Bottled water is a masquerade. It promises health but returns harm; it offers cleanliness but begets filthiness. Bottled water has duped an ignorant audience.

Credit: Jesse Wagstaff via Flickr

A majority of plastic water bottles do not make it into recycling bins, and accumulate needlessly in our landfills.

Bottling the Waterfall

Multinational corporations privatize, bottle, market and sell water. According to Frank I. Salazar, the bottled water industry is growing at a whopping 8-10% annually, twice as fast as other beverages. In 2004, 14 billion gallons of water were bottled worldwide. In the U.S. alone, bottled water comprised a $14.9 billion dollar industry in 2005.

This constant flow of cash comes from inordinate prices. According to “The Story of Bottled Water,” bottled water commonly sells for 5 cents per ounce, almost a 10,000-fold increase over tap water – the equivalent of a $10,000 sandwich. What’s the irony? Many times, “purified” bottled water is only re-labeled tap water.

Behind the Curtain

Some accuse these multinational corporations of pilfering to make a buck. In the absence of accessible sources, some companies cart away precious local resources. For instance, according to Madeline Ostrander, citizens in Barnstead, New Hampshire struggle to prevent Nestle™ from seizing their “blue gold.”

The privatization of water has lead to another debacle: water waste. Sheltered citizens of industrialized nations naively act as if water is infinite. However, according to Peter Gleick: “The United States is facing a water crisis that will only get worse in coming years … Ogallala Aquifer and Lake Mead, which together supply water for millions … are in big danger of running dry.”

A Cheap Parlor Trick

Like snake-oil salesmen, bottled oil corporations guarantee fictional benefits from their product and rely on the placebo effect to complete their work. Bottled water is purportedly cleaner than municipal (i.e. “tap”) water, and yet it consistently fails to perform. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), based in Washington, D.C, claims, "While much tap water is indeed risky, having compared available data we conclude that there is no assurance that bottled water is any safer than tap water."

Myriads of examples corroborate this startling conclusion. In 2005, in an ironic twist of events, Fiji™ Water, after running ads bragging that their water did not originate from pollution-invested Cleveland, discovered that a glass of Fiji™ water is of lower quality Cleveland’s municipal streams. Recently, the Environmental Working Group tested 10 brands of bottled water only to discover their average number of chemical pollutants was similar to tap water.

The Plastic Menace

Most water bottles are crafted from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic. While some variations of PET are safe, others, such as PET plastic with Bisphenol A (BPA), an estrogenic compound, disturbs hormonal imbalances and may cause breast cancer, urinary problems, low testosterone in males and birth defects. The release of BPA from the plastic may be exacerbated by heat. Additionally, some plastics leach toxic dioxins when frozen. While the majority of plastics are safe for human use, many pose serious health risks.

But the biggest problem is not what plastics do, it’s where they are. Even though recyclers consistently beg for recyclable plastic bottles, very few (approx. 12-20%) are recycled. As such, landfills brim with non-degradable plastics and oil wells must pump out millions more barrels to supplement the public’s wasteful expenditures.

An Erroneous Plan

Some well-meaning mistaken pundits have begun a “tap water movement,” encouraging the consummation of unclean tap water. This is flawed. Rather, home water filters are effective devices for removing common culprits like fluoride, chlorine and mercury. Also, some bottled water brands and municipal sources (taps) are sanitary and safe.

Regardless of the source, clean water must be had. Both tap and bottled water should be spotless, saved, and safe.