Are We Finally Weaning Off the Bottle?

By Luanne Bradley, EcoSalon

Bottled water sales have dropped for the first time in at least five years as a result of vocal environmentalists sparing the landfill and a recession that has consumers giving tap water a shot.

Americans drank 8.7 billion gallons of bottled water last year, compared with 8.8 billion in 2007, according to consulting firm Beverage Marketing Corp. This is the first decline this decade, signs the Siggs and advocacy groups are making a dent. (Here at EcoSalon, we’ve encouraged readers to Stop the Bottle in 2009.)

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Nestle, the largest seller of bottled water in the U.S., reported its profits fell 2.7% the first half of the year. Nestle sells Poland Spring, Deer Park, S. Pellegrino and Perrier. And while the corporate giant peddles many other brands of food, bottled water was the only sector failing in global sales during the first half of the year, down 2.9% because of weakness in the United States and Western Europe.

“I thought we’d never be able to impact sales of bottled water, and all of a sudden it’s really gained momentum,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director, of advocacy group Food & Water Watch. “I think we’re making real progress.”

The progress has resulted from campaigns launched by consumer advocacy and nonprofit organizations to educate consumers about the massive waste and environmental damage caused by plastic bottles. According to Food & Water Watch, people are wising up to the environmental costs of bottled water: production consumes energy and emits toxic chemicals; transportation guzzles oil, generating pollution; and disposal amounts to littering, with 86% of all bottles put in the garbage instead of the recycling.

The figures are a welcomed departure from last year when bottled water ranked America’s third most popular beverage (followed by soda and milk) with sales exploding 59% from 2003 to 2008, making it one of the fastest-growing beverages. Surveys show 70% of consumers drink bottled water.

Americans drank 8.7 billion gallons of bottled water last year, compared with 8.8 billion in 2007, according to consulting firm Beverage Marketing Corp. This is the first decline this decade.