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Bottled Water Is Silly — But So Is Banning It

Photo: Bottled water palette
Bottled water: To ban or not to ban? Photo by Todd Morris, Flickr Creative Commons

 

I remember the moment when the silliness of bottled water became vividly clear to me. I was standing in the factory in San Pellegrino, Italy, at the foot of the Italian Alps, where San Pellegrino water is sealed in those shapely green bottles.

Leave aside that the glass bottles weigh more than the water they contain, or the journey those bottles of water have to make, by truck and ship and truck again, to land on a grocery shelf or café table in Manhattan or St. Louis.

The bottles themselves have to be washed before being filled. And as Pellegrino’s wizened factory operations manager explained, they wash the bottles with…Pellegrino water. Before filling them with Pellegrino water.

Of course they do.

But then the silliness took a leap. Where, I asked, do the bubbles in Pellegrino come from? The plant manager’s eyes lit up. Pellegrino water comes out of the ground uncarbonated, in fact. Pellegrino has another spring to the south in central Italy that is naturally carbonated. The company harvests the carbon dioxide from that spring, purifies it, compresses it, trucks it north to Pellegrino, and injects it into the water as part of the bottling process.

No matter how far your Pellegrino water has traveled to get to you, the dancing Italian bubbles that make it so delightful have traveled just a little farther.

San Pellegrino, which is now owned by the conglomerate Nestlé, has a storied history — as a town, as a spring, as a water — but let’s be clear: It’s a product no one needs. It’s refreshing, it’s appealing, but it is a pure indulgence. Whether you live in Milan, just down the road, or Mexico City, where Pellegrino is on the shelves at Wal-Mart. And I say that as someone whose wife and 13-year-old son both love San Pellegrino.

In fact, unless you’re struggling in the aftermath of a natural disaster, unless you live in a developing world nation without safe tap water, all bottled water really falls into that category: luxury, indulgence, convenience.

That’s okay, of course, lots of things I like are indulgences: Oreos, “The Good Wife,” Italian Merlot, even the ice cubes I all-but-require in the glass of water that sits on my desk through the work day.

There is a fresh burst of controversy about bottled water on college campuses, specifically, around whether bottled water should be sold in the dining halls of U.S. and Canadian universities. Last week, the University of Vermont became the latest of 15 campuses in the U.S. and Canada to ban the sale of bottled water, according to figures from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

Dozens more campuses have active campaigns to discourage bottled water purchases — including giving out free reuseable water bottles to students, and providing elegant, easy-to-use bottle filling stations. (Try to fill a water bottle from a water fountain sometime — you’ll be lucky to get halfway full.)

Over the weekend, NPR’s food blog had a story about college students squaring off against the bottled water industry which drew more than 100 comments. Columbia University’s Water Center posted an essay last week asking, “Should Universities Ban Bottled Water?” which is getting a little of Twitter attention.

The essay doesn’t answer the question, but I will: Of course bottled water shouldn’t be banned.

Virtually all the bans are the result of well-intentioned student activism on campus.

But I don’t understand how campuses can ban sale of bottled water while continuing to sell Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Vitamin Water and Red Bull.

What do the fired-up campus environmentalists think Coke is, anyway? Regular Coke is about 95 percent water; Diet Coke is 99 percent water.

The reasoning runs something like this: Water is available on campus — from taps, from spigots, from filtered water-filling stations. Students and staff don’t need it delivered in plastic bottles. Coke and Red Bull aren’t available the same way. (Although sodas, of course, are often delivered on tap in dining halls.)

The environmental contrail from bottled water (which I wrote about in a magazine story that took me to both Fiji and Poland Spring, Maine) is astonishing. It takes a fleet equivalent to 40,000 18-wheelers just to deliver the bottled water Americans buy every week.

But how is the fleet of trucks delivering water in bottles any different than the fleets delivering caramel-colored, caffienated water in bottles? It takes 2.5 liters of water to produce every liter of Coke products.

I can understand cities banning the purchase of bottled water with city funds for city offices — as San Francisco, Seattle, and New York have done. That’s about both money and symbolism. Those cities run tap water systems — why would their employees need bottled water paid for by taxpayers?

I can understand vigorous on-campus awareness efforts to create a culture where carrying a bottle of Evian or Deer Park or SmartWater into class causes raised eyebrows. (No college student appears to be able to make it through a class these days without a drink of some kind — coffee, soda, water — as if scholarship had become seriously dehydrating. Not so long ago, students wouldn’t have thought of stepping into a lecture hall with a cup of coffee or a can of soda.)

Indeed, you can start with the fact that buying water in a bottle makes absolutely no economic sense. The water in a half-liter bottle typically costs 3,000 times what the same amount of water from a spigot costs. Buy a single bottle of Poland Spring for $1.29 at the college store, and you can refill the bottle every day for 8 years — college plus medical school! — before the tap water costs what the original Poland Spring cost.

The very university food service systems that proudly announce bottled water bans offer products with at least as much environmental impact that also have all kinds of dietary impact. Froot Loops at breakfast? Chocolate chip cookies at dinner? Frozen yogurt on tap 16 hours a day?

Bottled water bans are not just oddly hypocritical — taking bottled water out of campus vending machines while leaving soda in those machines — they seem oddly misplaced in a setting where people are supposed to be thinking for themselves.

