What if, while you read this, I broke your window, took the computer off your desk, and then tried to sell it back to you for a thousand dollars?
Would you threaten me, call the police, and have me arrested?
Or would you hand over the money and return to your reading while I slipped back out the window?
Of course you would call the police. Giving me money for what you already own would be ridiculous. Yet, today, millions of Americans will happily purchase back what is naturally theirs- and far more necessary to life than a computer – and that thing is water. According to the documentary film, FLOW: For Love of Water, we spend more than $30 billion on bottled water each year. As we buy, we drive up the demand for petroleum, and the bottles stack up in landfills- 3.62 billion annually, according to the National Association for PET Container Resources.
So why do smart people buy bottled water, when they can get tap water for free? In part, because corporations like Nestlé (which produces Deer Park, Pure Life, and Poland Spring) and Coca-Cola (which produces Dasani) have us convinced we are doing something positive for our health. The truth is, those billions of bottles of water undergo far less scrutiny than the water coming out of your kitchen faucet, which is subject to government regulations and inspection. Indeed, research shows that bottled water frequently comes from the very same sources as tap water. The Natural Resource Defense Council did a study on 103 brands of bottled water, and found not even one to be safer than water from the tap. In some ways, bottled water is more harmful than tap water – bisphenol-A, or BPA, a chemical compound in plastic, leeches carcinogens and endocrine-disruptors into its contents.
And as these companies - the very same agencies which contaminate our earth’s finite supply of potable water, scramble to bottle what’s left and sell it back to us, the price of what is rightfully ours, critical for the sustenance of life, is driven higher and higher. It’s a classic illustration of supply and demand. The problem is bad here. It’s worse – and continuously growing worse- around the world. In some countries, like Bolivia and India, clean water has become so privatized, and so expensive, that poor people are forced to drink contaminated water, leading to deaths from preventable diseases like cholera. Meanwhile, at corporate headquarters, profits skyrocket – Muhtar Kent, the C.E.O. of Coca-Cola, brought home 22.4 million dollars in 2008.
Clearly, it’s time for a better strategy. Let’s hold our governments accountable to making free safe, clean drinking water a human right. And let’s each resolve to quit bottled water. Making the switch to reusable bottles doesn’t need to be complicated -stylish BPA-free options abound in grocery stores and online. You can also reuse glass bottles for an even more economical solution. Invest in a water filter – a basic one will run you about $20. Then keep one bottle on your kitchen counter, one at your office, and one in your vehicle. By doing so, you’ll protect your health, your wallet, and your planet – getting both clean water and a clean conscience.