Goal Green


Water: The Most Squandered Resource
August 21, 2007, 8:43 am
Filed under: Resources, water

There is a recent article I found particularly interesting and relevant that I just wanted to share. An editorial piece in the NY Times covered the problem of drinking water in the first world. Sound ironic? It is; in fact many people fail to realize that the U.S., among most other first world nations, has a supply of excellent grade tap water. Most of us walk into grocery stores to scour the most fancy, expensive bottled water. The fact of the matter is that Poland Spring and similar companies are robbing consumers blind. This is not a ploy for revolution, these are just facts that most of us overlook because a dollar or two is not an inconvenience.

At the realm of Poland Spring is Nestle Inc., a firm that owns about one-third of the bottled drinking water in the U.S., distributed using over 70 different brand names. Generally this water comes from the same “springs” that our tap water comes from. The only difference is that the company’s filtration systems are believed to be less regulated than our public water’s. This is not an issue which I have researched in depth, nor is it of particular importance to the following argument. If, however, you are interested in comparing the quality of tap water as compared to bottled, a good place to start is here.

Taking our attention back to the individual suppliers of water, there is further evidence that we are buying marked up tap. Coke and Pepsi’s Dasani and Aquafina are derived from filtered tap water. These two brands make up roughly 24% of the water we buy; all at astronomical prices. Even though the water is filtered, in the U.S., tap water is already filtered and some argue that tap water undergoes regulations that are stricter than bottled waters’. In essence, Coke and Pepsi are filtering there water for marketing purposes. The only difference is that you receive a nice piece of plastic that you can give back to the environment.

Looking at the issue economically, I was astonished to find that bottled water is more expensive than just about any liquid we use. Let’s compare bottled water to our precious oil; while we gasp at the thought of $4 gallons of gas, a gallon of Evian water is upwards of $20. Think about all of the processes that go into creating gasoline from oil. Well, we are paying five times that much for something we already get at home for close to free. As one reporter puts it, “the buyers don’t even know the source… Evian spelled backwards is Naive.”

Further, let’s take one of the biggest U.S. consumers of bottled water, California. While most love to enjoy a cold bottle of Fiji or Evian, San Franciscan municipal water is probably much cleaner. Since it flows from Yosemite Park, the EPA doesn’t even require the city to filter it. At the same time, as one article puts it;

“If you bought and drank a bottle of Evian, you could refill that bottle once a day for 10 years, 5 months, and 21 days with San Francisco tap water before that water would cost $1.35 [the price of a bottle of Evian]. Put another way, if the water we use at home cost what even cheap bottled water costs, our monthly water bills would run $9,000.”

While all of those may seem convincing enough to fill up in the kitchen sink rather than running to a store on a sunny afternoon, many will still have another argument; the taste! I, for one, feel a difference in taste with every new glass of water. However, in blind taste tests conducted with 8 different sources of bottled water, an overwhelming majority of people could not tell the difference. Even more surprising, the CEO of San Pellegrino, was asked if he can pick out his brand of water out of fewer than ten samples. The man that boasted about the freshness and crispness of his brand took 5 tries to get it right! The trick here is simple, most tap water will taste identical to bottled as long as it is at the same temperature.

My last argument for tap water is one that has been on the minds of politicians as of late. As the world spends $50 billion dollars on bottled water a year (with the U.S. being in the lead), governments are starting to rethink their spending policies. If most people do not drink tap water, then the government will stop funding it. While the majority of us will be able to just continue only buying bottled water, those who can’t afford it will start to get sick. There is no reason to go down that path, ignoring one of the greatest luxuries we have.

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