I love seeing college students leading an imaginative revival of the drinking fountain — and it would be great if the revival spilled beyond campuses into cities. Why do people buy bottled water? Because cities don’t have public water fountains that are easy to use, clean and safe.

The bottled water debates is a great way of waking people up to the big water issues almost every community faces — scarcity, purity, reuse, sustainability. But the conversation has to move on from bottled water to the water supply itself.

Banning bottled water doesn’t really teach anyone anything.

Charles Fishman is an award-winning investigative journalist and New York Times bestselling author who has spent the last four years traveling the world to understand and explain water issues. He is the author of The Big Thirst, which is being released in paperback tomorrow with a whole new chapter.

Comments

  1. 1121
    April 14, 4:18 pm

    People, stop fighting over bottled water and focus on the more important things in life.

  2. Jeff niky
    ST.Goerge
    March 19, 1:08 pm

    Why bother making bottled water if we have cups and tap. I am saying for the world, Save plants!!!!!!!! if we don’t then we might end up like the movie lorax!!! so who’s with me!!! For the world!!!

  3. Ashlyn
    Seoul, South Korea
    March 14, 8:36 am

    Do you prefer bottled or tapped? Some prefer tapped, but most of the people prefer bottled.
    I prefer bottled, too.
    There should be many reasons why most of the people prefer bottled water, and
    I am going to tell you two reasons why people prefer bottled water.

    First, the thing that people living in the 21st century think that is most important; convenience.
    Bottled water is very convenient.
    In comes out in all kinds of sizes, and we can get them anywhere with a vending machine.
    Also, it comes out in a bottle that is very light and useful, and also reusable.
    However, tapped water can’t be used where there isn’t a tap, but we can carry bottled water everywhere,
    and there isn’t such a convenient bottle that can be reused like the bottles from bottled water.
    Second, bottled water is much cleaner than tapped water.
    The definition of tapped water is; any kind of water from a tap.
    The water that the government recommends people to drink (tapped water) may be clean at first.
    However, the last place “the water” has to go through is the tap, where people drink on.
    Most of the tapes people drink on are dirty, unless somebody takes care of it every day.
    Nevertheless, people don’t care for some ordinary tap where people don’t even drink on.
    Also, bottled water does not go bad until you open it,
    but tapped water does go bad from the incident you open the faucet, so you cannot carry it in a bottle.
    To conclude, bottled water is better than tapped water because it is more convenient and clean.

    However, in the other hand, some people think that tapped water is better because it is cheaper.
    Tapped water is 0.28 dollars when bottled water costs a dollar.
    Tapped water is 3 times cheaper than bottled water.
    However, a dollar isn’t that expensive.
    It could be expensive for some people, but there is always a tap for people who prefer tapped water.
    To conclude, bottled water is better than tapped water because it is convenient and clean,
    and also, people think that allowing bottled water is unfair for people who wants tapped water,
    because if the government allows bottled water, nobody will take care of the taps, and the water they drink will get dirty.
    However, I think the fact that is really unfair is
    taking away the rights of people that is using their money on what they want.
    I think people should choose what they prefer; like bottled or tapped,
    and use their money on what they want.
    Therefore, the government should not ban bottled water.

  4. Rosa
    Seoul, South Korea
    March 14, 8:34 am

    Water is a very important substance for the creatures to live on, but only 1% of the Earth’s water is fresh water. This proves that the water we drink is very valuable. To drink this water, we usually drink by tap water and bottle water. Some says the government should ban the bottle water, because it destroys the environment. Also, some disagree. However, the bottled water should be banned.
    The first reason why the bottled water should be banded is its plastic bottle. The bottled water is in the plastic bottle, and it can be recycled. However, some do not recycle them and just put in the trash can. This makes the Earth dirtier. For example, if all the people recycle their bottled water, people will less argue about the water problem. However, if the people only think about their conveniences, the Earth will be full of garages. Thus, the bottled water should be banded because of its plastic bottle. Beside its plastic bottle, there is another reason why the bottled water should be banned.
    The second reason why the bottled water should be banded is a chemical. The bottled water’s bottle is made of plastic, and there are many chemicals that harm the people. However, the most known and harmful chemical is called endocrine-disrupting chemicals. For example, if someone is pregnant, the endocrine-disrupting chemicals will affect her by having a low birth-weight infant, early puberty of that child, getting fat, etc. Thus, the bottled water should be banned because of the chemicals.
    Some locals say that other beverages are inconvenient and not tasty and cool enough than the bottled water. To solve this problem, people should bring their own bottle. Also, developing the quality of the bottle might help. Last, the people should drink by the tap water. Why? Because it is the same quality of water, and it’s cheaper, so it is more beneficial and economical.

  5. Christian Branch
    School
    February 18, 11:02 am

    What is bottled water

  6. Jeff niky
    ST.Goerge
    February 5, 12:38 pm

    I read your book charles fishermen and it was very inspireing

  7. Jeff niky
    ST.Goerge
    February 5, 12:33 pm

    All this fighting on bottled water should stop and live on tap water:)

  8. Jeff niky
    ST.Goerge
    February 5, 12:29 pm

    It’s addicting but with our goverment we can stop it!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Jeff niky
    st.Goerge
    February 5, 12:26 pm

    Buying bottled water is a waste of everybody in the worlds time!
    GO GREEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Jeff niky
    ST.Goege
    January 30, 1:48 pm

    Save water! Save time!

