bottled water has gone from "reservoir to faddish luxury item to mass commodity." Bottled H2O is being directly or indirectly sold as: healthy, smart, pure, sexy, clean and simple, it is "the stuff of life." Ad slogans go like this, Dasani by Coca-Cola: "Treat yourself well. Everyday." Volvic: "Fills you with volcanicity." Aquafina by Pepsi-Cola: "So pure, we promise nothing." Arrowhead by Mountain Spring Water, USA: "Arrowhead. It's Better Up Here!" Evian: "Approved by your body as a source of youth." Pure Life by Nestle: "DRINK BETTER. LIVE BETTER."
No matter how much emotion an advertisements conjures, be it love, fear or rage, in the end water is just water whether bottled or tap. The difference is only in taste, and Evian has to be the only one tastier than tap water, but that's only if tap water hasn't been filtered. "Taste comes from negligible amounts of minerals" and filtered tap water removes minerals and chemicals rendering it with no hint of aftertaste, even at room temperature and most importantly the "2 hydrogen to 1 oxygen" part of water we need never changes.
12 The Costs: Beyond Money
It’s absurd that the cost of designer water is at a "280,000% markup" to your tap water and it's reaching record heights in consumption. The comforting illusion of better water (bottled water) requires a lot of resource to manufacture and merchandise. The industry requires the cost of natural rivers and streams, semi-truck exhaust and diesel fuel, packaging, labeling, pollution of non-biodegradable plastic and the managing of recycling centers.
If you visit a gas station store or grocery store, you're bound to see that a full third of all cold beverages on sale are bottled water. The Sierra Club explains, “Annually the water bottles themselves take about 1.5 million tons of plastic to manufacture for the global market.” Did you know plastics come from oil and therefore it takes 1.5 million barrels of oil a year?
Additionally the manufacturing process releases toxins into the environment, such as nickel, ethylbenzene, ethylene oxide and benzene. Even with current plastic recycling centers, “most used bottles end up in landfills, adding to the landfill crisis."
11 What About Health and Safely?
There are relatively few regulations on what bottled water contains. The Natural Resources Defense Council's scientific study showed over 1/3 of the tested brands contain contaminants like arsenic and carcinogenic compounds. Scientists agreed though that the contaminants were negligible amounts and all of the bottled water was safe to drink, but importantly the study clearly showed how "bottled water purity" can be misleading.
On the World Health Organization's (WHO) website, they claimed many Europeans believe natural mineral waters have medicinal or health properties. Although WHO didn't find evidence to support the mineral water benefits. Many researchers conclude that the benefits of bottled water are based mainly on a common misconception.
A large majority of consumers drink bottled water because they believe it has better health benefits, as well as better taste. Interestingly the Environmental News Network reported, on the TV show Good Morning America, a taste test revealed that NYC tap water was chosen as the favorite over the oxygenated water 02, Poland Spring and Evian!
10 Reviewing Ecosystems
Corporations like Coca-cola, Nestle, Pepsi, Evian and Fiji Water are making billions of dollars on water. Many people are unhappy with their practices, such as sucking up spring water from underground aquifers that are the source of water for nearby streams, wells, and farms.
In Mecosta County, Michigan, Nestle was court-ordered to stop taking spring water as it proved threatening to the surrounding ecosystem. They have around 75 springs in the U.S. and are actively searching to take on more. They own water rights in Aurora County, Colorado, in which they’ve built a diversion of water to the Arkansas River to replace water there, which they are siphoning from underground aquifers that would normally feed into that river.
What's important about the aquifers is that they safely store precious water underground throughout Colorado during the dry seasons. Sarah Olson, producer of the documentary 'Tapped,' notes, "Nestle has a history of pumping more water than its permits allow." She claims the situation is difficult to monitor and easy for Nestle to take advantage of. Aquifers are significant to the state's community survival, especially with current warming climate trends.
9 Nestles' Monopoly
In order to sell and make money from water you have to own or lease the land to which it's found. Nestle has contracts with various small towns for which they own water rights; these towns are often also small in capital and influence. Are we in the U.S. not thinking about the bigger picture?
