If you want to make a commitment to the environment nothing seems easier than deciding to abstain from bottled water. If everyone did it–just said no to drinking out of the 15- or 20-ounce bottles, even when they are offered for free with your meal or at an event–it would have an impact in a myriad of ways: for starters, it would cut down on plastic pollution and make a small dent in global climate change by reducing the amount of petroleum used in making the bottles and in shipping and recycling them. I haven’t drunk from such a bottle in years, and it seems like more people would like to save money by carrying a reusable bottle and refilling it when they are thirsty. Look at these figures from Honolulu Weekly editor Mindy Pennybacker’s book Do One Green Thing (which has a foreword by Meryl Streep):
“If just one out of 20 Americans stopped buying water in disposable bottles, we’d save 30 million pounds of plastic waste. We’d save the fossil fuels used in the plastic, which equals seventeen million barrels of oil. Adding in the energy used for pumping, processing, transporting and refrigerating bottled water, Americans would save 54 million barrels of oil, the same as running three million cars.”
According to Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute, bottled water, on average, costs from one to 2,000 times more than municipal water. Even if the BWS [Board of Water Supply] raises Honolulu rates 70 percent, tap water would be better for our budgets and the planet.
With figures like these, and my awareness of studies comparing the safety of tap and bottled water by the National Resources Defense Council, I thought the need to forgo bottled water was settled, just as throwaway-bag bans or fees seem so logical. But then I ran across a column in the HPU student newspaper, Kalamalama, that presents the views of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) which, not surprisingly, opposes attempts to outlaw bottled water in vending machines on campuses, claiming that students must have freedom of choice. The IBWA has even produced a YouTube video, “Student Activism 101,” that critiques the student groups working on this issue.
I should have expected that the industry would fight back against the many groups, many led by youth and college students, who are striving to make a difference by pointing out the harms caused by a completely unnecessary product that is nevertheless bought and consumed by the billions. Common sense doesn’t stand a chance apparently, just as in the case of plastic-bag bans and fees, which are fought intensely by plastic-bag manufacturers and industry groups like the American Chemistry Council (these groups spent $1.4 million in Seattle to get residents to repeal a 20-cent bag fee, upon which the City Council turned around and passed a bill that outright bans plastic bags, and not just in grocery stores but in most categories of stores, food trucks, and farmers’ markets). I know it’s tempting to believe the industry arguments, because it’s sometimes easier to just buy the water and rationalize it in the name of convenience of hydration, but the companies are less regulated than the municipal water agencies and interested in profits, not your health. Read a few of the critiques of the corporations that spend so much on advertising to make us prefer bottled water to tap water, or watch a documentary like Tapped or FLOW: For Love of Water; they should persuade you, and might even convince you to encourage others to take that simple green step. Ask your elders what they did before plastic bags and bottled water became ubiquitous. As I remember, we managed just fine.