  11. clark mob
    utah
    January 30, 1:41 pm

    I think we shouldn’t waste our time making plastic bottles and save the envierment

  12. Chris Macias
    Austin , Texas
    January 31, 2013, 11:54 am

    I say let people do what they think is best. And they will learn what is good and what is bad.

  13. Amelie
    December 29, 2012, 3:49 pm

    Banning bottled water or any bottled drink will be impossible. Indeed, for example nestle is a multi-billionaire company that employs thousands of people. Banning bottled water means making these workers unemployed. Always a good idea in this economy. And of course a multi billionaire company doesn’t control the world… Same thing for other companies. However,we should at least reduce the number of bottled water.

  14. Dan
    Vancouver, BC
    November 25, 2012, 7:32 pm

    The argument of this article makes absolutely no sense. We shouldn’t ban bottled water because we haven’t banned coke and other bottled drinks? WHERE IS THE LOGIC IN THAT? “We can’t cure the whole problem so we might as well not do anything at all.” WHAT!? It still removes a major source of plastic bottle waste from the market.
    The argument that banning it doesn’t teach anyone anything. Sure it does. Ban bottle water and people will ask why. This paves the way for informing people of how ridiculous the entire concept is.

  15. Mark Hornbuckle
    Georgia, USA
    November 25, 2012, 2:13 pm

    Hi, I have read all of your comments and all are good points. So called “Bans” are not always the best way to solve something. Let the consumer decide, we consumers are not to dumb to decide for ourselves. A possible solution to the “bad” bottled water and the unsafe or treated water issue. A personal water filter in a drinking straw. Anyone can have safe, clean, filtered water wherever they are with the Clean Sip straw.

  16. Christina
    October 8, 2012, 4:50 pm

    My point of buying bottled water was to get something instead of soda (aspartame, sugar, artificial flavors, etc.). Because I am thirsty, or want something to drink with my meal, instead of treated municipal water.

  17. James
    Canada
    October 3, 2012, 11:11 am

    “Banning bottled water doesn’t really teach anyone anything.”

    Okay, so legalizing gay marriage doesn’t really teach anyone anything, because we haven’t legalized all marriages. Neither does banning specific types of violence, because lord knows that if we ban some violence we’d have to ban ALL violence. So, we obviously can’t ban anything that’s specific, because banning specific stuff doesn’t teach people anything? Huh?

    This hilariously flawed argument is somewhat unpleasant to read. It starts off making sense, and then degenerates into comedic flailing with bizarre premises like “We can’t ban water, because we can’t ban coke/pepsi/redbull/etc.” Well, we could, and probably should, ban all those things, so that’s not really important. But if we were to stage it so that we couldn’t ban those things, only ban water, what’s the big deal? So, in the face of doing SOME good as opposed to NO good, we choose no good because it’s easier? Screw that. People like this “award winning journalist” should probably take a minute to bother reading what they’ve written.

  18. SuziSaul
    October 1, 2012, 3:43 pm

    Bottled water is certainly not silly when your water company has continuous bad water quality reports to the point of having to shut down multiple wells over the years. It doesn’t seem strange that many of my neighbors and myself suffered from thyroid disease and cancer at the same time, when our wells were at their worst. 2 of my cats died in the same time period. I won’t take a chance on our health again. Banning bottled isn’t just silly; it’s deranged.

  19. [...] year comes as more than a dozen colleges and universities have taken the extraordinary step of banning sale of bottled water on campus, often under pressure from student organizing campaigns that encourage students to drink tap [...]

  20. [...] year comes as more than a dozen colleges and universities have taken the extraordinary step of banning sale of bottled water on campus, often under pressure from student organizing campaigns that encourage students to drink tap [...]

  21. [...] year comes as more than a dozen colleges and universities have taken the extraordinary step of banning sale of bottled water on campus, often under pressure from student organizing campaigns that encourage students to drink tap [...]

  22. [...] year comes as more than a dozen colleges and universities have taken the extraordinary step of banning sale of bottled water on campus, often under pressure from student organizing campaigns that encourage students to drink tap [...]

  23. Notes From The News « 98.7 KLUV
    May 7, 2012, 6:21 am

    [...] 2. Colleges Ban Bottled Water [...]

  24. Donald Soffer
    St. Louis
    March 10, 2012, 12:24 pm

    I made a short documentary about bottled water called “Bottled Rationality.” Tell me what you guys think! http://youtu.be/DsRGFl07Y6s

  25. Ken
    Reston, VA
    March 2, 2012, 2:54 pm

    If you’re drinking bottled water in place of safe tap water, you’re wasting your money and hurting the environment. However, if you’re at a party or in a bar, and drinking fancy bottled water instead of “one more for the road,” you could be socially responsible. It’s all context, so banning would not be a universally good thing.

