Dec 082009
Authors: Erik Anderson

“How did we get to the point where we’re paying for bottled water? That must have been some weird marketing meeting over in France. Some French guy’s sitting there like, ‘How dumb do I think the Americans are? I bet you we could sell those idiots water.’”

That’s a little humor from Jim Gaffigan, but it’s not so far from the truth.

In reality, it was Frenchman Gustave Leven who convinced American Bruce Nevins to bring Perrier, a carbonated mineral water packaged in glass bottles, to the American market in 1978.

Today, an average American drinks almost 30 gallons of bottled water a year, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, mostly from clear plastic bottles – about 50 billion clear plastic bottles, to be exact.

Go to your refrigerator and grab a bottle of water, if you have one. Dump out the water. You haven’t just wasted one bottle of water, but actually three. For every liter of water that is bottled, two are wasted during the filtration process.

Now fill it up a quarter of the way full with oil. That is approximately how much energy was required to get that bottle of water to your refrigerator. The Pacific Institute estimates that 17 million barrels of oil a year are required to package and deliver bottled water, enough to run one million cars for a year.

And please recycle the bottle. Only 20 percent of bottles are recycled, while 38 billion bottles wind up in a landfill where they will stay for the next 1,000 years.

Not only is bottled water unbelievably wasteful, it costs 250 to 10,000 times more than tap water, depending on the brand. And what do you get for it?

If you think you get cleaner, healthier water, you might be wrong.

Standards for tap water, set by the EPA, are more stringent than FDA regulations for bottled water, which it regulates as a food. For example, tap water cannot contain any traces of E. coli or fecal coliform bacteria. The FDA has no such provisions for bottled water.

Of course, if a batch of bottled water turned out to be contaminated, it would be recalled. There have been 100 such recalls since 1990 for mold, benzene, microbes and coliform.

The testing of bottled water in multiple studies has found bacterial or chemical contaminants, including carcinogens, at levels above state or industry standards. Twenty percent of bottled water has more chlorine than allowed by California state standards, according to a study by the Environmental Working Group.

And, in a recent study from Goethe University in Germany, water bottles made from PET plastics, the plastics marked with a No. 1 recycling code, leached estrogen-like compounds into the water, which could cause developmental problems in fetuses and children and reproductive disorders in adults. The study comes on the heels of others that have shown bisphenol A (BPA), a compound found in non-disposable plastic bottles, can cause similar problems.

But maybe you just prefer the taste of bottled water to tap water.

Bruce Nevins, the man who introduced America to bottled water, couldn’t identify his own brand of bottled water in a blind taste test with six others on a live radio show. Of the seven samples, he took five guesses to pinpoint his own.

I challenge you to try a taste test yourself. (Just so you know, in Fort Collins you’ll be going up against some of the purest water in the world.) If you can’t tell the difference, stop buying bottled water.

 Posted by at 9:01 am

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