Ten controversial issues re:bottled water
Several CT members have commented on the use of bottled water and what they consider a rip-off. This article may help back up their opinions:
Polaris Institute airs ten controversial issues concerning bottled water.
Dateline: Saturday, February 19, 2005
by Tony Clarke
1. Price Gouging What kind of price mark-ups do we find in the bottled water market?
Single serving bottles of water range in price from $1.00 to $1.75 US, by contrast the same amount of tap water costs a fraction of this price. The US Natural Resources Defense Council has estimated that bottled water is between 240 and 10,000 times more expensive than tap water. For Coca-Cola or Pepsi, who draw the water for their products directly from municipal taps, this price mark-up is astonishing. But it is even more shocking in the case of Danone or Nestlé because they pay little or nothing for the water they take out of groundwater streams and aquifers.
2. Water Takings When the label on the bottle says "pure spring water," where does the water really come from, who owns it, and how is it regulated?
In the US, bottled water companies are not required by law to disclose the source and geographical location of their water takings on their labels. In Canada they are, but only for takings from underground water. Water takings are also largely unregulated in both countries, where there are more laws governing surface waters than there are for groundwater. Where groundwater regulations do exist, they differ, often dramatically from state-to-state and from province-to province. As a result of the lax regulatory environment, bottled water labels are often very misleading.
3. Transforming Water What kinds of filtering and processing methods do companies use to turn "real" water into bottled water? What's the difference between bottled water and tap water?
The Big-4 bottled water companies imply their elaborate "proprietary" treatment processes are the justification for the higher cost of their products. Yet, unlike other raw materials such as timber, minerals, oil, and gas, which are transformed into identifiably new products, bottled water is, simply water transformed into water. The industry's treatment processes do not guarantee that bottled water is safer than tap water; in fact, a number of studies have demonstrated that bottled water is often less safe than tap water. Consider that one treatment process uses bromate, which is considered to be a carcinogen.
4. Contaminating Water What evidence is there to support the industry's claim that bottled water is superior to tap water?
The International Bottled Water Association proclaims that bottled water is superior to tap water. Yet several peer-reviewed scientific studies have found disturbing concentrations of toxic ingredients such as arsenic and mercury in their bottled water samplings. When Coca-Cola launched its Dasani product in the UK in March 2004, it had to withdraw nearly half a million bottles due to bromate contamination. Bottling plants face inspections only once every 3-to-6 years depending on the country and regulations governing tap water are often stricter than those governing bottled water.
5. Marketing Schemes What kinds of marketing and advertising schemes are used by the companies to sell what is really "water transformed into water"?
The tagline for Pepsi's Aquafina says it all: "So pure we promise nothing." Through relentless advertising, the Big-4 companies have turned bottled water into "America's most affordable status symbol". Using images that evoke "activity," "health," "relaxation," "pureness and "replenishment", the bottled water giants dupe consumers into buying something that largely exists in an imaginary environment. Industry slogans like "get hydrated or die" expose internal corporation contradictions such as the fact that the same companies that sell dehydrating soft drinks are promoting bottled water as a solution to dehydration.
6. Eco-Threatening What environmental damage is caused by the escalating use and disposal of plastic bottles?
Bottled water containers labeled with images of pristine natural environments are rapidly becoming a major threat to the environment and to our health. These containers release highly dangerous toxic chemicals and contaminants into the air and water when they are manufactured, and again when they are burned or buried. Yet these same plastics packages are becoming the fastest-growing form of municipal solid waste in the US and Canada.
7. Recycling Record What is the track record of the Big-4 when it comes to recycling?
Recycling rates for plastic bottles has been in steady decline since 1995, despite the explosion in plastic-bottle use. Not only has the industry promoted the shift from glass to plastic containers, and failed to live up to promises about using more recycled material in their containers, they actively oppose legislation aimed at improving recycling rates for plastic bottles, and requiring beverage container deposits. More sinister still is their use of a deceptive logo on their products that misleads consumers into thinking the product can be recycled, when the opposite is often true.
8. Manipulating Consumers Why are people turning from tap water to bottled water? What's really fuelling this new bottled water culture?
Ten years ago, most people relied on their municipal system for all their drinking water. Today close to one-fifth of the population in Canada and the US drinks bottled water exclusively ? demonstrating how extraordinarily successful the industry has been in luring people away from tap water. The industry is surgical in its targeting of the young, the affluent, the athletic, and the hip. It capitalizes on North America's fear and fashion factors to convince consumers to purchase its' products.
9. School Contracting What marketing devices have the bottled water companies used in cash-strapped schools, colleges, and universities?
Across the US and Canada, there is now a growing number of kindergarten to grade 12 schools, universities, and colleges that have signed contracts with Pepsi or Coca-Cola. "Exclusive beverage contracts", give these companies long-term high profit access to students in captive environments. Skilful management of these exclusivity contracts turn students into life-long consumers of their products. Resistance to the deals or competition is made nearly futile under secretive contracts that are cloaked from public scrutiny.
10. Water Privatizing What role and impact does the bottled water industry have on the privatization of public water utilities?
The world's largest for-profit water service corporations have set their sights on North America: Suez and Vivendi, (now Veolia) from France and RWE-Thames from Germany are eager to deliver privatized waters services, and companies like these are targeting the home/office bottled water market. The bottled water industry's marketing of "safe, clean water" undermines citizen's confidence in public water systems, and paves the way for the water companies to take over under-funded local utilities. In return, public willingness to pay premium prices for bottled water enables water service corporations to establish a top dollar price.
For more information or to order copies of Tony Clark's latest book, Inside the Bottle email to the address below. The cost of the book is $15 CDN + shipping (or $13 US + shipping).
Tony Clarke is the director of the Polaris Institute in Canada which works with citizen movements to develop new tools for democratic social change. As chair of the committee on corporations for the International Forum on Globalization, he works with social movements around the world on the theme of challenging corporate rule. He has served as the national chair of the Action Canada Network, and social policy director for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. He has a doctoral degree from the University of Chicago in the field of social ethics. Tony Clarke's publications include The Emergence of Corporate Rule ? And What We Can Do About It and Behind the Mitre: The Moral Leadership Crisis in the Canadian Catholic Church.
\"All great truths begin as blasphemies.\" George Bernard Shaw