  26. Linja
    Virginia
    February 24, 2012, 10:52 pm

    Someone mentioned EWG.org, which does runarticles on the problems with bottled water. BUT they also run articles on the sorry state of tap water in many US locales. Among the worst are Pensacola, Riverside (CA), Las Vegas, Reno, and Houston. As someone who has had a water-borne illness contracted in the USA, I am cautious about drinking tap water when I travel. Since I must avoid sugar and caffeine, bottled water is my beverage of choice. At home I boil our tap water and double filter it, just in case. I pour it into a sterilized glass bottle to carry with me, but once that’s empty, I buy bottled water. It doesn’t have to be expensive; 6 bottles for a buck or two is about what I pay.

  27. Cory Arsenault
    Ottawa
    February 24, 2012, 6:50 pm

    Ottawa university banned bottled water which led to an equal increase of soda and juice sales products which contain corn syrup from GMO corn. Arguably the ban forced consumers to purchase a product with a higher environmental impact.

  28. nancy martin
    PA
    February 24, 2012, 9:56 am

    I like the ban. I think that it brings the issue front and center. It’s a first step to awareness, action, and advocacy.

  29. Evelyn Wendel
    Pacific Palisades, California
    February 23, 2012, 8:56 pm

    I first want to thank you for your Fast Company Article about bottled water that you wrote years back. It was the first comprehensive article I read about BW facts. I constantly refer to it and forward it to others who might not have had the epiphany that BW is unnecessary and wasteful. I start the non profit WeTap. http://wetap.wordpress.com/about/ and I completely agree with you that it is necessary that the drinking fountain revival spill beyond campuses and into all cities environments. My optimism believes this is inevitable. But, I want to disagree with you that “cities don’t have public water fountains that are easy to use, clean and safe.” Most cities do have drinking fountains in parks, schools, and other public spaces but we lack the confidence to depend on them as our main source of drinking water when out and about. Of course they need to be looked at more closely and maintenance programs need to be created, but I believe that part of the issue is our mind set, our lack of confidence in the quality of municipal water which I feel we should be celebrating, not insulting. We do need to better protect what we have but we also need to appreciate how lucky we are to have such good water in most cities across the country. I might be partial, but I applaud LADWP for encouraging it’s customers to take advantage of the free tap water available at drinking fountains throughout the city.
    http://www.ladwpnews.com/go/doc/1475/1311099/
    I know I’ve just only begun to address this issue and hope others follow suit.

  30. Ernie Gulla
    February 23, 2012, 5:49 pm

    It takes 13 million barrels of oil to make plastic water bottles in America for ONE YEAR. Why don’t we consider sellin gwater iin 5 gallon reusable bottles and have every college student buy a backpack which includesa reusable 1 quart water bottle made an insertible in the pack (with their books) so they can fill up before they go to class.If one chooses to do otherwise they must pay $ 2.00 deposit for any other bottle.. I think they will go for this as students do learn and care about the world they are growing up in. They can be the force behind change……………..

  31. Lauryn
    February 23, 2012, 3:36 pm

    @Mathy Maes: if chlorine is the only issue, this is easily filtered out by regular water filters. (NYC has very good water but also high chlorine content, and I also do not like the taste of unfiltered tap water.)

    @Debi Sue: all municipal water sources today are supposed to be treated properly, and if they are not, there needs to be an outcry and an immediate correction of this, and yes, bottled water available until those corrections are made. NO ONE is claiming that bottles of water cause MORE of an impact than bottles of soda or other drinks (which is why ALL states should have bottle deposits on all drink bottles, which greatly increase recycling rates), but as the author notes, water is the only such product that we CAN get from our own tap.

    @Jill Hill, if your municipality’s water has been found or suspected to be unsafe, I hope that you have been contacting your legislators and participating in campaigns to make sure that this is corrected. If you have no actual reason to fear “nasty, dirty municipal water, unfit for consumption,” I hope that you will work to overcome an unreasonable fear, and purchase a filter if taste is an issue.

    @lisbeth jardin: I’m confused, you said your tap water tastes fine, yet you sound like you’re still buying bottled water (in larger bottles?). For bottles, I’ve been very happy with the Klean Kanteen stainless steel bottles myself (I got the greenfeet version from greenfeet.com a few years ago, which cost a little less). The amount of water that it takes to keep it clean will always be less than the amount needed to create new bottles. Same for bottles and cans to recycle (which as far as I know only need a quick rinse), which need to be rinsed so that in the residential bins and en route to the facility, they don’t create a sticky mess and attract pests. We do need job creation by expanding the recycling industry, if that’s what you meant.

    @Millie Bee: I have to admit that a hospital is probably one place where a water fountain may not be the best idea. But making students think on campus about the impact of bottled water at least forces them to consider the issues surrounding it, even if they’re perfectly free to buy bottled water off campus. I completely agree that we should be working hard on maintaining clean natural water supplies.

    @Environmentalist But Smart: municipal water is specifically supposed to be treated and safe, and NOT carry a risk of “harmful pathogens like E. coli and brain-eating amoebas that could possibly contaminate the natural resource.” In places where the water has been found or suspected to be unsafe, public outcry to legislators is immediately necessary, and steps must be immediately taken to remedy this. However, in the vast majority of U.S. water municipalities, there is no greater risk of pathogens than in bottled water (and by the way, a good deal of bottled water is tap, not spring, sourced). I agree that the cost of bottled water is the convenience charge, but this doesn’t change the fact that we’ll all be better off if the people who “don’t mind paying the convenience fee” are forced to think sometimes about their preference and how it affects the rest of us (ie. the petroleum use for plastic bottles; the waste created, especially in states without bottle deposits where the recycling rates are dismally low; and even the extra air pollution caused by all of the transporting of the bottled water).

