I have a confession to make. I invented bottled water. Not the fancy, sparkly Perrier kind. The tap water in a bottle kind.
It happened long ago, when I was on my way back from Mexico. My friends and I had gone to Rocky Point, a particularly hot and humid location along Mexico’s coast. On our way back to Tempe, AZ, we found ourselves truly dying of thirst. We stopped at a lonely gas station with a drink vending machine. I looked at my soft drink choices and said, “All I want is water. I wish they had water for sale in here. I’d buy it.” This led my friends and me to a discussion. Who would buy water in a bottle when you can get it for free (essentially) at your tap every day? We figured no one would be that stupid and my idea evaporated into the moment.
Apparently I could have been very, very rich today. The Beverage Marketing Corp keeps up with sales figures for bottled water. In 2011, 9.1 billion gallons of water were sold. Charles Fishman did some math for me (thank you, Mr. Fishman) and found “that comes to 222 bottles of water for each person in the country.” Revenue for bottled water in 2011 reached $21.7 BILLION. Yep. I could have been rich and driving in my very own Dodge Challenger today!
But my fortune would have been accompanied by a heaping dose of good old-fashioned Catholic guilt (thanks, mom!). First is the guilt of producing something packaged in plastic bottles. (For the record, I do recycle my recyclables, but only 31% of all water bottles make it to recycling. The rest are piling up in our landfills.) Second, I would have the knowledge I am charging people an obscene amount of money for the water – it cost 1,900 times more for bottled water than tap water! Then there is the fact I am draining the aquifers on which communities depend. I take the water from their aquifers and ship the water to other parts of the country, their water never to be returned to their water cycle. Finally, every one liter of bottled water I produced would require three liters of water to make. Not necessarily very water conservation minded.
However, the true guilt comes from having learned about the water crisis facing our planet. We are so fortunate in the USA. We turn on our tap and expect water to come out. When it doesn’t, we aren’t happy and immediately call the public utilities office or the plumber. If we are concerned our tap water is too icky, we drive to a store and purchase flats of water to transport back to our homes – where we already have a faucet waiting to bestow clean water. We typically drive over four miles to pick up our conveniently packaged water. We might complain about how heavy it is, how much it costs, etc.*
Compare our situation to other places in the world. Women and children walk four miles every day to a dirty well, waste filled river, or shrinking puddle to get their water. They carry an average of 44 pounds of water on their backs or heads to deliver to their families. They use an average of five-gallons of water per day for drinking, bathing, and cleaning. We buy a five-gallon barrel of water to set in our kitchen by a refrigerator that dispenses cold water and ice.
I am not willing to say bottled water is an evil as others might. I realize there is a place and time for it. And it sure would have been a much appreciated alternative in the vending machine on the way back from Mexico. But, as the inventor of bottled water, I do ask everyone to appreciate your accessibility to water. Do not take it for granted. Be aware of it, appreciate it, and take action to care for it.
Laurie Loftin-Education Program Specialist
*Watch this video to hear some other complaints people in the U.S. have. This may make water appear – from your eyes.
Originally posted on waterconservationstation.blogspot.com, 10/23/12