Is Bottled Water a Sustainable Fix?

A Bloomberg article from August 2, 2016 entitled   “Bottled Water to Outsell Soda for the First Time, with Nod to Flint” illustrates growing public skepticism about the health and safety of what comes out of their taps in the wake of recent calamitous water infrastructure failures. In the wake of recent water crises in Flint, Michigan, Americans have been forced, many for the first time, to consider the safety of the drinking water in their homes. Much of our country’s water infrastructure is over 100 years old, and in serious need of repair and replacement to remain safe and reliable. Should these infrastructure systems fail at an increased rate, heavily populated areas will be hit the hardest, as population density and the cost to repair will considerably impact citizens.  The article states that, “At least $384 billion of improvements are needed to maintain and replace essential parts of the country’s water infrastructure through 2030, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.” This is, quite simply, money America doesn’t have to spend without significant re-prioritization.

Bottled water might seem the best immediate solution to crises like Flint, Michigan, where clean water is not available from the tap. Plenty of celebrity campaigns strive to help with the crisis by donating clean water. “Sean Combs and Mark Wahlberg‘s bottled water company pledged to give 1 million bottles. This includes help from hip hop artists Wiz Khalifa and Detroit-native Eminem,” claims Time Magazine. These donations were considered among the largest public donations to aid the victims of infrastructure failures  in a city in desperate need of drinkable water.

But is bottled water the best solution? Bloomberg reports significant inefficiencies in the production of bottled water. It takes 3 times the volume of a bottle to manufacture a single  bottle.  When you consider the manufacturers still rely on the same public water infrastructure the rest of us use,  can bottled water be considered a sustainable solution?

Bottled water is mostly sold by the four largest bottled water companies: Nestle Waters, Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Dr Pepper Snapple Group. According to Bloomberg, “PepsiCo and Dr Pepper’s water business grew by double digits in the first quarter of 2016, while PepsiCo’s carbonated soft-drink volume declined 2 percent.” Nestle is North America’s, the largest bottled-water manufacturer, and its Pure Life brand is “filtered municipal water“ Bloomberg reports.

This bottled water comes at a cost that is in stark contrast to a vision of American water prosperity–every person should be able to turn on their sink and fill up a glass of clean fresh water regardless of their zip code or let their pets drink from the hose outside. Bottled water is “2,000 times more expensive than tap on average,” according to Peter Gleick, president emeritus and chief scientist at the Pacific Institute.

While there should always be a market for bottled water, replacing tap water with bottled water is inefficient, expensive, more detrimental to our country. Bottled water is a short term bridge without a true solution as even the water bottling companies rely on the same water infrastructure that leads to our homes. If investment isn’t made in our infrastructure, even the water bottling companies will struggle to produce bottles.

The solution is, as CWC has advocated, robust investment in water infrastructure to repair, replace, and expand current infrastructure systems.

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About Clean Water Council

The Clean Water Council (CWC) is a group of national organizations representing underground construction contractors design professionals, manufacturers and suppliers, labor unions and other committed to ensuring a high quality of life through sound environmental infrastructure. Working in concert, CWC's 39 national organizations, advocate federal legislation and policies that will promote clean water and improve the nation's failing infrastructure.​
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