    @Rick: just because students may not be able to buy something ON CAMPUS (apparently such as products from vindictive corporations according to your post) does not mean they are “deprived of choice.” Good grief, it’s not a basic right that whatever beverage you desire be sold ON CAMPUS. Why would anyone not paid by these corporations want to ban alternative solutions like bottle refilling stations?

    @Kinvara Carey: making people ON CAMPUS use alternatives to disposable bottles is a perfectly valid venture. This does not detract from the choice of “what they want to drink.” Removing bottled water from a campus will not result in people drinking less water if alternatives are provided such as reusable water bottles and “filling stations.” Yes, water is “the healthiest way to hydrate and should be encouraged,” but people need to at least consider the impacts of disposable water bottles, including the production, transportation, and discard of these bottles, all of which are ridiculously unnecessary.

    @David Zetland: this is on campus. All schools are free to allow and disallow what is sold on the school property. To even suggest that this could ever be “a slight on human rights” is absurd. For the population as a whole, I agree that we should “price bottled water in line with its impact on the environment (bottle deposits, for example), while ensuring that sources are tapped sustainably..”

    @Kenneth J Mareld: those water issues are of course unacceptable. I hope that the problems were promptly and effectively taken care of, and that if any further monitoring needs to be done, the public is demanding it. But for your own drive to your brother’s, sipping from a reusable bottle would be a more responsible option.

  32. Matthew Richter
    McPherson, KS
    February 23, 2012, 2:00 pm

    Wow, you missed the boat. Coke product, ie. the world mega company uses as much water in one day as the entire world uses in 10 days. They are destroying entire ecosystems in India leaving people without any water. Why do we allow this? Water is OK. Get rid of the other stuff.

    • Charles Fishman
      February 23, 2012, 2:15 pm

      @MatthewRichter…
      You’re entitled to your opinion, but a couple of your facts are incorrect. According to Coca-Cola’s self-reported figures, they use 295 billion liters of water a year. That’s 78 billion gallons of water a year, which comes to 214 million gallons of water a day. That’s a lot of water — but it’s only enough for a single city of 2 million people. (The city of New York alone uses 5 times what Coca-Cola uses.) Not close to the amount of water the world uses.

      And while Coca-Cola’s water practices around the world have not always been admirable, they are not destroying whole ecosystems in India. In fact, many of the rural Indian farmers who have objected to Coke’s use of water are themselves irresponsible with water, for which they are not charged.

  33. Lauryn
    February 23, 2012, 1:35 pm

    I think your attempt to say that just because stopping the use of bottled water doesn’t do enough to reduce all OTHER environmental impacts of food and drink on campus, it’s not worth doing, is extremely misguided. EVERY LITTLE THING we can do makes a difference. If lots of people do that little thing, like a large percentage of the student body who would otherwise not have thought twice about buying a bottle of water every day, that makes an even bigger difference. NO environmentalists are claiming that bottled water is an end-all be-all, and to claim that we/they are is absurd. It’s ONE STEP, and EVERY STEP makes a difference. Every step to reduce and reuse means one less disposable product that will be bought and discarded, just as every item recycled means one less piece of trash in a landfill and one less product made from new material. PLUS, every person that is forced to think about the impact of their daily luxury of bottled water is one step closer to realizing that there are many other easy, small things that they can do each day to reduce their ecological footprint that can add up. NO ONE is claiming that ending bottled water sales is a solution to all campus ecological footprint woes. It takes care of ONE, SIMPLE luxury that is absolutely nonsensical to have on campus creating such a large amount of waste, even recyclable waste. You seem to have a firm grip on how bottled water is a luxury, so I have no idea how you could be so misguided as to claim that environmentalists don’t care about anything else just because this has been one successful campaign.

  34. Christopher Ives
    Greater Boston Area
    February 23, 2012, 10:55 am

    Mr. Fishman,

    It seems that you are struggling between the absurdity of bottling an essentially free product; a necessity of life, and the ideology surrounding the banning of a consumer good. While I agree that banning a product in and of itself does not directly teach anyone anything (though indirectly it may by raising the question of its legitimacy), I believe that your argument leading to that idea is flawed. Your issue is with the idea of banning, NOT with with water bottles, however your article places you in the position of ‘reluctant bottle water supporter.’ By that I mean your title…. It’s a silly product, but it’s sillier to ban it.

    You say it yourself in that title, ‘It is sillier to ban it.’ I find it disappointing that you have chosen to write such an article to express your displeasure with banning as a mode of action, when the product in question is so obviously and profoundly BAD for people, the economy, and the environment. It truly fails the triple bottom line so often associated with sustainable systems analysis. It would have served you better to write an article on the legitimacy of banning goods as a means of change, and assumedly your disagreement with that. So, why do I think this? Why is your argument flawed?

    Early on you state:
    “In fact, unless you’re struggling in the aftermath of a natural disaster, unless you live in a developing world nation without safe tap water, all bottled water really falls into that category: luxury, indulgence, convenience.”

