Smarter Living: Shopping Wise


Photo: stacylynn/Flickr

From childhood we’re told to drink at least eight glasses of water each day. Unfortunately, more and more Americans drink those eight glasses out of plastic bottles—a convenience that stuffs landfills, clogs waterways and guzzles valuable fossil fuels.

In 2008 Americans spent more than $11 billion on 8.6 billion gallons of bottled water and then tossed more than 22 billion empty plastic bottles in the trash. Manufacturing those bottles consumed 15 million barrels of oil--and that was for just one year.

Banning the Bottle

Fortunately, since 2007, policymakers and activists have been taking steps to slow the surge in bottled water sales. At least 60 cities in the United States have stopped spending taxpayer dollars to supply municipal workers with bottled water, and New York City launched an ad campaign encouraging residents and tourists to forgo the bottled beverage for the city's tap water, long considered one of the best municipal water supplies in the country. Still, considering that the average New Yorker consumes nearly 28 gallons of bottled water each year, it's clear that the city hasn’t been doing enough to encourage residents to drink tap.

Restaurateurs throughout the country are doing their part to keep water bottles out of landfills. Upscale eateries in Boston, New York and San Francisco have taken bottled water off the menu, offering filtered tap instead. At the Italian restaurant Incanto in San Francisco, carafes used to serve filtered tap water are refilled 2,000 times on average before they are retired.

Worldwide, we are beginning to see more steps being taken to reduce the bottled water phenomenon. Across Canada, local officials have been passing legislation since 2007 to ban bottled water at council meetings, in city-owned buildings, in parks and recreational facilities and even in school vending machines. In Australia, the rural community of Bundanoon recently voted to ban the sale of bottled water throughout the town.

Although bottled water sales are still high, these efforts may be making an impact. In April 2009, National Public Radio reported that “after years of double-digit increases, bottled water sales have stopped rising.”

The Tap Water Comparison

Not only does bottled water contribute to excessive waste, but it costs us a thousand times more than water from our home faucet, and it is no safer or cleaner. "The bottled water industry spends millions of dollars a year to convince us that their product is somehow safer or healthier than tap water, when in fact that's just not true," says Victoria Kaplan, a senior organizer with Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit group that launched a Take Back the Tap campaign in 2007 to get consumers to ditch bottled water. "As much as 40 percent of bottled water started out as the same tap water that we get at home," she adds. A 1999 Natural Resources Defense Council study found that, with required quarterly testing, tap water may even be of higher quality than bottled, which is tested only annually.

Noting that the federal share of funding for water systems has declined from 78 percent in 1973 to 3 percent today, Kaplan urges consumers to "support public policies that promote safe, affordable, public tap water for future generations." Visit Food & Water Watch and take the pledge to take back the tap. Choose tap water over bottled whenever possible, and support policies that promote clean public tap water for everybody. And for sipping on the go, invest in a reusable bottle.

last revised 8/23/2011

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