Peter H. Gleick, Bottled and Sold; The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2010), 211pp.
Before you grab your next bottled water, consider this: "every second of every day in the United States, a thousand people buy and open up a plastic bottle of commercially produced water, and every second of every day in the United States, a thousand plastic bottles are thrown away. Eighty-five million bottles a day. More than thirty billion bottles a year. . . And for every bottle consumed in the United States, another four are consumed around the world." Our obsession with bottled water, says Peter Gleick, is symptomatic of larger problems, too, like the demise of public water systems, marketing, consumerism, and especially the difference between viewing water as a basic human right for all as opposed to a privately produced and controlled good sold for private profit.
Gleick documents the aggressive (and spurious) attacks against tap water, along with the conflicting claims about its safety. He explains the difference between the "source" of a bottle of water and its "brand." Arctic Clear water, for example, comes from Bartlett, Tennessee, and Coca-Cola's Dasani water comes from tap water. Taste tests repeatedly show that consumers cannot distinguish tap from bottled water, and yet the power of advertising, marketing, fraudulent health claims, misleading labels, and convenience push us to purchase throwaway plastic bottles. Those bottles might be "recyclable," as their labels claim, but as Gleick shows in one of his best chapters, that's far different than being truly "recycled."
The good news is that "the war on bottled water has begun and the cachet of bottled water is slowly being replaced with embarrassment and discomfort." Many municipalities, businesses, churches and schools now refuse to purchase bottled water. In 2008 sales of bottled water dropped for the first time ever. A number of so-called "ethical" bottled waters have emerged, and Gleick is cautiously optimistic about them. Ethos Water, founded in 2003 and then purchased by Starbucks in 2005, contributes 5 cents for every bottled water sold to non-profit water projects. Starbucks says that has amounted to million so far, and Gleick observes that if every company did the same for the 30 billion liters of bottled water sold in a single year, over jumi.5 billion would go to non-profit water projects. Each one of us, though, can begin today and follow the advice of Nancy Reagan: "just say no" to bottled water.