    I agree with this in it’s purest form, and it sounds like you do as well. Bottled Water = Luxury = You don’t at all NEED this in a place where it comes out of a tap for ‘free.’

    You say:
    “But how is the fleet of trucks delivering water in bottles any different than the fleets delivering caramel-colored, caffienated water in bottles? It takes 2.5 liters of water to produce every liter of Coke products.”

    A few paragraphs earlier you answered your own question by citing the anti-waterbottle consumers reasoning:
    “Water is available on campus — from taps, from spigots, from filtered water-filling stations. Students and staff don’t need it delivered in plastic bottles. Coke and Red Bull aren’t available the same way. (Although sodas, of course, are often delivered on tap in dining halls.)”

    I think this is spot on. The major piece of the argument is that students, staff, and indeed the majority of Americans, Canadians, and First World inhabitants, do in way NEED bottled water, while other bottled products, regardless of their water content, IS NOT water; does not come out of a tap. Soda and other bottled beverages are VALUE ADDED products.

    You then try to bolster your argument with statements such as:
    “The very university food service systems that proudly announce bottled water bans offer products with at least as much environmental impact that also have all kinds of dietary impact. Froot Loops at breakfast? Chocolate chip cookies at dinner? Frozen yogurt on tap 16 hours a day?”

    However it is a fallacy of logic (Straw Man Argument – See Wikipedia if unknown to you) to say that because Soda also comes in bottles, yet is not banned, neither should Bottled water. Or more simply, what you are essentially saying is: Soda is in a Bottle and contains Water.
    Water is in a Bottle and contains Water.
    Thus, Soda and Water ought to be treated equally.
    YET – We both agree that these products are of different kinds. Water is a necessary product, soda is not. Bottled water is not value added, Soda is. Despite their similarities they remain unequal.

    You further dismantle the logic of your argument by trying to articulate the hypocrisy of the University for serving unhealthy foods while attempting to address the absurdity of bottled water. However it is 100% impossible that a University, Government, or Person would ever be able to address all issues of sustainability, morality, economic inefficiencies, or other topic of contention at once or completely – as the world is always changing; new challenges are always arising.

    Therefore, it’s again, logically invalid to say that because the University has not addressed all health, sustainability, economic, etc., issues, then it has no right in trying to address one. This point is regardless of the WAY in which it addresses such issues, which brings me back to my original point.

    Your issue is that banning a product is not a respectable or useful way of addressing an issue. You have, however, entirely shown that Water IS a special resource, whose bottling is frankly absurd and economically ridiculous – which is the SAME point that is driving student and non-student anti-waterbottle activists.

    Finally, I think it is entirely accurate and fair, as I mentioned in the beginning, to say that banning bottled water is not entirely efficient and that the REAL issue ought to lie in water sourcing, conservation, preservation, and supporting a Right to water. But again, sadly, this was not your focus…

    It simply is not fair to say that because bottled water and/or the banning of it, are not the absolute most pressing issues, that those who oppose it and wish to find ways to address it are not ‘fighting the good fight,’ which, you seem to be saying in your article – even if you did not intend it directly.

  35. Laura Cone
    Kokomo, Indiana
    February 23, 2012, 9:36 am

    I agree with Mr. Fishman. Unless you are in the aftermath of a natural disaster, or your access to water is otherwise limited, bottled water is an indulgence. In many cases, bottled water is simply purified tap water. Visit the Environmental Working Group website (EWG.org) for more information about bottled versus tap water.

    I think university and college campuses should be at the forefront of social and environmental movements. They have and most likely will continue to be the starting place for many movements. Besides, why is it that people think they have to have things supplied to them. The university isn’t punishing their students or staff. They are making a statement and taking action on their ideals.

  36. Mathy Maes
    Paliseul (Belgium)
    February 23, 2012, 8:52 am

    If you live in an agricultural region, you have no other option than to drink bottled water : the water from the tap is stinking with chlorine !!

  37. Debi Sue
    Hawley, PA
    February 22, 2012, 7:18 pm

    Worked for a bottle water CO for 8 years … nothing makes more sense … early on not all city water or well water was treated … another point here is Spring Water has great TASTE … purified bottle water taste muddy as well as some public water … and it has been treated …. Depending where the Spring is located it can give you a variation in flavor … and it has mineral content … the smear campaign by “purifiers” for you tap has some to do with this … it makes NO sense to me to mention bottle water being bad for the environment with out considering all the soda and other bottle drinks on the market … yes, you can get water for free … but one needs to consider how that water is treated or if it is treated … once again I prefer the TASTE of Spring Water …

  38. JILL HILL
    Anaheim, CA
    February 19, 2012, 2:49 pm

    I can remember when the ‘fad’ of buying bottles of water made me laugh; for the longest time, it was only over-indulged women who had nothing better to do than run around looking like they were actually working out at a 24-hr gym that were the ones carrying plastic bottles of water. I remember thinking “How ridiculous is that? Paying for a bottle of water?!” If you’d have told me 15 years ago that I would not only be buying them one day, but not even consider drinking anything BUT bottled water…I would have laughed out loud. But now, here I am, basically afraid to drink anything other than bottled water, for fear of nasty, dirty municipal water, unfit for consumption. I laugh at myself now where once I chided “real housewives”…

  39. [...] here to read the rest of the article in National [...]