Nestle's powerful army of scientists, PR consultants, lawyers and lobbyists allow them to stifle and suppress local opposition to its operations. In California, it took 6 years for the tiny town of McCloud to defeat Nestles plans to build a facility and take 1,250 gallons per minute of Mount Shasta spring water. Nestle then swiftly moved its plan to Sacramento with more success, ‘The Sacramento News and Review' reported that Michelle Smira, one of the mayor's top volunteer advisors, "stepped down to run her consulting business, MMS Strategies. Guess who her big client was? That would be Nestle."
Evidently she was hired by Nestle Waters to win the "hearts and minds, and gain building permits" for the controversial water bottling facility. Sacramento exists currently in a drought and residents are asked to conserve water, all-the-while Nestle by contract has no limit on how much water they can pump, they're on a flat rate. The City Councilmember Kevin McCarty calculated "their profits margin will be roughly 10,000 percent!"
8 Nestle As The Multinational
In Pakistan, Nestle controls a town’s water supply, forcing local residents to dig deeper for any non-polluted water that remains or they must pay Nestle’s high price to get their water back. In the documentary film 'Bottled Life', director Res Gehriger explains that in the U.S. and E.U., Nestle mainly sells spring water in the location that it originates. Although in developing countries, it's gone another route by extracting local water and enriching it with minerals. This bottled water is the company’s Pure Life brand, it’s the top-selling bottled water brand internationally.
Filmmaker, Gehriger was prevented from entering into Pakistan’s bottling facility, although he researched the area and found that the water levels had indeed dramatically fallen. This is concerning because Pakistan's public water system is known to be failing or is "close to collapse."
Pure Life is harvested, manufactured and marketed locally, but it's price is too high for the natives to afford. In places like Nigeria, where Nestle has also set up camp, African families spend half their salaries on water. Only the very wealthy can afford to purchase Nestle's Pure Life.
7 The Case of Nestle/Perrier in Brazil
France's bottled mineral water Perrier made it's debut in the 1770s, but by 1990 the company ran into trouble when it was tested in a U.S. lab, and the carcinogen, Benzene was found. Soon after in 1992, Nestle bought Perrier and today the green emerald bottle sells in 140 counties worldwide. Nestle also since acquired Poland Spring, San Pellegrino and numerous other bottled water brands.
Nestle/Perrier, the corporation opened a bottling plant in Sao Lourenco, Brazil. The area is well known for its, "water circuits, and it's has the country's most historic sources of mineral water. This was perfect for the Nestle/Perrier's Pure Life brand, as the natural spring had what many believed to be healing minerals. But natives accused the company of over-pumping and drying up the local waters.
Then a member of the International Free Water Academy, Franklin Frederick said, "If the water is pumped in quantities greater than nature can replace it, its mineral content will gradually decrease, bringing the change in taste that we were noticing". In 2006, four years later, the Federal Government found Nestle/Perrier in violation of constitutional prohibitions on de-mineralizing water; they were stopped and fined.
6 It's All About The Filter!
The thing about tap water is it's treated with chlorine to kill bacteria. The other part of the treatment is a filtration process, which is more or less the same as what the bottled water company’s use. Tap water is good and safe to drink, that's unless there’s fracking in your state, then there’s fracking fluid seeping into the ground and that can't be good!
If you don't care for the taste or "feel" of chlorine coming through your tap, then it can be removed easily enough with a filter. In fact, a Brita water filter works wonders and if you'd like to keep the skin on your face soft and younger looking, fill a washbasin with home filtered water and wash you face! Also to save money, keep the Brita filters longer than the company recommends, it just the tap water will drain through the filter a bit slower.
We wouldn't recommend walking about with a big Brita jug and chugging from it, like in the image. Instead, consider getting those Aluminum Water Bottles that are quite inexpensive and come in various sizes; they'll last forever!
5 California's Water
Water and water rights is an on going political issue for The Golden State. It holds 30 million people and there are over 5,680,000 acres of agricultural farmland. The question California rubs up against, is whether to increase the redistribution of water to agricultural and urban sectors, or increase conservation and preserve the natural ecosystems of the water sources.
