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The Bottled Water Industry: Buy The Bottle Or Trifle With Tap?

The decision to buy bottled water or take your chances with tap water may be more loaded with consequences than you previously thought.

Water is essential to life, making it a lucrative resource to commodify. Hence, the creation of the bottled water industry.

Kerry Trueman, founder of, quotes Lyndon B. Johnson in a recent article on the fate of our water supply:

A nation that fails to plan intelligently for the development and protection of its precious waters will be condemned to wither because of its shortsightedness.

In the 40 years since these words were spoken, the $60 billion dollar a year bottled water industry has bought the rights to rivers and streams throughout the 50 states, often leaving farmers, other industries, and tap-water consumers dry.

Bottled Or Tap?

According to Trueman, the decision between whether to buy bottled water or to fill your water glass at the sink comes down to the lesser of two evils.

Many people go for the bottle for health reasons, convenience’s sake or due to their weariness about potential tap water contamination (pesticides, acid rain and pharmaceuticals are all among the many known water contaminants).

On the other hand, consider these words of Charles Fishman (author of The Wal-Mart Effect) in a piece he wrote for Fast Company Magazine:

Bottled water is often simply an indulgence, and despite the stories we tell ourselves, it is not a benign indulgence. We’re moving 1 billion bottles of water around a week in ships, trains, and trucks in the United States alone. That’s a weekly convoy equivalent to 37,800 18-wheelers delivering water.

Meanwhile, one out of six people in the world has no dependable, safe drinking water. The global economy has contrived to deny the most fundamental element of life to 1 billion people, while delivering to us an array of water “varieties” from around the globe, not one of which we actually need.

Decisions, Decisions…

So the environmental and social cost of buying bottled water is clearly very high, but some argue that it does have its place for use in emergencies and situations where drinking water stocks are or might be contaminated.

Given the choice, however, do we ever really need to buy bottled water? Let us know where you stand in the comments.

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Laura Bult

Laura Bult is a spring intern with Earth Eats and a senior at Indiana University majoring in International Studies, with minors in English Literature and Spanish.

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