  40. lisbeth jardine
    Port Angeles, WA
    February 16, 2012, 4:23 pm

    I live where there’s plentiful, good-tasting water (surely by now most NG readers have vaguely heard something about the Elwha River and its dams)–only the pipes that carry the water are in bad shape–at least in some buildings, like the one I live in. Other houses or buildings I’ve been in in the water district, the tap water tastes fine. I’ve been trying to buy larger bottles and reuse my water bottle–[a RubberMaid, which I probably ought to use something else--but it's the only one I've found that doesn't leak in my backpack]–but there’s the mini filth build up around the moiuth–and the amount of water that it takes to keep it clean.

    This leads to the one conundrum I have about places that require individuals to recycle washed bottles and cans–doesn’t that use more water than an industrial recycling center would use? And if it’s all being melted anyway, don’t supposedly contaminating food particles or whatever just burn up? Besides, think of the potential for job creation.

    At least I don’t live in Santa Barbara, CA, where the tap water was so foul–at least the hotel I was staying at–I had to toss out the cup of tea I tried to brew from it.

    But I do like my fizzy seltzer water (unflavored, unsweetened), and that doesn’t come from a tap–and the big bottles go flat.

    • Charles Fishman
      February 16, 2012, 5:04 pm

      Lisbeth, why not connect a commercial water filter from PUR or Brita to your tap, or get a filter pitcher? They both work great, are much cheaper than bottled water, and have modest environmental impact.

  41. Millie Bee
    Chicago, IL
    February 16, 2012, 12:21 pm

    I don’t understand the point of banning bottled water on campuses when the student is still surrounded by bottled water buying opportunities everywhere else. My problem with bottled water has always been one of environmental impact as well as a belief that people will stop being concerned about the purity of our natural water supply since bottled water is readily available. Instead of the constant justification of bottled water as a substitute for our contaminated tap water, shouldn’t we work extremely hard on maintaining clean natural water supplies? We’re getting to the point where you almost have to buy water since water fountains are being removed from establishments. I work in a major hospital and I’ve only seen one water fountain. Each department orders bottled water. Finally, do we really want for profit corporations having control over a substance without which we would die? Sure, today buying bottled water is a choice but if we continue to ignore the elephant in the room which is the polluting of our natural water supply, buying bottled water may become a necessity which some people will not be able to afford.

  42. Sachidanand Swami
    New Delhi, India
    February 15, 2012, 2:00 am

    The article is interesting, but I do not agree to the fact that you compare a coke or similar products with water. Just because one cannot stop the sale of the other products, that does not give a reasoning for the bottled water being a rationale option. Just how much water would you consume in a day in comparison to a coke or the other products that come in similar bottling ? Moreover if there are alternatives possible which can save the production of plastic and the burning of fuel which is used in producing as well as transportation, then why not accept them as alternatives.. debate shouldnt be for banning or not.. it should rather be for providing of alternatives which are comparative.

    I agree that we should allow for people thinking for themselves.. and the fact of people paying for indulgences if they can afford.. Cant we compare this indulgence to the indulgence of bottled water to the indulgence of a cigarette smoke.. the latter is banned at most public places because it creates a negative impact on others.. likewise too much of production of plastics is also going to do the same.. how many plastic bottle manufacturing plants are there in America ?

  43. Environmentalist But Smart
    February 14, 2012, 10:18 pm

    Some are saying the ban is not just about saving the Earth from plastic, but that it is to “stick it to the man,” because water should be a free, natural resource. Guess what? Water IS a free, natural resource! No one is stopping you from collecting your own water from the spring, the purifying it and delivering it to your home. The $1.99 price tag on a bottle of water from a vending machine is a convenience fee. You’re NOT paying for water, but rather, you’re paying for the elimination of possible harmful pathogens like E. coli and brain-eating amoebas that could possibly contaminate the natural resource. Also, you’re paying for it to be bottled and made available to you so you don’t have to climb a mountain and go and find a fresh stream. Another thing, everyone pays for tap water for the aforementioned reasons. So, you’re not sticking it to anyone by banning bottled water, you’re just making things more difficult for those of us who don’t mind paying a convenience fee. As for environmental issues, I am all for eliminating plastics but we can’t be hypocritical and only ban water, lol. If we’re banning beverage plastics, then they all need to go. Stop picking on bottled water!

  44. Rick MacNeal
    Tucson
    February 14, 2012, 4:05 pm

    You say banning bottled water is silly (and I agree) but how do you feel about “banning” alternative solutions? While 15 or so campuses across the entire U.S. have executed bottled water bans many more have become interested in the concept of personal bottle refilling stations where water is filtered to a much greater degree than that of a typical water fountain and vended for a nominal fee; usually $0.25 or so.

    The response from the entrenched beverage vending suppliers has been to waive their Pouring Rights contracts in the faces of the administration and the entrepreneurs offering these alternative vending solutions. The result is that students are deprived of choice and administrations feeling trapped between the desires of their constituencies and the perks associated with their Pouring Rights contracts simply bite the bullet and install newer versions of fountains (at significant expense) thereby turning a revenue generating enterprise into an ongoing expense for the institution. As we all know that lost revenue must be made up elsewhere.