The majority of California’s water supply (75%) comes from north of Sacramento, while 80% of the water feeds the southern 2/3rds of the state. We've mention that Nestle has a legal grip on a large portion of Sacramento water, and the city is battling it out after realizing in hindsight that they agreed to more than they should give. The farming industry is huge in California and 80-85% of all its water is being used for agricultural purposes.
The Los Angeles Aqueduct carries water from the Eastern Sierra Nevada down to Los Angeles. The drinking water quality has less chlorine and is noticeably "softer" nearer to its source. Although controversial, 30% of all public water providers in the state, fluoridate their water.
4 Is It or Is It Not?!
There’s a good chance that fancy water you’ve just forked out a couple bucks for comes from the same place, a municipal water supply! Yes, there's an estimated 25% of bottled water that actually comes from the municipal water supply. Of course the water goes through a filtering process, like reverse osmosis, deionization, activated carbon filtration and other treatments.
Look at the label carefully, does it read "purified" or "drinking water"? If so, chances are it is from a municipal water supply, and unless the water has been “substantially” altered, it’s required to be stated on the label, that the water’s from a municipal source.
Here's a list of bottled waters which are from municipal sources: Pepsi's Aquafina, Coke’s Dasani, and now it looks like Nestle's Ice Mountain Natural Spring Water is up in the air with a class action lawsuit for a document revealing a 5 gal water bottle that was defined by Nestle as, "municipal water and/or well water" processed by Nestle's treatment plants and repackaged with images of pristine glacial lakes and mountains.
3 Should Water Be Privatized?
Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, is the CEO and current Chairman of the $65 million Nestle Corporation. In a youtube video he describes that people's access to water as being a basic human right is "extreme". He also argues that the water supply ought to have a market value and be privatized, "because people have a sense of entitlement that causes them to waste copious amounts of water."
This would mean the price we pay today for our home tap would be small in comparison. Corporations like Nestle, Pepsi and Coca-cola are pining to buy up or lease land and water rights globally, some of us in the end could be obligated to their fees!
Brabeck-Letmathe is quoted in The Guardian saying that he would allow people a limited amount of water as a human right, and this would be, "five liters of water for daily hydration and 25 liters for minimum hygiene and he would charge for the remainder of the 98.5% of the water if used." What would happen to the poor who cannot afford to pay these said corporations? Should they suffer from starvation due to their lack of financial wealth?
2 Water Wars?
With climate change, it seems that reports show droughts are our new reality. Mark Twain wrote, “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over”. Water seems to be everywhere, but throughout history it's always been a precious resource.
The water source taken from the Colorado River is divided up for U.S. states, and they’re running at abnormally low water levels. The river feeds the upper states (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming) and then it delivers a certain amount of water to the Lower Basin (New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada). An early provision also allows California and its rapidly growing coastal cities to grab excess water coming off the Colorado River, but since Arizona and Nevada cities have expanded, the surplus has disappeared and California is left with no water.
If the Nestle’s Colorado bottled water operation doesn’t appear totally irrational, consider CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe strict ideas on water rights. It kind of all falls into place, his reasoning behind “water privatization”. Nestle knows first hand as they pine for water around the world that the golden source is getting precarious.
1 End the Insanity!
The Goethe University at Frankfurt conducted another study: they found that a high percentage of the bottled water contained in plastic containers was polluted with estrogenic chemicals.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a U.S. research and advocacy organization that acts as a watchdog on behalf of citizens. They report, "Unlike tap water, where consumers are provided with test results every year, the bottled water industry is not required to disclose results of contaminant testing it conducts." They felt the water bottle industry is not held to the same safety standards of tap water. Their tests revealed 10 brands that had pollutants, including not only disinfection byproducts, but also common urban wastewater pollutants like caffeine and pharmaceuticals (Tylenol); heavy metals and minerals including arsenic and radioactive isotopes; fertilizer residue (nitrate and ammonia); and a broad range of other, tentatively identified industrial chemicals used as solvents, plasticizers, viscosity decreasing agents, and propellants.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is a U.S. non-profit, non-partisan international environmental advocacy group and in 1999 they tested 22% of brands and at least one sample of bottled drinking water contained chemical contaminants at levels above strict FDA health limits. What can we do to drink with confidence? Buy a good filter and use it!
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