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Bluewash: Dasani and the Dead Zone

By Elizabeth Royte, author of Bottlemania

Last March, Dasani announced it would sponsor Alexandra Cousteau’s round-the-world Expedition: Blue Planet, intended to bring attention to water issues. The granddaughter of famed marine explorer Jacques-Yves, Cousteau recently fetched up in New Orleans (you can read about it here), where she toured hurricane ravaged neighborhoods and spoke with shrimpers and fishermen about the Gulf’s Dead Zone, which now covers more than 8,000 square miles.

Why would Dasani, one of the nation’s top-selling bottled water brands, sponsor such a trip? Because its parent company, Coca Cola, is a vast consumer of fresh water, and it’s in a p.r. hole, water wise. (You can read about the company’s abuse of groundwater and local communities that depend on that water here.) Last year Coca Cola partnered with the World Wildlife Fund to improve its water efficiency and, not incidentally, clean up its image.

What’s the connection between Dasani and the Dead Zone? I’ll admit there’s one degree of separation, but it takes vast amounts of high fructose corn syrup to make so many Coke products –sodas, teas, and sports drinks (no, not bottled water – thank goodness). The modern variety of corn is one of the most environmentally destructive crops you can grow: it needs lots of water and lots of fertilizer. Nitrogen (from the fertilizer) runs off those fields and into groundwater and streams, which lead to the Mississippi. The nitrogen contributes to algal blooms which, as they decompose, deplete the water of oxygen. Voila: dead zone. And then there’s all the empty Dasani (and other) plastic bottles, which blow around and roll downhill into waterways and out into the ocean. You all know about the garbage patch by now, don’t you? Apparently, there may be six garbage patches in six different oceans.

Some folks think a switch to plastic bottles made of corn will be an environmental good, but growing more corn for throwaway packaging (we still lack the infrastructure to compost those corn bottles) would surely be a water bad.

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