Tap water: A smarter choice than bottled water

By  Abriel Ferreira , Bowdoin Orient (Nov. 14, 2008)

Fiji Water, Smart Water, Dasani, Aquafina, Poland Springs; thirsty students passing through the Student Union have a huge variety of options to quench their thirst.

But what stops students from considering the cheaper alternatives of going right past the C-Store and using the water fountain, or simply filling up their own reusable water bottles?

The bottled water corporations are misleading people into thinking that bottled water is better than tap water. Both Aquafina (Pepsi) and Dasani (Coca-Cola) have recently admitted that they bottle tap water and sell it back at a price higher than gasoline. An estimated 40 percent of all bottled water is tap water.

Unlike municipal water, which is regulated by the EPA, the bottled water industry is regulated by the FDA. There is less than one person at the FDA dedicated to overseeing the entire industry in the US.

Municipal water is tested for bacteria hundreds of times per month, while bottled water is only required to be tested once a week, before it is even bottled.

Furthermore, chemicals that can be leached from plastic bottles have been linked to hormone disruption and an increased risk of cancer.

Bottled water is not any safer or cleaner than tap water, and it has negative environmental effects. According to a study by the Pacific Institute, more than 17 million barrels of oil were used in plastic bottle production in 2006, not including transportation costs.

Bottling water produced 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide that same year. It takes three liters of water to produce one liter of bottled water.

Of course the bottled water companies are jumping on the green-washing bandwagon, but 30-percent less plastic in a Poland Springs bottle, or buying carbon credits to offset the carbon emissions from bottling and shipping water from Fiji, isn’t as good as not bottling water at all. There is no such thing as “green” bottled water.

Corporate control of water resources is also cause for concern. Nestle’s Poland Springs claims to be a great corporate neighbor, but they don’t seem to be too popular here in Maine.

Many towns have put moratoriums on any further water extraction due to fears that Nestle is more concerned about meeting shareholder demands than sustainable practices.

Nestle has been trying to build a truck loading dock in East Fryeburg, even after the Planning Board has ruled numerous times that the hundreds of trucks coming in and out every day do not meet the town’s requirements for a “low-impact business.”

The company has sued (and appealed) the town five times. They lost four times, and the fifth suit is currently pending, however the town is rapidly running out of money to cover their legal expenses. What a good neighbor.

Water is not a high-priced luxury commodity; it is a basic human right. The $15 billion spent on bottled water in one year in the US is enough to provide clean drinking water to the 500 million people in the world currently without it.

The more those who can afford bottled water depend on bottled water, the harder it is for communities to muster political and financial support for urgent upgrades to public water systems that most people depend on to provide safe, affordable water.

All of these reasons are why The Evergreens are organizing a Take Back the Tap campaign at Bowdoin. Over the next several months The Evergreens will encourage students to sign onto the pledge to choose tap water over bottled water, host Tap Water Challenges to see if people can tell the difference between bottled and tap water, and educate students, faculty, and administrators about what we can do to decrease bottled water usage and support public water instead.

Abriel Ferreira ’10 is a co-president of The Evergreens, an environmental activist student group.