    Students leading the charge for more sustainable consumption habits is not silly if the symbolism of the act leads to eventual change; and yes that includes all unnecessary single-use disposable packaging regardless of contents.

    • Charles Fishman
      February 14, 2012, 4:31 pm

      Rick, I’m not sure I understand how having water-filling stations at college dining halls limits choice. If universities lose revenue from lost bottled water sales, I’m certain that revenue is small relative to the budgets of those places. If they can’t handle that shift in revenue, then they will have budget problems much more demanding than accounting for bottled water profits. But if I’m misunderstanding, feel free to clarify.

  45. Kinvara Carey, General Manager, Natural Hydration Council
    London, UK
    February 14, 2012, 12:12 pm

    I agree. Banning bottled water is silly. People should be able to decide for themselves what they want to drink. Simply removing bottled water from a campus, is only likely to result in people drinking less water. Water is the healthiest way to hydrate and should be encouraged whether it’s through water fountains or bottles.

  46. Tomas Bosque
    Lake Tahoe, NV
    February 14, 2012, 11:11 am

    Charles – thank you for your post. Your thoughts are well thought out and well formulated.

    As an organization aimed at encouraging banning plastic bottles, BantheBottle.net doesn’t necessarily believe an outright ban at every level of human society makes sense or is useful. We believe that humans over the past couple decades have become so enamored with bottled water, that consumers fail to even think about what they are doing to themselves and the environment. A ban helps to open the eyes of consumers and the impact bottled water has had on the environment.

    The key to this initiative is taking responsibility for keeping students hydrated in a way that is sustainable and convenient. As I’ve mentioned on our blog, when a campaign is started, it’s important to layout a plan to provide clean, free drinking water on campuses and in facilities for students. Through the use of new technology and products like Hydration Stations, it is now possible to provide water that tastes as good as bottled, and is just as convenient. Plus, using reusable sports bottles speaks of trendy hipsters, which students love.

    I would therefore have to disagree with you that bans don’t teach anyone anything. Bans are creating a media stir, opening consumers’ eyes to something that is rarely discussed. Plus, bans are encouraging innovation in the areas of public drinking water stations, giving students access to clean, pure water.

    Tomas Bosque
    BanTheBottle.net

    • Charles Fishman
      February 14, 2012, 11:51 am

      I appreciate your thoughtful comment, Tomas Bosque. I know the work Ban the Bottle is doing. I’m impressed with the energy, imagination and determination that college students have brought to this — very reminiscent of the campaigns 15 years ago around sweatshop factory conditions, and where logo apparrel for colleges was coming from. That changed the world.

      But in terms of impact for the amount of energy mustered, I’m just going to politely disagree. I don’t think bottled water is a major issue, even compared to other food related issues like fitness, diabetes and obesity, and certainly not in the larger framework of economic issues in the US. It’s not even, in most communities, the most important water issue — although I do appreciate the college campuses that use bottled water education efforts to widen the conversation to the local world of water.

      We agree that bottled water is most often a luxury, an indulgence. I just don’t think if I were going to try to harness all that smart campus-based energy that bottled water would be my first target.

      But I’m not the organizer…

  47. David Zetland
    Amsterdam
    February 14, 2012, 6:36 am

    Bans — like other forms of command and control — are inefficient (and perhaps even a slight on human rights). Better to price bottled water in line with its impact on the environment (bottle deposits, for example), while ensuring that sources are tapped sustainably. After that, let the consumer decide if it’s worth paying 1000x the price of tap water for a bottle of the stuff…

  48. Kenneth J Mareld
    United States
    February 13, 2012, 9:38 pm

    It depends on the community water district. I’ve lived east of Los Angeles Where after a few months of unexplained rashes
    The local water district closed 2 of 17 wells. Contaminated with PCBs. I’ve also live on an island in Washington where the iron level was so high (again from wells) that everything was iron stained unless it was porcelin or glass. It tasted awful.
    There are rational reasons to use bottled water.
    Where I live now, water quality is pretty good. My tap water is quite tasty. I will though buy bottled water for my drive of 150 miles to my brother’s place. Sipping is a nice diversion for a long drive.
    Banning a product on campus? Sounds silly. Promoting choice through education and peer pressure would be more effective.

    redwagon

  49. Lakawak
    NY
    February 13, 2012, 9:16 pm

    I love how you just gloss over the point that you CAN’T get Coca Cola from your kitchen sink. That is a HUGE difference because it makes it like ANY other product. Why sell orange juice? Or milk? Hell…it is easier for someone to make their own orange juice of milk. Just plant a tree or buy a cow.

  50. John A Kaurich
    White Plains, NY
    February 13, 2012, 5:33 pm

    I agree with all of your points. Economically speaking, buying water is a really stupid concept. I’ve been using the same water bottle for the past several months rather than spend the $1.50 or more on a new bottle. As for campuses banning bottled water: I don’t see the logic behind it. As you stated, campuses continue to sell Red Bull and soda, the latter of which is mostly water, so why don’t they ban all of those too? I’m not saying they actually should, but you see the point. I guess it’s this concept that bottled water is “cleaner” than water from your kitchen tap. It might be true but that water gets filtered or treated before it gets to your tap so what’s the big difference?