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Hidden costs of bottled water lead to discouraged consumption

Friday, September 28, 2007 | 4:00 p.m. CDT; updated 7:58 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Americans have tried banning booze.

They’ve tried limiting the sales of soft drinks in schools.

And now, some folks are doing their best to limit the sale of (gulp) water.

The Missourian ran a summary of those efforts in the Sept. 21 edition. The mayors of San Francisco and Salt Lake City don’t want employees using city funds to buy water. Some of the fanciest restaurants in the country have dropped bottled water from their menus. And Nerinx Hall High School in St. Louis has stopped the sale of water in vending machines.

What on earth could be wrong with water?

That’s just it, opponents say: It is about the water and the Earth.

We have perfectly good tap water that’s at least as safe as bottled water. In fact, the regulations governing tap water are tougher than the regs covering bottled water.

Tap water costs pennies a glass, and yet we spend big bucks to buy it by the bottle, when much of it is tap water, too. Some of it may have been run through extra filters to clean up the taste, but in blind taste tests, people often can’t tell the difference.

Then there’s the oil we use to make the bottles — 47 million gallons of it for our water bottles each year, according to Food and Water Watch, a Washington, D.C., environmental group.

And most of those bottles aren’t being recycled, adding to the landfill instead. Then we’re using oil to transport the bottles ...

Well, before this column spontaneously combusts and someone has to throw (tap) water on it, I’ll stop there.

Of course millions of gallons of oil are consumed making and hauling the plastic bottles used for tons of soft drinks we consume each year. And you know we’re always better off drinking water than a soda — even a diet soda.

Well, let’s stop and think this through and try to be reasonable. When it comes to water, what should we do?

1. Encourage the use of reusable containers. Which is what the administrators at Nerinx Hall High did. They gave every student a water bottle and encouraged her to refill it at the water fountains.

Now, we know it’s a lot easier to toss and buy new than reuse — and so counter to our commercial culture — but if we keep at it, if we work to remind ourselves, if we make campaigns about it, more and more people will BTOWB — bring their own water bottle.

2. Accept that some people are going to buy water. And don’t treat them like criminals. After all, they’re not smoking crack. As long as people know what they’re buying — with accurate labels on the bottles indicating the source of the water — and are willing to pay the price, I don’t think they’re doing such a horrid thing. What’s horrid is that we don’t make it easier to recycle the bottles.

We’re doing better in Columbia. Recycling containers are easier and easier to spot. But on a recent trip through Iowa and Minnesota, I visited a number of rest stops and gasoline stations that did not have recycling bins, and that made no sense at all.

I’ve found various figures on the Internet, but it looks as if we recycle anywhere from 14 to 24 percent of the bottles we use. That’s a shame when there’s a huge demand for the plastic and no place for bottles in our landfills.

When you think that 5,000 bottles of water are sold at each MU football game, that more than 8,000 bottles of water were sold at one of the Mizzou Market spots and the Brady Food Court combined in August, you can see how changes in behavior — just changes in recycling habits — could make a big difference in a lot of trash. Repeat that across the country, and the results would be more than a drop in the bucket.

Mary Lawrence teaches editing at the Missouri School of Journalism.


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Comments

Jaason Sto September 29, 2007 | 5:15 p.m.

The making of bottled water produces pollution, the transportation of the bottles produces pollution, once the bottles are filled they are then trucked all over our earth this creates a a lot of pollution, they are then put into fridges to keep them cold this takes a lot of energy and that creates pollution, the consumption of bottled water takes money away from the municipal water supply, the plastic bottles end up polluting our landfills and waterways, it takes more water to make the bottle than what goes into it, the plastic leaches chemicals into the water, its been proven, recycling of unnecessary plastic bottles not only takes a lot of energy but you also pay for it in tax hikes to cover the costs, 80% of the recycled material goes back to china on a boat that creates pollution. It is absolutely unbelievable that anyone can sanction the use of bottled water when its not an emergency. Anyone who does is self centered and has no accounting to his fellow citizen!

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